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Visit to the Italian Jewish Museum and Supreme Court

I have always loved Italian Jewish art and culture. The prayer books, Torah scroll coverings and Yads (pointers in the shape of a hand with an extended index finger for when you read the Torah), as well as other works show an exceptionally high amount of craftsmanship. These works were heavily influenced by the Renaissance art in which the Italian Jewish community found itself.

That is why I was so glad when the suggestion was made at an ESRA Raanana Planning Committee meeting that we visit the Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem.
Leaving at 8am from Raanana and picking up later at Ramat Aviv, we arrived just before 11am after stopping at the Latrun interchange for a comfort stop.
The main guide at the Museum, Elitsur, led us to a multi-sided room beautifully painted with scenes from the Bible. The whole museum building had originally been a Christian religious institution which was converted to Jewish use in the late 19th century. Thereafter, we were shown displays of Arks, prayer books, Torah covers, historical objects and family heirlooms all beautiful in style and well displayed. Throughout, Elitsur showed an impressive breadth of knowledge and was able to answer our questions.

At the end of the tour, we were taken into the main display, being the reassembled sanctuary of the synagogue of Conegliano, a town near Venice that traces its Jewish history back to 1398. Conegliano had a small Jewish presence throughout the centuries. The synagogue was built in 1701 but fell into disuse when the Jewish community ended its presence in the early 20th century. In 1948, the Italian government agreed to have the synagogue's sanctuary dismantled and reconstituted in Israel. This was done and the entire structure, which is incredibly beautiful, is almost completely original.
We learned that Italian Jews have three different nusachs (format of prayers) all of which resemble Mizrahi prayers and differ only by nuance. The prayers are led by a Chazan who is facing the Ark, similar to Ashkenaz synagogues, but the seating is of the Mizrahi style with the men on the lower level seated in the shape of an "n" and the women in the upper level.
In the afternoon we toured the Israeli Supreme Court building, also in Jerusalem.
David, a representative of the Israeli Public Affairs department, led us to an area showing pictures whose significance David explained to us as well as discussing the features of the Supreme Court building itself.
The building's design incorporates both traditional and modern Jerusalem influences. The hall outside the courtrooms is quite wide with a number of locations where private chats can be held. This was very thoughtful as it means that one can have a chat with one's client or opposing counsel without having to go far.
David then took us to a small theater where he gave an extremely detailed overview of the Israeli court system including the jurisdictional areas of each of the Courts. We were also able to learn about the history of the Israeli legal system. Apparently, when the legal structure was being started, the consensus was that the State continue using the English legal system, with the caveat that there were to be no jury trials.
We were then taken into one of the courtrooms and listened to a very interesting hearing before three judges in which the Palestinian Authority was challenging the State of Israel's withholding of a substantial amount of funds.
Thereafter we were shown the library, but from the outside only. There were a great number of questions, all expertly answered by David.
Judges in Israel are required to retire at the age of 70. However, there is a second act for them: Retired Judges are given offices in the building and are often called upon to participate and lead in various Commissions as well as other fact-finding proceedings.

It was a very full day and we were all tired.  



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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