Curator's Choice: The Jewish Museum

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The Independent Culture
My favourite exhibit in the display is a pair of silver-cased Torah scrolls in the rococo style which were made in 1766 and 1767 by the German silversmith, Frederick Charles Kandler. They were used by Rabbi Hayim Samuel Jacob Falk, a famous and charismatic figure of the time, who was known as the Baal Shem of London. The design of the scrolls is completely original and really very clever. They consist of hinged silver plates which form a backing plate when the scroll is open and a solid case when the rollers are brought together.

The Torah scroll is handwritten and consists of the first five books of the Bible which are read in instalments week by week. . It forms an important and venerated object in the synagogue service because it represents the word of God.

Whether they were given to Rabbi Falk as a marvellous gift by one of his supporters or whether he payed for them himself, we don't know. Falk was a curious character anyway, I suppose one could describe him as a white magician. He used to make and sell amulets and give lessons in Jewish mysticism to paying aristocrats. He was condemned to death in Westphalia as a wizard, escaped to England, settled here and carried on in the same way. There is a story that he gave Philippe Egalite, the Duke of Orleans, a magical ring which brought his son Louis Philippe to the French throne even though it didn't manage to protect Philippe Egalite himself from being guillotined.

Edgar Samuel is the curator of The Jewish Museum, Woburn House, Tavistock Sq, London, WC1 (071-388 4525). Opening times are Sun, Tues-Fri 10-4pm

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