Sunday, August 22, 2010

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Review: The Israel Museum

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Mystical Paths Paths

This past Thursday I grabbed the children and headed to The Israel Museum, which also includes The Shrine of the Book.  I’d never visited before and on the posted advice of (I don’t remember if it was Life in Israel or The Muqata) it seemed it would be a decent experience for the kids and the adult.  Further since Jerusalem was roasting (it was about 105 degrees) I was looking for an indoor air conditioned activity.

On arrival I was very pleased to find that children are free during August!  Nice.

Right as you come in they have a series of entryways from ancient synagogues.  This one was quite striking because of it’s inscription…


The inscription reads, “490 years after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, this synagogue was built during the office of Chanina son of Elazar and Luliana son of Yuden”.  That puts this synagogue as being built in 590 CE, and makes it one of many proofs of continuous Jewish habitation of the Land of Israel.

On entry we headed to the kids art area, where they have a number of art activities for children.  However, since these were outdoors and I was looking to avoid the heat, we went on.

We entered the archeology wing.  Here they have a wide variety of ancient artifacts found throughout Israel, including oil lamps, menorahs, synagogue floor mosiacs, Roman idols, and more.  I was able to snap a picture or two before the guard ran over and let me know (in no uncertain terms) INDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY IS PROHIBITED…


Synagogue floor from 400 BCE – noted for having a full biblical passage in the mosiac.  Unfortunately I didn’t capture the plaque explaining it before being shut down on photography.


A full size menorah, somewhat modeled on the pattern from the Beis HaMikdash with Jerusalem lions supporting it, found somewhat intact and reconstructed from over 2,000 years ago.

The section also includes finds from the Greek time in Israel (idols of their gods and weapons of the time), finds from the Roman time in Israel (weapons and armor of the Roman army and idols to their gods), finds from the Xians from 1,400 years ago and newer, and Islamic finds from 1,000 years ago and newer.

It’s a very impressive collection well presented.  I do find it disturbing that they don’t allow photography nor are highly publicizing the materials they have.  While I assume this is for business reasons (the only way to see it is to come, pay and visit, and that money is needed to preserve and operate), in this time of the world challenging the Jewish connection to Israel a clear historical timeline of artifacts proving otherwise would be valuable evidence to shove in their faces.

The archeology section moves into a presentation of not quite as old Jewish artifacts, such as menorahs and synagogue implements of the last 1,000 years or so from around the world.  It was ok but not that interesting to us.  (Sorry, I couldn’t sneak any pictures.)

From there we moved to the modern collection.


The very modern collection was stunning, not in a positive way.  When we entered the modern collection entrance, the first thing encountered is a 60 foot african statue, a very thin naked male with 8 foot exposed genitalia.  This is followed by a 7 foot tower of eyeballs that looks like something from Sdom.  We hurried through and I wish the door had warning signs.

The modern collection seemed to be focused on a number of installations, the majority which were video with a little supporting physical structure to present it.  It didn’t make a good impression or bad impression, just a waste of space.  As an example, there was one that was literally just a raised wood floor with planks not properly placed.  Just meaningless.

One of my children looked at an inflated childrens pool with a series of dinner bowels and drinking glasses floating in the water, in which was placed some pumps to create a swirling action and said “neat”.  “Dinner in Motion” – get it?  Neither did I.

Then there was a number of dimly lit rooms, somewhat arranged as normal home, all walls and ceilings covered in large plastic brown butterflies.


They had several rooms which seemed to be futuristic office furniture from the 1920’s through today mounted on the walls (including urinals).  Didn’t do anything for me (maybe I’m art disabled?)

The section ended with a few works by Andy Warhol, including a can of Budweiser and Schlitz beer.  Not worth the view.

We past through that area to the more classic collection.  Starting with a surrealistic collection which included several paintings by famous artists including Dali, but the collection was second rate works.

Next up was French Impressionists.  This collection was more impressive with some top rate artists and works.  But what captured the children’s attention was off to the side…the museum had imported several rooms from French and Victorian England palaces.  The room, the furniture, the art – a full experience of walking into such a gilded location.  It was very impressive.

Similarly a little further along the museum has done the same thing with a series of historical synagogues.  A 16th century one from India, an 18th century one from Germany, etc.  Not sure how many they had, we got through three and were informed the museum was closing.


The Shrine of the Book is a small semi-underground building (partially water cooled) that displays a few fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The building is very dimly lit and kept to a cold temperature, to preserve what’s on display in the best condition possible.

Frankly, this display was very disappointing.  The major item on display is a poor reproduction, and the few actual fragments on display are almost impossible to actually see (due to the lighting and how the items are placed).  Further down they had a display of the Allepo Codex, but only photographs – none of the actual material.  The displays were informative but very limited and mostly reproductions.

Next to it is a scale model reproduction of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the 2nd Beis HaMikdash.  This was attention getting…





Overall I’d say worth the trip but not somewhere I’d take children under 14.  Not just because of the modern art display but also due to general interest.  While the children’s art area looked very nice, if you’re coming for art activities you’re not going to see the collection.  And it’s a bit pricey just for art activities (though not in August with free entry for children).

The archeology section is great, and the collection of Jewish artifacts from all times is impressive.  The more modern art, from the 17th century through the mid-20th century, is a weak collection.  Hey, for Israel it’s decent but is no comparison to any major museum in other parts of the world.

The very modern works and installations…give me a break.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. I took my daughter to the Israel Museum two weeks ago (also to escape the heat.) She really enjoyed it, especially the scale model reproduction of ancient Jerusalem and the "butterflies" (thousands of black paper butterflies pasted up on the walls). She also liked the Shrine of the Book but it was difficult to see the Dead Sea Scroll fragments. I thought the exhibit on the Aleppo Codex was not laid out well; I started in the middle by accident and had to circle back to understand it better.

    I think the new buildings and underground passageway are very well done and blend well with the original museum buildings.

    When we last visited in 2008 construction was just about to begin. My son (2 years old at the time) was TERRIFIED of the modern art exhibits including the videos and the huge sculpture of the man. A year later, he recognized the Guggenheim as another art museum and refused to go in! I agree there should be some warnings posted.

    I liked the "futuristic office furniture" - actually a selection of iconic modern designs from the 1930s to the present. Breuer chairs for example. You never know when someone will recycle a classic design into a new product


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