The Museum’s Judaic art collection celebrates the spiritual life and ceremonies of the Jewish people through ritual objects of artistic excellence. The gallery and its collection were founded by the late Dr. Abram Kanof, a physician and respected scholar of Jewish art and symbolism. It is one of only two galleries devoted to Judaica in an American art museum. Since opening in 1983, the gallery has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, the majority of whom are not Jewish and are largely unfamiliar with Judaism’s rich and diverse artistic heritage. Inspired by Dr. Kanof, the Museum has wholeheartedly embraced the role of the Judaic Art Gallery as a forum for religious and cultural understanding, acknowledging as well that ideas are often best communicated through memorable works of art.
The Judaic Art Gallery features objects from the major Jewish traditions—Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Oriental (or Mizrahi)—as well as from modern Israel. All objects are designed for use in synagogue worship, observance of the Sabbath and holidays, or ceremonial occasions honoring the life cycle and Jewish home. Highlights of the collection include a splendid pair of mid-18th-century silver and gilt Torah finials (rimmonim), originally part of the treasury of the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam; a large standing Hanukkah lamp, circa 1930, one of the masterpieces of the “Hebrew style” from Jerusalem’s celebrated Bezalel Workshop; a finely filigreed case for an Esther scroll from the Ottoman Empire; and an elegant pair of silver finals and matching Torah pointer (yad) dated 1783 from the Orthodox Synagogue in Plymouth, England. Important new objects continue to be added to the collection thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Judaic Art Gallery. The long-term acquisition plan is directed toward broadening the survey of Judaica to include objects from all important Diaspora communities as well as Israel. Special consideration will be given to ritual objects of North Carolina and southern origin. In addition the plan calls for an ongoing program of commissions from leading American and international designers.