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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 piece 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 and many of the ark’s motifs show a close connection to wooden Torah arks of Eastern Europe, most of which were destroyed during the Holocaust. 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 menorahs or candelabra, lions, the Ten Commandments, and hands outspread in the priestly blessing—as well as an eagle, a symbol of America 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 Commandments is a dedicatory inscription that 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.

Shulkin’s ark incorporates a symmetrical design and the intricate use of positive and negative space, much like Eastern European papercuts of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, Shulkin may even have created a preparatory papercut to use as a model for his carved-wood ark.