The Problem with Jewish Museums

Ours is an era of museums celebrating the identity of nearly every group and ethnicity. But something else takes place when the identity in question is Jewish.

February 1, 2016 | Edward Rothstein
About the author: Edward Rothstein is Critic at Large at the Wall Street Journal. His essays in Mosaic include “The Problem with Jewish Museums” and “Jerusalem Syndrome at the Met.”

From the “Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves)” installation by Menashe Kadishman at the Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Wikimedia.

In more than a decade of writing about museums, first for the New York Times and now for the Wall Street Journal, I’ve reviewed history museums, science museums, political museums, and museums created by eccentric collectors. I’ve visited two museums devoted to neon signs and one to ventriloquists’ dummies, a creation-science museum and a science-fiction museum. I’ve seen human mutations preserved in glass jars and coffee beans sent to Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, a mummified cat and a fragment of Jeremy Bentham’s skin. But I haven’t seen anything quite so strange as the ways in which various Jewish communities in the United States, in Europe, and in Israel have come to depict themselves in museums.

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