The Story

The outstanding highlight of the Museum is the synagogue, which is now used by Italian Jews in Jerusalem: it was originally the synagogue of Conegliano Veneto, a village located between Padua and Venice.

Jews lived in Conegliano Veneto from the sixteenth century and prayed in a synagogue in front of a beautiful Holy Ark with fine golden carved wooden decorations. In a carved panel on the lower part of the Ark is a dedication to Rabbi Nathan Ottolengo (d. 1615), who was the head of the Talmudic School of Conegliano Veneto. The Ark and other items of furniture were transported to a “new” synagogue the community erected in 1701. To this period belong the golden Rococo wings and the elaborate golden carvings on top of the Ark.

The “new” synagogue served the small community as a cultural and spiritual centre for religious studies and family celebrations. It remained in sporadic use until the First World War. The last service was held on Yom Kippur in 1918 by Jewish soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army and their chaplain, Rabbi Harry Deutsch.

After the Second World War steps were taken by Italian Jews in Israel to transfer the Conegliano Synagogue and its contents to Jerusalem. In 1951, the synagogue interior was reconstructed and opened its doors to serve the Italian Community, later becoming an integral part of the Museum.

In the original setting in Conegliano, the bimah was located at one of the short sides, while the Torah Ark stood at the opposite wall, according to a “bipolar” design, typical of synagogue architecture in many regions of Italy. Now in Jerusalem it stands almost in the middle of the hall, because of the structure of the original building, which has a central entrance door and not two lateral entrances as it was in the in situ building.

Only in 1989 the original layout of the synagogue was restored by the building of the women’s gallery and its latticework screens (four originals and others reconstructed) which swing open to allow the women a view of the men’s section below.

Services are held regularly on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays according to the ancient “Minhag Bnei Roma”, which is one of the most ancient rituals in Judaism, closely related to that prevailing in the Land of Israel during the period of the Second Temple.

The magnificent Ark of Conegliano Veneto is decorated with fine golden carved wooden ornamentation, representing large acanthus leaves, vine leaves and grapes. The Ark features two decorated round-topped doors flanked by two columns surmounted by Corinthian capitals. On the inner side of the doors are written sections of the Ten Commandments.

The carved panel dedicated to Rabbi Nathan Ottolengo (d. 1615) on the lower part of the Ark is decorated with elegant floral motifs. The middle section of the Ark possibly belonged to the 17th century synagogue. It was transported to a “new” synagogue the community erected in 1701 within the ghetto. The remarkable gilt Rococo wings and the elaborate golden carvings on top of the Ark belong to this later period.

The original lamps from Conegliano were probably lost. The present ones come from the synagogues of Ferrara, Pisa and Mantua. Two 18th century cornucopia-shaped wall lamps are originally from Venice.
The original marble basin now installed in the wall on the left of the main entrance to the synagogue, comes from Conegliano and is dated to the 18 th century. The basin was used for the ritual hand-washing before prayer. It is decorated with two angels’ heads. The arch above it bears an inscription which reads: “Donated by Our Rabbi and Teacher Asher Uri Hefetz – 1710 – bevoam el haqodesh sheirchetzu mayim” (On their entering unto the Holy Service, let them cleanse in water).