Jewish artifacts in the Vatican and Museums of Europe

Michael Freund comments in Right On on the need to recover artifacts,

[..] VARIOUS JEWISH historical relics, such as ancient Hebrew manuscripts, incunabula and religious items, now grace the galleries and storehouses of museums worldwide, when their rightful place is here at home, in the Jewish state. Yet hardly anything is being done to retrieve them.

The Vatican, for example, is said to have the largest repository of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, accumulated over the centuries as a result of church-inspired pogroms and persecutions. These include early medieval copies of the works of Maimonides and Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, along with some of the earliest-known illuminated copies of the Bible.

These treasures are Jewish in content, in history and in origin, and many were ripped from the hands of their owners just moments before their massacre, forced conversion or expulsion. Why they should these stolen pieces of our heritage now sit abandoned in a Vatican basement rather than being returned to their rightful owners, the Jewish people? And how about the 14th century rimonim, the decorative silver ornaments known in English as finials which are placed on the wooden staves of a Torah scroll, that currently sit in the La Seu Cathedral in Spain’s Palma de Majorca? What does it say about our sense of national pride that we allow these sacred religious objects to be displayed in a Catholic church?

Similarly, there is hardly a major museum in all of Europe that does not have a collection of Jewish artifacts, at least some of which were surely obtained through dubious historical circumstances. Shouldn’t we be fighting to get them back? Egypt, by contrast, has not remained silent over the fate of its national heritage. Indeed, in recent years, Egyptian antiquities officials have been waging a vigorous campaign aimed at regaining the country’s countless relics that were pilfered over the centuries by various European explorers, scientists, archaeologists and museums. [..]

April 11, 2007 | 5 Comments »

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  1. Czechs To Return Jewish Property
    PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) – The Czech Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday to return Jewish property confiscated during the country’s Nazi occupation to its original owners, officials said. Spokeswoman Kvetoslava Kozakova said 67 deputies in the 81-seat upper chamber of the Czech Parliament voted in favor of the motion. The others either abstained or were absent. The new law that was already passed by the lower chamber of Parliament on May 24 needs only the president’s approval. Claims by original Jewish owners or their descendants can be filed until the end of 2002. So far, only property the general citizenry lost after the 1948 communist takeover has been returned under existing legislation. “We have expressed our will to settle the evil legacy of World War II racial horrors in a dignified and just way,” CTK news agency quoted Vice Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky as saying after the vote. Under the proposal, Jews would receive all land holdings and buildings confiscated between Sept. 29, 1938, and May 8, 1945, and that are now owned by the state. Some property, such as land declared a nature reserve or land under buildings that are not subject to restitution are exempted. The government previously estimated some 200 state-owned buildings would be returned. Also, the Jewish Museum in Prague would receive 63 paintings now in the National Gallery, including works by Emil Filla, Auguste Renoir and Maurice de Vlaminck. Another 2,500 art objects would be returned to citizens of Jewish origin or to their descendants. All property seized by the Nazis was taken over by the Czechoslovak government that formed after World War II. Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. About 3,000 Jews live in the Czech Republic now, compared to 120,000 before World War II. Earlier this year, the Czech Cabinet allocated $7.5 million to set up a foundation to compensate Holocaust victims whose property cannot be returned.

    I think these speak directly to the subject.
    By the way; to those who disbelieve a Jewish genocide by Nazi Germany last century….. If this is not a tacit admission of guilt for wrong doing sixty plus years ago–What does it take? Also should be noted that the Catholic Church has acted as a reciever for stolen property yet again. So the pope is a fence and the vatican is a recepticle for ill gotten goods. This makes me wonder if the last scene from Indiana Jones, where the Ark of the Covenant winds up, is here in the USA or under the Vatican.

  2. SRAEL’S MINISTER OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS, Shimon Shetreet, has asked Pope John Paul II to help him locate Israel’s ancient Menorah – the seven golden candlesticks (as the Bible calls it). Shetreet met with the Roman Catholic Pontiff in late January to ask the Pope’s assistance. The news article about this historic request appeared in the January 27, 1996 Jerusalem Post.

    Shetreet claimed that recent research at the University of Florence indicated the Menorah may still be among the treasures in the Vatican’s underground vaults. He said, “I don’t say it’s there for sure, but I asked the pope to help in the search as a goodwill gesture in recognition of the improved relations between Catholics and Jews.”

    He noted that the pope plans to visit Jerusalem in 1997 on a religious pilgrimage to encourage the peace process.

    Is the golden Menorah preserved in an underground catacomb? I once met an exCatholic priest that told me he saw several Temple relics in a vault four stories under the West Wing of the Vatican. The West Wing houses a dormitory for priests from the United States.

    What happened to the Menorah, the golden lampstand, that graced the early Tabernacle and the Temple of King Solomon? What information was found in the University of Florence that led Israel’s minister of Religious Affairs to think it might still be under the Vatican? In A.D. 70, the Romans carried the booty of the Jerusalem Temple to Rome. A stone relief of that Menorah can be viewed in the Triumphal Arch of Titus, located just north of the Coliseum in Rome.

    According to Edward Gibbon, author of THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, Herod’s Temple Menorah now lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Italy and the northern coast of Africa.

    Gibbon wrote, “At the end of 400 years, the spoils of Jerusalem (the holy instruments of Jewish worship, the gold table and the gold candlestick with seven branches) were transferred from Rome to Carthage, by a Barbarian … the haughty Vandal; who immediately hoisted sail, and returned …to the port of Carthage.” However, the twelve ships that carried the loot encountered a storm at sea. We are told that “the vessel which transported the relics of the Capital was the only one of the whole fleet that suffered shipwreck … this cargo … was lost in the sea.”

    Gibbon indicated that the spoils of the Jewish Temple went down with the ship, including the Menorah. Was Gibbon right? Were his sources correct? Or is the Menorah still in Rome? It seems that bringing up the subject of Temple furnishings during the celebration of “Jerusalem 3000” is quite significant. Psalm 96 was the psalm used to celebrate the establishment of Temple liturgy in Jerusalem in 1004 B.C.- just 3,000 years ago. That was the year King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. If the Menorah and perhaps even other Temple furnishings were returned to Israel during this year, it would be a highly significant fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

    Did the Romans rob Herod’s temple of the original lampstand built at Sinai? According to some Jewish historians, it may have been one of Solomon’s ten menorahs built to embellish and enhance the original Mosaic Menorah which was placed among them. There are many strange stories about the Servant Lamp that stood in the center of the Menorah. One such story has the “Lamp of God” mysteriously extinguished about the same time the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines. Do such stories have a prophetic significance for us today?

  3. Were several requests not made for the release of Jewish artifacts, particularly of the Vatican toward the end of last century? It would be a trust builder if those things were returned to the rightful caretakers in lieu of the real owners.

  4. Not only because these things belong in Israel, but let’s face it – considering the way things are going in Europe, such artifacts might indeed be safer in the Holy Land where they belong.

    It’s sad something like that would even cross my mind. *sigh*

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