Even though we are living relatively close, we haven’t been to the Manchester Jewish Museum until last weekend. I thought it will be a fast visit, but in fact we’ve spent there three hours as we’ve went on two guided tours.
Manchester Jewish Museum, the only Jewish Museum outside London, is located in a former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. The synagogue was completed in 1874 and it’s the oldest synagogue in Manchester that still survives. Before being transformed into a museum, the building had some issues and needed a bit of renovations.
The synagogue is built in an Moorish style. The stained glass windows are so interesting and very different from the ones I saw in churches of Christian denominations.
The first tour we went to was called Jewish Manchester in 1912: Sweat Shops, Charity and the Titanic. In the tour, the guide talked about the lifestyle of the Jewish people living in Manchester in 1900s. She also talked about Sephardi Jews (from Spain) and Ashkenazi Jews (East-Europeans).
The tour lasted for around 45 minutes to an hour. We were able to ask many questions and it was very interesting. The tour covered a lot of aspects, from the waterproof garments made by the poorer Jews to the rich ones that would found the Home for aged, needy and incurable Jews, a charity that looked after old people. There is also the Victoria Memorial Jewish Hospital, an hospital opened by Jews before the establishment of the NHS. The hospital was open for all, not only Jews.
The guide mentioned the Jewish traditions for Friday evening. That was the only thing I was familiar with, besides a few notions about kosher. Even so, it was nice to hear more details about the traditions.
There are a few artifacts on display and I was surprised to see the Tudor rose.
A deliberate mistake because only God can create perfection. I think it’s interesting because it’s not the first time I see this idea, but it’s the first time I’ve been in a Synagogue.
The second tour was Faith and the Synagogue and this one lasted for 45 minutes to an hour too. It was really interesting as I wasn’t familiar with the Jewish faith. The guide is Jewish and very knowledgeable. As it was a small group of only 4 people, we could ask a lot of questions. I loved that.
Unlike for Christians or Muslims, the Rabbi is not the one reading from the religious book, the Torah, during the service. Instead, 7 men from the community are reading a bit each one of them and the Rabbi is staying in front on a chair. That was really fascinating. For them is obviously an honour and they are picked on special days for them, like a birthday or when they are commemorating the loss of someone from their family.
There are two scrolls for the service, but only one is used. The lady couldn’t say why 10 people are needed for a service to take place, but I imagine is because there are 2 people carrying the Torah, the Rabbi and the 7 people that read from the book, so 10 in total. Nobody can touch the scroll because it becomes the word of God after is finished, so they use a little hand. That was unusual.
The Scrolls are kept in the Ark. It represents the 10 commandments given to Moses. The Ark is decorated with the two stone tablets. Each one has the first couple of words from the commandments. For a new Synagogue to be established, they need an Ark with two scrolls of the Torah. They can be borrowed and, for Jews, is meant to be an honour to buy a Torah scroll for the Synagogue. They are quite expensive, written by hand on animal skin, but they would last for hundreds of years. The little hand actually helps to preserve them, as there isn’t any grease from the readers transferred onto it.
During the year, all the Synagogues read the same piece of the Bible, regardless of where is located in the world. There are 52 pieces to be read, so a new one each week, repeated after the year passes.
We had a long discussion about kosher and the Orthodox Jews and their beliefs. It was fascinating. I like learning about different religions and the history of religion, so I find the visit very exciting.
The stained glass I mentioned earlier. I had to make a collage, to show how wonderful they are.
Manchester Jewish Museum is opened 6 days a week (excluding Saturday) and the entry fee is £4.50 for adults. The guided tours are included in the entry fee. The museum is at 190 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester, M8 8LW. It’s easy to find a free parking nearby. It’s only a 10 minutes walk from Manchester Victoria Station, if you want to visit and you are not keen on driving.