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The unique carved wooden Ark from Tállya

We are turning to our readers for help in providing information about the uniquely decorated wooden Ark in this photo -- it is from a synagogue in Tállya, in northeastern Hungary, which was built at the beginning of the 19th century and demolished in the 1960s.

The Hungarian art historian Julia Csejdy, who is preparing a publication on the built heritage of Tállya, sent us this photo in hopes of finding information about the unique iconography and carving.

She notes that not only the carvings but also the structure and the iconography are quite unusual -- the position of the lions, the lace in their mouth, the disposition of the four columns and the surrounding of the tablet with the Tetragrammaton.

The Jewish community archives no longer exist. The only data we have, she notes, " is that the rabbi of Tállya, David Jehuda Rottenberg (1783—1857) was born in Lublin, so we may suppose he invited the craftsmen from that region."

Julia has consulted several experts on Jewish art and synagogue decoration, but none so far has been able to shed further light.

Prof. Ilia Rodov, of Bar Ilan University, who has written extensively about these topics, called the Ark  "amazing and unique" and told JHE he has not seen any others similar.

He says that what is particularly unusual "is the dynamic, whirling, almost crazy (Rococo-inspired?) rendering of the pediment set on a neo-Classical facade with some neo-Gothic arches behind the columns - rather than the iconography proper (saving for the ropes and roses). [...]  the Tetragrammaton, halo, and lions were recurrent in modern synagogues. The ark's facade is rare but not unprecedented: a tetrastyle was build in Il Tempio synagogue in Rome in the 19th century [...] The ropes the lions hold in their mouths and the huge roses flanking the divine name are indeed most curious and demand more research."

Julia added, "The tertrastyle facade ... is unique only because of the columns that are not grouped by two as usual but they are like a portico of a temple nearly hiding the niche. Also the lions are in a strange position with the lace in their mouth, I never saw that. The carving is really extraordinary and I have already tried to find analogies in the Catholic churches in the region, but couldn't."

Can anyone else help?

Are there any written descriptions in family memoirs?

NOTE:

In his book Synagogues in Hungary 1782-1918, Rudi Klein includes (blurry) pictures from the Hungarian Jewish Archives, showing the devastated synagogue after the Holocaust, with the empty space where the Ark had been.

 
 
 
 

7 comments on “Help Wanted! Can anyone provide info on this Ark from the destroyed synagogue in Tállya, Hungary?

  1. During this time [1550s] the Jewish printing presses also flourished, publishing books famous for their beautiful typography and unique illustrations. The best known of these was the Prague Haggada, printed at the press owned by Gershom ben Solomon Kohen. The books issued by Gershom Kohen’s press included Jewish motifs alongside Royal Habsburg emblems. The trademark of the press was the skyline of Prague set between two lion’s tails, inspired by the official emblem of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The Kohen family – and after it the Bak family, which continued the Prague printing tradition – mostly produced rabbinic literature, prayer books and morality pamphlets in Hebrew and Yiddish.

  2. Thanks for your comments, I try to answer:

    1. I found data about Rabbi D.J Rottenberg only in publications, with no reference to their sources. (Scheiber Sándor: Hegyaljai zsidó sírkövek and Hungarian Jewish Lexikon). Jewish Lexicon wrote only his birth and death date and that he was the rabbi of Tállya. His book title is: Tehilo Ledovid. Scheiber wrote that he was born in Lublin. Unfortunately I can’t read Hebrew but I will ask a collegue to help me with the book Max posted. Anyway it is very likely that those lions were put on the ark without the consent of the rabbi.
    2. It is strange that Vladimir brought here Piatra Neamt because when I was looking after analogies of the Ark I only found some carved arks of Moldavia that were a bit similar to that of Tállya.

    3. Rudolf is right it is possible that even lengty research would’t give any result. Though “Egyenlőség” and county press were already searched but we found no reference to the synagogue.

    4. As far as we know the archives of Tállya Jewish community no longer exists. It is sad to hear about Orosháza remaining records. We had a very similar experience with Catholic records found in Tállya, the Diocesan Archives was not interested at all.

  3. What is your source for saying that Rabbi David Jehuda Rottenberg was from Lublin? His death record lists Satoraljaujhely as his birthplace, and his book (http://hebrewbooks.org/20336 and http://hebrewbooks.org/20387) says on the cover that his father was from Satoraljaujhely. According to the same cover, the Rabbi’s grandfather was from Nowy Zmigrod. The cover does say that he is descended from a holy rabbi in Lublin, so maybe that’s what you’re thinking of?

    Also, my Hebrew isn’t perfect, but the first half of page 18 of this book (https://www.otzar.org/wotzar/Book.aspx?159388) tells the story of Rabbi Jacob Tannenbaum (a rabbi in Tallya after Rabbi David Jehuda Rottenberg) and his son Menachem Mendel. According to the story, in the mid-1800s the town built a synagogue and the head of community decided to place lions on the ark even though Rabbi Tannenbaum opposed the idea. Apparently, the community in Torna had previously considered putting lions on their ark, but that town’s Rabbi convinced them not to do so.

  4. I checked the Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art for the iconographical topic “two lions” and found only three examples when two lions are turning their rear parts to each other.
    Two of them have clearly no connection to the discussed case (http://cja.huji.ac.il/browser.php?mode=set&id=27287, http://cja.huji.ac.il/browser.php?mode=alone&id=18506), while the third one – a candelabrum in Piatra Neamț – could provide some inspiration for further research (http://cja.huji.ac.il/browser.php?mode=alone&id=176421).

  5. There is no promise that lengthy research would give some clues, but I would suggest the following:

    1. Try to make a search in the official journal of the Jewish umbrella organisation “Egyenlőség” in which Tállya may appear in different contexts, perhaps some community events, commemorations, building alterations;
    2. Try to see county press, Jewish and gentile, there must be some reference
    3. See Vállalkozók Lapja for clues, it appeared every week, and all major building activities were reported

    I consulted these sources when researching a particular building and always found clues, further sources.

  6. I am writing in reference to the phrase “the Jewish community archives no longer exist’ because I have written twice to Zsuzsanna Toronyi the Chief Archivist and Director of the Jewish Museum in Budapest about another town in Eastern Hungary, Oroshaza. The remaining archival records and artifacts for the once thriving and proud Jewish community are housed in the Beit Tahara adjacent to the Jewish cemetery in which the roof is leaking right onto the bima and the cabinet which once housed the Torah scrolls. I’ve had no acknowledgement of my pleadings. I understand that perhaps the remaining records and artifacts are of no interest or that perhaps Dr Toronyi is under-resourced but a one-sentence acknowledgement would be nice. There is one( not young) remaining Jew in the town and he is eager to place the contents under Jewish protection in Hungary.

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