THE CHERUBIM ON TORAH ARK VALANCES
upper part of the valance. The third motif is that of the Temple implements,depicted on the scallops of the lower edge. The earliest, and most important,of the three motifs is that of the cherubim; analysis of its iconographic evolutionindicates that the other two motifs are based on it. In light of these observations,this study will concentrate on the iconographic aspect of the cherubim motif.The iconographic basis for the cherubim motif is the identification of theTorah ark valance in the synagogue with the cover of the biblical Ark of theCovenant: ‘You shall make a cover (Heb.
) of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit wide… Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositinginside the Ark the Covenant that I will give you’ (Exodus 25:17, 21). This biblicaldescription, however, is speaking of a golden
(cover), while thesynagogue
(valance) is made of fabric. Another difference is due tothe structure of the respective arks. While the Ark of the Covenant was shapedlike a relatively flat box, opening at the top, the Torah ark is a vertical structure,with doors opening in front. Hence, the biblical
was a solid cover,while the synagogue
is a curtain with no real function. It would seemthat only the location of the Torah ark valance, in the upper part of the ark,endowed it with some of the significance of the Torah ark as a substitute forthe Ark of the Covenant, thus pairing it with the Ark cover.
Synagogue-goers were quite aware of this identification, which is consistently
expressed in the dedicatory inscriptions embroidered on Torah ark valances.One example may be seen in a Polish valance, made in 1780/81, with thefollowing inscription in the center:
, ‘Place the coveron the Ark of the Covenant’
(Fig. 2). Now, if the Torah ark valance wascompared to the Biblical cover on the Ark of the Covenant, it should be natural
Fig. 2: Valance, Poland, 1780/81; Stieglitz Collection, Israel Museum, no. 152/246.