Yom Kippur 1870 Vor Metz Textile
Undyed cotton printed in red and black
Original textile produced in 1871
Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, begins the evening of September 22 in 2015. Also known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is a solemn day of repentance marked by prayer at synagogue and participation in a daylong fast. As one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar, individuals traditionally abstain from all work and other commitments, devoting the day to prayer and reflection. Even during the Franco-Prussian War, some German-Jewish soldiers observed the holiday. This event was depicted in many artistic representations that were widely disseminated throughout the Jewish community in the form of postcards and on printed textiles such as this “Yom Kippur 1870 Vor Metz” scarf.
However, the event as depicted in this representation is largely a myth – the depiction was based on a service that did not transpire as planned. While there were services on Yom Kippur for some German-Jewish soldiers, there were far fewer participants than the 1,200 shown in this image, and the service was held in a rundown building rather than outdoors. The planned service was entrenched in German-Jewish memory and is representative of hopes for interfaith cooperation and tolerance, with the print even showing German soldiers encircling the prayer services in order to protect them from enemy fire. The memory of the events depicted through artistic representations was also a political act; presenting Jews as active members of society and particularly soldiers, was a powerful image that demonstrated Jewish hopes for inclusion.
In this depiction, the four corners of the textile contain stanzas of a German poem written by teacher, author, and poet Gustav Philippson (1814-1880), describing the Yom Kippur prayers at the camp. There is also Hebrew and German text at the top and bottom of the object lauding God as creator of all, stating “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) and the text also describes the context of the scene.
The soldiers in the drawing are wearing their military uniforms, while a few are donning tallitot, or prayer shawls, for the occasion. They are surrounding the central person in the image, who is leading prayers, and there is a makeshift bimah, or raised platform, and ark for the Torah. Most of the soldiers are holding prayer books, with a few holding miniature prayer books. Mobile populations, including tradespeople, emigrants, and soldiers, often used miniature Hebrew prayer books so that they could have access to prayers while away from home.
The textile has been in the Skirball Museum collection since 1992. Upon the recent acquisition of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, the museum obtained a second copy of the textile, bringing the two artifacts together. These textiles are also found at other institutions including the Jewish Museum in London and the Israel Museum.
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Gidal, Nachum T. Jews in Germany: From Roman Times to the Weimar Republic. Koln, Germany: Konemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 1998, Cover page, 230-231.
Juden in Preussen: Ein Kapitel deutscher Geschichte. Dortmund: Harenberg, 1981, 258-259.
Moritz Oppenheim: The First Jewish Painter. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1983, 54-56, 61.
Penslar, Derek Jonathan. Jews and the Military: A History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.
Rivkind, Isaac. “A Pocket Edition Prayer Book for German Jewish Emigrants to America, 1842.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 35, (Jan. 1939): 211.
Shachar, Isaiah. Jewish Tradition in Art: The Feuchtwanger Collection of Judaica. Translated by R. Grafman. Jersualem: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1971, 1981.