I’ve never been religious, unless you count my childhood ritual of listing my toys’ names before falling asleep as a strange, abstract dedication I called “prayer”. I was baptised Catholic, but only as a formality, and my views have evolved from uncertain to agnostic to atheist over the years. But the way many peaceful people draw strength and solace from their faith? I have every respect for that. And upon entering the tranquil surrounds of the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, it was immediately clear to me that the space was for such people.
As the name suggests, the museum is interested not so much in the plight of the Jewish people, especially as the separate museum, Le Mémorial de la Shoah, details the events of WWII and the legacy of the Holocaust. Instead, this space, with its many gilded artefacts, panelled artworks and photographs, is more concerned with the art and culture of Judaism through the ages.
There are intricate manuscripts, golden amulets and menorahs, artworks religious and otherwise and beautifully rich, traditional fabrics. Much of the material comes from France, but there are pieces from all across the Jewish diaspora. On the upper levels, you can view a short film about the establishment of Israel. However, for the most part, politics remain largely absent. Instead, the museum is a dedication to the uniqueness and beauty of Jewish art, culture and faith.
Located in the stunning Hôtel de Saint-Aignan on the narrow, winding Medieval rue du Temple, the museum lies in the heart of the traditional Jewish quarter of the Marais. Start your visit off on the charming laneway of the rue des Rosiers, snapping up lunch at one of its several Jewish bakeries or, better yet, the famous l’As du Fallafel, before wandering up the beautifully-named rue des Blancs Manteaux to arrive at the museum’s door.