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The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York, NY 10128

The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York, NY 10128
212.423.3200

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Who We Are

Welcome to the Jewish Museum, a museum in New York City at the intersection of art and Jewish culture for people of all backgrounds. Whether you visit our home in the elegant Warburg mansion on Museum Mile, or engage with us online, there is something for everyone. Through our exhibitions, programs, and collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects, and media, visitors can journey through 4,000 years of art and Jewish culture from around the world.


Our Mission

The Jewish Museum is dedicated to the enjoyment, understanding, and preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of the Jewish people through its unparalleled collections and distinguished exhibitions. Learn More

History

The Jewish Museum was founded in 1904 in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where it was housed for more than four decades. Located along New York's Museum Mile, this elegant former residence has been the home of the Museum since 1947. Learn More

Stories

The Jewish Museum stands with the Black community. Read More

The Jewish Museum stands with the Black community and denounces the longstanding systemic racial injustice that continues to persecute people of color across our country. The senseless killings of George Floyd and so many others are a stark reminder of the continued pervasiveness of racism in America. We join the many voices that are demanding social change.

The Jewish Museum strives to uphold shared human values and to foster cultural understanding. Individually and institutionally, we will speak out against social inequity and stand against all forms of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. We will listen to and amplify voices that are discounted, ignored, or not heard loudly enough.

The Jewish Museum believes that we must all engage in the Jewish concept of “tikkun olam,” or “repairing the world,” and do so in the pursuit of social justice.


The Jewish Museum stands with the Black community. was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Shavuot: Revelation at Mount Sinai, a Mystical Wedding, Greenery, and Cheesecake Read More

This year, Shavuot— also referred to as the Feast of Weeks — begins at sundown on May 28 and ends on the evening of May 30. The Jewish holiday is traditionally celebrated for two days outside of Israel.

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (German, 1800–1882), Shavuot (Pentecost) (Das Wochen- oder Pfingst-Fest), 1880. Oil on canvas. 27 15/16 × 23 7/8 in. (71 × 60.7 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the Oscar and Regina Gruss Charitable and Educational Foundation, Inc., 1999–85.

From early on, the symbolism of Shavuot came to be associated with the Israelites receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. According to the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Shabbat 86b), which was codified around the sixth century: “on the sixth day of Sivan [the first day of the holiday of Shavuot], the Ten Commandments were given to the people.” This revelation culminates the journey of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt — as told in the Passover story — to spiritual freedom with the acceptance of the Torah on Shavuot. A custom to study Torah on the holiday — even with some people remaining awake all night — is meant to highlight the significance of receiving the Law at Mount Sinai.

But Shavuot was not only always linked to the Giving of the Law. In the days of the ancient Temple, Shavuot was a major harvest holiday celebrated with the bringing of the first fruits of the season to Jerusalem. Although this custom ceased after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the agricultural significance of the holiday was revived by the fourteenth century through the practice of decorating homes and synagogues with flowers and greenery in some European Jewish communities. Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin (c. 1360–1427), known as the Maharil, first records this tradition. A midrash (legend) may have also inspired this practice: prior to the Giving of the Law, Mount Sinai was miraculously beautified with the sprouting of plants. Certain communities today continue to adorn synagogues and homes with an abundance of plant life.

Moritz Oppenheim’s Shavuot painting captures this custom. Floral garlands festoon the sanctuary and roses are scattered on its floor. The publicly displayed Torah is the focus of this scene. A vibrant gathering of male worshippers wearing a dizzying array of hats and children with various participatory gestures enliven the composition. At the center, a man and a boy hold two Torahs — just removed from the Torah ark — to observe the custom of two scrolls being read during the Shavuot service. The artist depicts the Torahs in detail; one is fully dressed with a fine textile mantle and adorned with a crown and a shield inscribed in Hebrew, “The time of the Giving of our Torah,” and the second — with its mantle partly opened — reveals the scroll fastened by an inscribed binder. The Torah mantles, as well as the Torah curtain and valance visible in the open Torah ark, are made of matching cloth.

Rahel Modigliani, Torah Ark Curtain, 1833/34 (date of inscription). Net: embroidered with silk thread and silk. 99 1/8 × 76 1/4 in. (251.8 × 193.7 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Professor and Mrs. E.G. Machlin and Mrs. Meyer S. Siegel in honor of their father, Signor Azeglio Massimo Servi, JM 61–61.

In some synagogues, Torah textiles were especially designed for use on Shavuot, such as the multi-colored Torah curtain embroidered by Rahel Modigliani in 1833/34 for the synagogue of Pitigliano in Italy. Appropriate for the holiday, the curtain is filled with flowers, birds, and butterflies and a radiating Decalogue at center.

Maurice Mayer, Torah Case, c. 1870. Silver: die-stamped, repoussé, cast, engraved, and parcel-gilt; wood; textile. The Jewish Museum. The H. Ephraim and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection, S 1456a.

As in Oppenheim’s painting, the Torah is glorified in this exquisite silver case by Parisian Jewish maker Maurice Mayer, who used the title “goldsmith to the Emperor” for his service to Napoleon III. This type of hard case for the Torah, as opposed to the soft mantle seen in Oppenheim’s painting, is customarily used by some Italian Jews as well as by certain Middle Eastern and North African communities, many of which have migrated to Israel. A Hebrew inscription indicates that the Torah case was dedicated in memory of Hannah from the house of Shemama, a prominent family from Tunisia. Its highly embellished appearance is typical of the French decorative style of the mid-nineteenth century. While probably not meant to be strictly used for the Shavuot service, the Torah case’s ornamentation surely resonates with themes of the holiday: foliage and flowers beautify the appearance of the Ten Commandments on the piece and the Torah that would be held inside the case. Elaborate scrollwork with radiating leaves at the top ensconces the emblems of the Decalogue at the center of the case. Engraved crowns above each tablet highlight the royalty of the Torah and may allude to the Torah as the bride, a common trope from Song of Songs. The crown motif appears on many Torah ornaments.

Joseph Schlesinger, Prayer Book, 1900. Bone; metal: cast; copper alloy; velvet; celluloid; ink printed on paper. The Jewish Museum. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 4938.

In contrast to the communal use of the Torah case throughout the year, a smaller and more personal prayer book for the Shavuot liturgy would have been used by an individual to follow along the public ceremonial service in the synagogue or even for further study at home. The prayer book similarly features a prominent Decalogue motif at the center of its ornate cover within an elaborate cartouche.

According to Jewish tradition, a very special wedding takes place on Shavuot: the symbolic union between God, the bridegroom, and the People of Israel, the bride.

This spiritual ceremony is celebrated in some Sephardic and Italian congregations with the reading of an allegorical marriage contract prior to the Torah reading on Shavuot.

The Jewish Museum owns one such rare marriage contract or ketubbah, made in Italy probably in the eighteenth century. This symbolic ketubbah for Shavuot is befittingly decorated with scenes from the story of Moses: below the text are early scenes of his life, including Miriam, placing the basket containing her baby brother in the river, the finding of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, as well as Moses at the Burning Bush. Above the text, pride of place is devoted to the illustration of the Giving of the Law, the event that brings about the symbolic union between God and Israel stated in the ketubbah. The main text is flanked by the figures of Moses at left and Aaron at right in a composition similar to the one found on title pages of Hebrew printed books and manuscripts. The contract is dated the sixth day of the month Sivan in the year 2448 after the creation of the world, which, according to rabbinic interpretations, is believed to be the day on which the Torah was given.

Marriage Contract for Shavuot, Italy, 17th-18th century. Ink and paint on parchment. Dimensions:
21 3/4 × 29 in. (55.2 × 73.7 cm). Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman. F 661

Shavuot’s connection to the harvest season, marriage, and the Israelites acceptance of the Torah resonates with the Book of Ruth, a story that has been customarily read on the holiday since sometime around the sixth to eighth centuries. The Book of Ruth begins with the trials and tribulations of Naomi, an Israelite, and her family who flee a famine in their native Bethlehem to the foreign land of Moab in the east. There, Naomi loses her husband, Elimelech, as well her two sons Mahlon and Kilyon who had married Moabite women. After much suffering, Naomi seeks to return home. One of her Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth, insists on leaving her homeland to join Naomi and adopt her Jewish religion and lifestyle in a new land. Ruth expresses this desire:

“Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).

The two women journey together to Bethlehem. Once there, Ruth toils the leftover kernels of the barley harvest to support her mother-in-law.

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836–1902) and followers, Ruth Gleaning, c. 1896–1902. Gouache on board. The Jewish Museum. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff, X1952–272.

This moment is captured in James Tissot’s watercolor: Ruth is gleaning in the fields until evening, which indicates the women’s dire situation as gleanings were saved for the indigent. The Bible mandates: “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger…” (Leviticus 23:22).

Ruth pauses to look hopefully into the distance as she holds grain in her hands and tucked into her belt. The rolling tan hills of Bethlehem form the backdrop of the image. The field belongs to a wealthy kinsman of Ruth, named Boaz, who hears of Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi and marries her. Their son, Obed, becomes the grandfather of the eventual King David. A story of hardship ends with the beginnings of a royal lineage.

Why is a story about famine, grief, migration, and ultimate peace and prosperity read on Shavuot? A number of reasons have been proposed for the Book of Ruth’s association to the holiday. This image highlights one of those connections: the story took place in the harvest season, in step with Shavuot as the harvest festival (Exodus 23:16). Another explanation is more symbolic: Ruth is accepted into the Jewish nation just as the Israelites accepted the Torah of God, and Ruth is redeemed from the famine and ushers in the ultimate rise of the House of David just as Shavuot represents the culmination of the redemption from bondage to spiritual freedom. As a narrative about migration propelled by hardship, the story of Ruth is surely meaningful today — not only on Shavuot.

Pilgrimage Standard, Iraq, 1826/27 (date of inscription). Silver: engraved. The Jewish Museum, New York. Purchase: Judaica Acquisition Fund, 2000–49.

A hand-shaped silver standard attests to a unique Shavuot practice among members of the once thriving Jewish community of Iraq: the pilgrimage to the Tomb of Ezekiel. The Prophet is believed to have been buried in the southeastern town of Kifil, on the Euphrates River, after his death following the exile to Babylonia in the late sixth century BCE. The standard bears a Hebrew dedicatory inscription to Ezekiel by a man named Joseph [son of?] Abdallah [son of?] Elijah and is dated 1826/27. It was likely carried during the pilgrimage to the tomb on Shavuot. The practice of visiting Ezekiel’s tomb was so important among Baghdadi Jews that a wedding custom entailed that the father of the bride should cover expenses for his new son-in-law to embark on the pilgrimage during the first year of marriage. Besides the local connection between Ezekiel and the Jews of Iraq, the Prophet is also linked to Shavuot through the haftarah, the supplementary reading, for the first day of the holiday. The dramatic biblical episode of Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot with its four-faced creatures connects to the Torah reading for the day; Ezekiel’s vision links prophecy to revelation of the Law at Mount Sinai.

The many wonderful spiritual and agricultural traditions of the holiday commemorate the momentous occasion of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Torah is viewed as “a tree of life to those who grasp her” (Proverbs 3:18) and as the source of all knowledge as it is written “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is contained in the Torah. Regard it and grow old in it” (Mishnah, Avoth 5:22). The Torah, symbolized by the bride in the Song of Songs (4:11), is compared poetically to “milk and honey,” because of its nourishing and sustaining essence. A custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, such as blintzes (thin rolled pancakes filled with cheese or fruit) and cheesecake, alludes to this symbolism of the Torah. These delicacies can also surely be a great source of joy on the holiday.

— Claudia Nahson, Morris and Eva Feld Senior Curator and Abigail Rapoport, Curator of Judaica

Explore these objects and more in the Jewish Museum’s collection by visiting TheJewishMuseum.org/Collection.


Shavuot: Revelation at Mount Sinai, a Mystical Wedding, Greenery, and Cheesecake was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Greater Goods: Lella Vignelli Judaica Read More

In this series, explore the artists and artisan-made products that set the Jewish Museum Shop apart.

“If you do it right, it will last forever. It’s as simple as that.” — Lella Vignelli
Seder Plate by Lella VIgnelli for the Jewish Museum.

“Elegant,” “clean,” and “timeless” are words frequently used to describe the work of the iconic designer Lella Vignelli (1934–2016) by design enthusiasts and experts alike. Born in Udine, Italy as Elena Valle, Vignelli earned her degree in architecture at the University of Venice’s School of Architecture; studying also as a special student at MIT’s Architecture School.

Vignelli’s formal training was in architecture, but her lifelong practice was in design. She created enduring identities for brands including Bloomingdale’s, American Airlines, and others, as a founding member of the Chicago-based firm Unimark International along with her husband, Massimo Vignelli (1931–2014), whom she married in 1957. She applied her precept, “if you can’t find it, design it,” across many forms; the pair created groundbreaking furniture, housewares, packaging, and exhibition design.

Kiddush Cup by Lella Vignelli for the Jewish Museum

In the early 1970s, they were selected to design a new system of visuals for the New York City subway. Many of the resulting elements — including the brightly colored circles that identify the system’s train lines — are still in use nearly fifty years later. “If you do it right,” said Vignelli, in a 2007 article in New York Magazine, “it will last forever. It’s as simple as that.”

Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote of the Vignellis’ work, “(it is) clean, and it is relatively spare, but it is not austere. It is luxurious without being plush … the best of the Vignelli designs bring together visual pleasure and ease of use, relate to the history of design yet give us the sense that we are seeing something beautiful made in a way we have never seen it before.”

Candlesticks by Lella Vignelli for the Jewish Museum.

Lella Vignelli continued to create beautiful objects throughout her career. Working with San Lorenzo, an Italian high-end silver studio based in Milan, she explored the aesthetic and utilitarian capabilities of the precious metal, designing luxury goods; among them, items for the home, jewelry, and ritual objects — including a menorah with swiveling arms. In 2003, Vignelli attended the Jewish Museum launch for Judaica created by the designer Adam Tihany. Inspired to develop her own line, she designed three pieces exclusively for the Museum. The commission included a kiddush cup, a set of candlesticks, and a Seder plate, all manufactured by San Lorenzo, by then a long-time partner. The suite of Judaica was introduced in 2008 and is part of the Museum’s permanent collection. All three pieces can also be purchased at the Shop.

The designs, which exemplify Vignelli’s signature style — elegant, sleek, and above all, thoughtful — are influenced by the pure lines of Modernism and the textures of 16th-century European costume. When set on the Sabbath or holiday table, their brightly polished contours reflect the participants around them, bringing friends and family together.

To explore more of the Jewish Museum Shop’s selection, create a gift registry, or send a gift e-card, visit Shop.TheJewishMuseum.org. Every purchase supports the Jewish Museum.


Greater Goods: Lella Vignelli Judaica was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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