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18 Adar II, 5784 - March 28, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Paroches Made from Napoleon's Cloak

Rav B Chemed

The paroches made from Napoleon's cloak. The green outside section is from the cloak.

Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France for several years, a brilliant general and conqueror of much of Europe had a special feeling for Jewry. He tried to constitute a Sanhedrin at one point. When he campaigned in the Middle East, he issued a special call to the Jews to join him.

There are many legends and tales about contact he had with various Jewish leaders and with plain folk. Many are unverifiable and there is no way to know if they happened or not.

There is one persistent story about a paroches for the Aron Hakodesh in shul that was made from a cloak of Napoleon. There are many versions of how the cloak came into Jewish hands. But there is no question that there exists an ornate paroches that whose structure is consistent with a royal cloak from the time of Napoleon, as we will discuss.

A diagram of the paroches showing the parts of the cloak used to form it.

The velvet paroches is made up of two different colors: a flowery red center, encircled by a green velvet, with golden flowers decorating the hem. The words "As for me, my prayer is that the One Who sits as of yore hearken to my outcry." The initial letter of each word is emphasized, and together, they form the word 'VATIKIN'.

Other verses are embroidered on the sides, their initials forming the words "Yosef ben Yaakov Aharon Luria ND"Y from Oholiv." Additional words are embroidered at the bottom initially forming the words "And his wife Fruma from Slutzk."

The written source which we have regarding the tradition of the Luria family and the paroches that was made from Napoleon's cloak, appears in a serious of fascinating pamphlets written by R' Pinchos Naryevsky, "A Memorial to the first [chovevim] and finest public activists in Yerushalaim" (Vol. 7, Yerushalaim pp. 14-75) under the title "The Paroches from the Mantel of King Napoleon the First."

"HaRav Nesanel Luria, hails from the Efrati [notable] family, tenth generation from the Maharshal, whose family tree goes back till Rashi. In 5511, he moved to Yerushalaim with his illustrious father, R' Zev Luria from Moholiev, and being prominent and scholarly, was taken by HaRav Yeshaya Bardaki as a son-in-law for his daughter Channah. He passed away on the 12th of Cheshvan, 5574.

A reconstruction of how the cloak originally appeared.

His grandson, Yeshaya, son of HaRav Yaakov Aharon Luria, director of Carmel Mizrachi Wines sales in Port Said, is the custodian of this paroches, embroidered with gold and silver on green velvet made from King Napoleon's mantel which was given to his great-grandfather, R' Yosef Yonah, son of R' Yaakov Aharon Luria of Moholiev. This paroches was kept by R' Nesanel Luria until it was lent to the Succas Shalom shul in the Old City of Jerusalem and then, to the shul in Yemin Moshe." For many years it also graced the Aron Hakodesh of the famous Churvah Shul in Jerusalem on special occasions.

Come and lend an attentive ear to the riveting words of R' Yosef Gavrieli, grandson of R' Eliezer Don Ralbag, Rosh Yeshivas Eitz Chaim, Yerushalaim, telling of the deep reverence accorded to this paroches by Jerusalemites. It did not grace the Aron Kodesh of the Churvah shul during the year, but only on the three Regolim and on Parshas Behaalosecha, when throngs of people filled the shul in order to marvel at it and revel upon the unique tradition which accompanies it.

The work "Mokirei Yerushalaim" (by Y. Z. Wassermann, 5733, p. 204) notes:

"On Shabbos Parshas Behaalosecha, Jews from all parts of Yerushalaim would flock to daven on Friday night at the Churvah shul, bringing their young children along to wonder at the sight.

"What attracted them here on this particular night? They came to see the magnificent silver menorah with its three steps which had to be ascended in order to light the candles. This candelabrum was lit only twice a year: on Chanukah and Parshas Behaalosecha.

Twelve steps led to the two-story aron kodesh, symbolizing the number of tribes. It contained over fifty sifrei Torah, nevi'im klafim, and megillos. It, too, was graced with the unique, priceless paroches embroidered with real gold lettering. It was a famous article and our fathers brought us to see it being used only on the three Regolim and on Shabbos Behaalosecha.

It had been donated by the gabbai, R' Nesanel Luria, created, as tradition had it, from the royal mantel of King Napoleon Bonaparte.

According to the Luria family, in 5719 (1959) R' Yeshaya lent the paroches to the Haifa Art Museum so that it would be treated and preserved to prevent it from falling apart. Some years later the family asked for the paroches to be returned but the museum refused. The matter wound up in court.

According to the records of the museum, it had initiated contact with R' Yeshaya who agreed to let it be displayed there. Subsequently, the museum bought the celebrated paroches and R' Yeshaya received the sum of four hundred liras, upon which the acquisition was registered on his name in the museum records.

The court was called upon to judge upon an irregular case, and it ruled that it belonged to the museum. Nonetheless, the Haifa Museum of Art lent it for a brief one-time to be hung again on the Aron Kodesh of the restored Churvah shul on Chanukah as a gesture of 'restoring the crown to its origin.'

The acquisition of this paroches to the unholy hands of the Haifa Museum was a considerable gain, in that the museum's researchers found evidence affirming the historic tradition of its being made from Napoleon's cloak. This was after it was sent to France for professional verification, where they acknowledged that the fabric and the workmanship appear to be dated to the time of Napoleon.

An interesting and authentic detail can be seen from the location of the 'aviekus' , the buttonholes where the buttons are inserted, which are found at the bottom left hem. The place of the buttons themselves and the other gold decorations are also discernible on the paroches itself.


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