Documenting the visual legacy of the Jewish people from antiquity to the present is the main goal of the Center for Jewish Art's "Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art" (IJA). The Index is predicated upon the understanding that the Jewish heritage is manifested in a most profound way within its art and architecture. Now, more than ever, Jewish visual culture requires the strongest advocacy. It is not only the growing anti-Semitism all over the world, but also the natural processes of decay which threaten this legacy. The danger of terrorist destruction of monuments and artifacts, as occurred in Istanbul and the island of Djerba in Tunisia, has sadly become one of the factors with which we must contend. To this end, the Index of Jewish art has documented about 250,000 items in over 39 countries and trained over 150 student-researchers.
The IJA’s methods of documentation are the same for all objects, from a tiny coin to a complex synagogue building, from treasures found in private homes to Judaica collections in museums. A project begins with an in-depth survey of the region or country, highlighting the important sites and items and those in danger of destruction. What follows is a detailed plan of the next stage of documentation formulated by team leaders. Part of the training of student-researchers is assisting in planning the expedition. Often local guides are engaged for assistance with language, logistics and local customs. Once on site, the objects are carefully measured, described and photographed by trained researchers, architects and a professional photographer. Time is limited. Precision and teamwork are paramount.
Back at the Center for Jewish Art, comparative research is carried out to determine the accuracy of the information collected and to place the item within a larger cultural context. The results of the documentation and research are input into the database of the computer accompanied by photographs. For buildings, architectural plans are drawn and reconstructions are generated on the computer, which, when relevant, include different stages of construction and renovation. An emphasis on iconography of subjects and narratives adorning objects and synagogue buildings is a significant and unique component of the Index. These recurring themes are studied and analyzed in seminars and broken down into its significant elements. The comprehensive bibliography affords further study.