Rachel Sarfati

Depiction of the Holy Places in Jewish Culture from the Fourteen century: Its History and Significance

Curator at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University.

I hold a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Jewish History and Art History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.

As a curator of Jewish Art at the Israel Museum I specialize in researching and curating exhibitions of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts and objects of visual and material culture relating to the Jewish year and its holidays. As part of the Museum’s comprehensive renewal project which took place a few years ago, I was responsible for curating the new permanent exhibition in the galleries for the Cycle of the Jewish Year. In this exhibition I introduced the idea of incorporating visual representations of modern holidays. Thus, traditional ceremonial objects are now displayed alongside contemporary video works about Israel’s Independence Day and Remembrance Days for Fallen Soldiers and for the Victims of the Holocaust.

My MA thesis focused on depictions of holy sites in the Land of Israel. It extended previous research I conducted in preparation of an exhibition and catalogue entitled Offerings from Jerusalem: Portrayals of Holy Places by Jewish Artists. The catalogue examines works spanning from the late Middle-Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century by illustrators who sought to present the Land of Israel to Diaspora Jews through images of its holy sites. My thesis analyzed the formal and iconographic aspects of illustrations in a corpus of sixteenth-century scrolls from the Land of Israel.

My doctoral dissertation concentrates on fourteenth-century manuscripts originating from Egypt. It seeks to identify a genre of manuscripts that feature illustrations of the holy sites, defining its origin, time-span, and the sources of influence that led to its emergence. In the dissertation I explore the relationship between the visual representations and such textual sources as pilgrimage literature. In the process I examine works that do not illustrate texts but reflect textual traditions in visual ways, through distinctive designs and formal motifs. These features provided artists with the means to “translate” textual information into visual representations.

Selected Publications

  • Jewish New Year Greeting-Cards in the Israel Museum Collection, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Hebrew-English edition, forthcoming).
  • ”The Yedid Collection – The Story of a Community.” Pe’amim 122–23 (2009), pp. 65–88 (Hebrew).
  • A Movable Feast: Sukkahs from Around the World. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (exhibition catalogue, Hebrew and English editions), 2003.
  • Offerings from Jerusalem: Portrayals of Holy Places by Jewish Artist (editor and co-author; Hebrew and English editions). The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2002.
  • “The Yedid Bequest: An Unusual Judaica Collection Finds Its Way to the Israel Museum.” The Israel Museum Journal vol. XVII, 1999, pp. 54–57 (English).
  • “Promise of Redemption: Zechariah’s Vision of the Golden Menorah.” In the Light of the Menorah: Story of a Symbol, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1998, pp. 87-91 (Hebrew and English editions).
  • “The Artist-Emissary: Shneur Zalman of Hebron,” in The Israel Museum Journal vol. XIV, 1996, pp. 57–65 (English).