The Jewish Museum's collection explores the intersection of 4,000 years of art and Jewish culture through 25,000 objects of different media, including fine arts, Judaica, and broadcast media.
The Jewish Museum's collection is among the three largest of its kind in the world and is distinguished by its breadth and quality. Collection works range from ancient to modern, represent all media, and come from every area of the world where Jews have been a presence. Included are significant bodies of work that are the only remnants of communities destroyed during the Holocaust, providing an important historic link for visitors. The collection is showcased in our permanent exhibition Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, which explores how the Jewish experience has evolved from antiquity to the present.
The collection was started in 1904 when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial objects to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America to establish a Jewish museum. The first major acquisition was the Benguiat Collection of Ottoman era decorative arts and ceremonial objects, purchased in 1925. Three important components of the collection are the direct result of World War II and testify to the Museum's dedication to preserving the legacy of Jewish culture. The Mintz Collection comprises some of the finest ceremonial objects of Eastern European Jewry. The Danzig Collection is a major collection of Judaica sent to the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1939 by the Jewish community in Danzig to save the objects from imminent destruction. The Museum also acquired 120 ceremonial objects in 1952 through the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, an organization that recovered cultural and religious property that had been looted by the Nazis. Between 1941 and 1965 Dr. Harry G. Friedman, a philanthropic community leader, donated over 6,000 works of ceremonial and fine art, as well as archaeological material. The Museum also actively collects works of contemporary Judaica in order to depict a continuous timeline of Jewish ceremonial objects from ancient times to the present.
Works of fine art began to be acquired in the late 1940s; a significant collection of coins and medals was assembled and donated between 1935 and 1948; two major collections of archaeological artifacts were acquired in 1973 and 1981. In 1981 the Museum established the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, now holding over 4,300 television and radio programs. The collection of Fine Arts comprises paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, books, manuscripts and decorative arts ranging from the late 18th century to the present. Fine arts in the collection depict Jewish personalities, customs and environments, comment on the meaning of Jewish life and history, and explore the issues of Jewish identity from the perspectives of both Jewish and non-Jewish artists.
The Museum’s collection has a dual purpose. Collectively, the goal is to communicate an understanding of Jewish culture, with its various layers of religion, history, memory, and identity. Individually, acquisitions may be appreciated for their intrinsic aesthetic, historical, or narrative content. The Museum has taken a broad view of acquisitions, collecting material that is both specifically and implicitly related to Jewish culture, whether by virtue of the subject depicted, because of the implicit intent of the artist, or because a work by a Jewish artist represents a significant contribution to the history of art.