It's not just a coincidence that Paris houses one of the world’s richest collections of art and historical artefacts related to Jewish culture and religious practices. The French capital has a Jewish history that is both deep and longstanding, extending back hundreds of years to the medieval period. Paris, and France in general, is also home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish populations, and French culture has been significantly infused by Jewish cultural, artistic, and spiritual traditions over the centuries.
If you’re interested in learning more about European and French Jewish history, make sure to reserve some time to visit the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme (Museum of Jewish Arts and History). Tucked in a quieter stretch of the historic Marais quarter, the museum is too often overlooked by tourists, but houses an excellent and remarkably well-curated collection that merits an afternoon or morning. It’s also an essential stop on a Jewish-themed tour of Paris, which might begin or culminate with a stroll and breakfast or lunch in the nearby Rue des Rosiers, the heart of the historic Parisian pletzl (Yiddish for ‘little place’, or neighborhood). Falafel, challah, and other local specialities draw thousands of people to the area every week for delicious treats.
Location and Contact Details
Address: Hôtel de Saint-Aignan
71, rue du Temple
Tel: (+33) 1 53 01 86 60
Metro: Rambuteau (Line 3, 11) or Hôtel de Ville (Line 1, 11)
Tickets, Hours, and Accessibility
The museum is open daily from Monday through Friday and Sunday, and closed on Saturdays and on May 1st. Opening hours differ for the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions.
Permanent Collection Hours:
Mondays to Fridays, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Ticket office closes at 5:15 pm
Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 11:00 am to 6:00 pm
Ticket office closes at 5:15 pm
Wednesday: 11:00 am to 9:00 pm
Last ticket sales at 8:15 pm
Sunday: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
Ticket office closes at 6:15 pm
Accessibility: The museum is wheelchair-accessible in all areas excluding the Media Library. The collections are also designed to accommodate visitors with hearing and visual impairment as well as learning disabilities. See this page at the official website for more information.
The Permanent Collection at the Jewish Arts and History Museum
The permanent collection at the “MAHJ” is quite extensive and proceeds more or less chronologically from the medieval period to the present.
The visit begins with an introduction to Jewish religious objects, artefacts, and texts to provide visitors with a good foundation in some of the tenets of Judaism and Jewish cultures, especially European. A Torah scroll dating from the 16th century Ottoman Empire and a 17th century menorah are among the highlights, as well as an audiovisual presentation.
The Jews in France in the Middle Ages
This section explores the history of French Jews dating to the medieval period.
Through four rare artefacts, it tells the story of how France’s medieval Jews contributed greatly to the period’s culture and civilization before suffering terrible persecution and finally expulsion from France under Charles VI in the late 14th century.
The Jews in Italy from the Renaissance to the 18th Century
Following the expulsion of Jews from Crusade-era Spain in 1492, a period of renewed wealth and cultural vibrancy is exemplified through objects dating from the Italian Renaissance. Synagogue furniture, silverware, liturgical embroideries, and objects from marriage ceremonies are among the highlights in this section.
Amsterdam: The Meeting of Two Diasporas
Amsterdam and the Netherlands was a vibrant center of Jewish life in the centuries prior to the 20th, bringing together the descendents of both Eastern European (Ashkenazi) and Spanish (Sephardic) diaspora communities.
This section explores Dutch Jews' religious, cultural, artistic, and philosophical achievements. These diasporas are notably depicted in 17th and 18th century Dutch engravings. An emphasis on the annual celebrations of Purim and Hannukah shows how they bring together disparate Jewish communities and their different cultural traditions. Meanwhile, the thought of prominent Dutch Jewish philosophers such as Spinoza is considered in this section.
The Traditions: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Worlds
The next two main areas of the permanent exhibit explore differences and common ground between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish cultures and traditions. A range of ethnographic objects and artefacts related to religious rituals and ceremonies are among the highlights.
Moving into the era of the French Revolution, whose Declaration of the Rights of Man accorded French Jews full rights for the first time in their long history, this section explores the so-called “Age of Enlightenment” and the significant cultural, philosophical, and artistic achievements of Jewish individuals and communities during the period, extending through the 19th century and culminating with the darkly anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus.
The Jewish Presence in 20th Century Art
This section highlights the work of early twentieth-century “School of Paris” artists such as Soutine, Modigliani, and Lipchitz to examine how European Jewish artists developed a distinctively modern, and often quite secular, sense of Jewish cultural and artistic identity.
To be a Jew in Paris in 1939: On the Eve of the Holocaust
The collection now enters a tragic phase in French Jewish history: the eve of the Nazi Holocaust, which saw the expulsion and murder of an estimated 77,000 people, including thousands of children. Those who survived were stripped of their basic rights and many fled France. This section not only commemorates the lives of those victims, but contemplates and reconstitutes the daily lives of Parisian Jews in the year before the German Occupation of France and the horrifying events that would ensue.
Contemporary Art Section
The final areas in the permanent collection show examples of important works from contemporary Jewish artists.
In addition to the permanent collections, the museum also regularly curates temporary exhibits dedicated to particular historical periods, religious or artistic artefacts, and Jewish artists or other noteworthy figures. See this page for information on current exhibits.