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Torah Ark

Torah Ark

Torah Ark from Adath Yeshurun Synagogue

Abraham Shulkin (American, b. Russia, 1852-1918)
Sioux City, Iowa, United States, 1899
  • Pinewood: hand-carved, openwork, stained, and painted
  • 125 x 96 x 30 in. (317.5 x 243.8 x 76.2 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of the Jewish Federation of Sioux City, JM 48-56a-s
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Torah Ark

Torah Ark from Adath Yeshurun Synagogue

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Torah Ark from Adath Yeshurun Synagogue

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Abraham Shulkin, a peddler and junk dealer, carved this work of art for the Orthodox synagogue in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1899. It is an ark--a cabinet designed to hold the scrolls of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses).

Shulkin was among the Russian Jewish immigrants who arrived in Sioux City in the late 19th century. In creating this ark, he drew heavily from the artistic traditions of the Old World. The intricate style of the carving, as well as many of the ark's motifs, show a close connection to wooden Torah arks of Eastern Europe. In fact, the synagogue of Izabielin, Lithuania, not far from Shulkin's native village, had a wooden ark similarly carved with animals and vegetal motifs. Shulkin's ark also includes numerous Jewish symbols--six-pointed Jewish stars, seven-branched candelabra, lions, the Ten Commandments, hands outspread in the priestly blessing--as well as an eagle, a symbol of America often used in Eastern Europe as an emblem associated with the ruling power.

The proud artist inscribed his name on the work in Hebrew. On either side of the Ten Commandments is written "This is the hand-work of Abraham Shulkin." Below the Decalogue is a dedicatory inscription, which reads, "This Torah ark was donated by Simhah, daughter of the esteemed David Davidson." David Davidson owned a department store in Sioux City, and he provided the lumber to build the ark.