Among the JHI’s collections we can find a big painting presenting an atmospheric scene with Jewish characters inside a stone synagogue.
In the center of the composition the artist presented a standing rabbi with a long gray beard, tallith on his head, in his right hand holding the Torah, and in his left one an open prayer book — Siddur. It is clear that the Torah adorned with a dress and crown, visible in the brown-grey background thanks to a beam of „mystical light”, is of prime importance. Just before the rabbi, in the foreground, we see, illustrated from the back, a boy dancing with outstretched hands. The boy is dancing in front of the Torah, or for it. The painting is entitled Simchat Torah(Hebrew for Joy of the Torah) and was painted by Tadeusz Popiel in the late nineteenth century. The author, known for his academic depictions on religious and historical subject matters, presented in this scene a specific event observed probably in one of the synagogues in Cracow.
Simchat Torah, the holiday falling on the last day of Sukkot, symbolizing the joy of possessing the Torah — the holy scripture, which is both the law and the revealed book of the covenant of the people of Israel with God. The holiday has been celebrated since the ninth century and is associated with the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah in the synagogue. During the ceremony all Torah scrolls are taken out of the Aron Kodesh and in a solemn procession with singing and dancing they are taken seven times around the bima — a podium from which its fragments are read.
By singing and dancing with the Torah and around it the believers celebrate Simchat Torah in an atmosphere of a great joy, as the one radiating from the boy in the painting by the Cracow painter. And if we assume that the character of the old rabbi is a symbol of the end of the annual cycle (Deuteronomy 34), then the boy is its new beginning. And the new cycle of Torah readings begins with the first part of the book of Genesis. One without the other cannot exist. Simchat Torah is a joyous celebration of the meeting of the End with the Beginning.
Only a few days are left till the end of the exhibition „Rav, Rabbi, Rebbe — Rabbis in Poland,” which points out that teachers of Torah, Talmud, Halacha from different streams of Judaism in Poland — Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, or connected with the Hasidic tradition, had a unique prestige in Poland and abroad.
We invite you to visit the exhibition.