The North Carolina Museum of Art is one of only two general art museums in the country with a permanent gallery devoted to Jewish ceremonial art. The Judaic Art Gallery opened in 1983 under the guidance of Dr. Abram Kanof (1903–99), physician, medical professor, and scholar of Jewish art and symbolism. It was Dr. Kanof’s vision—wholeheartedly embraced by the Museum—that the Judaic Art Gallery should not only offer a collection of beautifully designed and crafted objects; it should also serve as a forum for religious and cultural understanding. That vision still guides the Judaic Art Gallery, its collection, and its related programs of research and education.
The Judaic art collection spans three centuries and four continents, embracing a wide variety of forms and artistic styles. It features objects associated with most aspects of Jewish ceremonial life: synagogue worship, observance of the Sabbath and other holidays and festivals, rituals marking the life cycle, and the sanctifying of a Jewish home.
Highlights of the collection include a gilded silver Torah shield, a masterpiece of German rococo design, dated 1747/49; two splendid pairs of 18th-century Torah finials, the first originally from the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam, the second from a synagogue in Plymouth, England; an Esther scroll in a finely filigreed case from the Ottoman Empire; and a sumptuous Torah case made by Chinese artisans for a Jewish congregation in India. The collection is particularly strong in modern and contemporary Judaica, including important works by Ludwig Wolpert and Moshe Zabari, and commissioned pieces by contemporary American and Israeli artists.
The Museum pursues an ambitious program of acquisitions, made possible by the generosity of many donors through the Friends of the Judaic Art Gallery. The long-term acquisition plan seeks to deepen the historical base of the collection and to broaden the aesthetic survey of important Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora and Israel.
Anticipating growth of the collection, the Museum has recently enlarged the Judaic Art Gallery by 50 percent while at the same time upgrading many of the display cases and enhancing interpretation.