Bezalel Ark (Aron)

This shrine for the Torah, said to be the work of 100 students, is a shining example of Bezalel School craftsmanship and a centerpiece of Spertus Institute’s collection.

Zev Raban, Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts

The Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, forerunner of Israel's modern-day art academy, was founded in Jerusalem in 1906, by order of the 5th Zionist Congress. The school was named for the biblical Bezalel, a divinely inspired craftsman who was tasked with building the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Its goals were threefold: 1) to train and support Jewish artists in Jerusalem; 2) to develop a national style; and 3) to spread Zionist ideals in the diaspora through the sale of its handicrafts abroad.

An estimated one hundred students are said to have participated in the fabrication of this ark under the direction of Bezalel’s preeminent teacher, Zev Raban. It is a shining example of the distinctive Bezalel style developed by Raban, which was a synthesis of European Art Nouveau and Middle Eastern craft traditions such as Syrian inlay, Persian metalworking, and Yemini filigree.

Crafted entirely of indigenous materials, the scenes on the doors relate to the life of Moses, the giver of the Law.  The ark is further decorated with the symbols of the zodiac, ancient Israelite coins, ivories representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, and winged cherubs, which topped the original Ark according to tradition. 

  • Photograph of Zeev Raban

  • Box

    Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem
    ca. 1906-1929
    Brass, silver, and copper Damascene work
    The box is inscribed with a verse from Psalm 137:
    “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not.”
    Bezalel students travelled to Damascus to learn the craft of Damascene, a form of metal inlay.

  • Esther Scroll and Case

    Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem
    20th century
    Parchment and silver filigree
    In a 1917 paper about marketing Bezalel crafts Boris Schatz wrote, “In Jerusalem there is a market for silver filigree work on ceremonial objects and on souvenirs for the tourists who come every year and for people living abroad who hold Jerusalem sacred.”

  • Seder Plate Bezalel School

    Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem
    Zeev Raban was the head of the school’s repoussé department from 1914. He also taught modeling, anatomy and composition. The ark was produced under his direction.

  • Writing Set

    Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem
    Olivewood ebony, mother of pearl and ivory
    This set was given as a wedding gift to Bezalel School founder Boris Schatz by his students.

  • Rug

    Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem
    ca. 1910-1930
    This rug was crafted at Marbadiah, a satellite workshop of the Bezalel school specializing in rugs. It depicts the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem, a revered Jewish site.

Name: Bezalel Ark (Aron)
Artist: Zev Raban, Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts
Origin: Eretz Yisrael / Israel, 1916 - 1925
Medium: Brass, Filigree, Ivory, Semi-precious Stone, Silver
Dimensions: 69 x 35 x 27.5 in.
Credit: Gift of the Spertus Foundation
Catalog Number: 69.1.500
Asher LibraryOne Hundred Years of Art in Israel

Gideon Ofrat (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998)

Asher LibraryBezalel 1906-1929

Nurit Shilo-Cohen, ed. (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1983)

Asher LibraryBezalel / בצלאל אקדמיה לאמנות ועיצוב ירושלים

Hannah Aschheim, ed. (Jerusalem: Bezalel, Department of Public Relations, 1994)