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Newsletter of the Adelaide Jewish Museum – April 2003

Tale of a Tallis

Marjorie Luno’s father Harold was born in 1883. Being Jewish, he would have had his Barmitzvah in 1896. His mother (who was the wife of the Rabbi Abraham Tobias Boas) made a Tallis for him. Everybody did embroidery in those days, darning socks, knitting or sewing. Women never sat with idle hands. It is a disappearing art; many young women today probably never learn these skills. I certainly haven’t.

This one she made of silk, in its day state of the art, but now eaten a bit here and there by Silver Fish. Where she needed to put layers of cloth, she used featherstitch, so neat and precise I thought it was machine stitched. The silk would have come from either China or Japan. The Tallis is done to the width of the silk, from a narrow loom, since there are no hems at each side. She has knotted the fringes, made of silk thread, sewn on by hand. Very simple in design, she has kept only the essential design of neckband and fringes. Marjorie remembers her father wearing it, and everyone telling him he’d better get a new Tallis eventually, and in the end he did get a new one. He kept this because his mother made it, not because of any essential beauty or embellishment of design. All the women would have done similarly for their sons, in those days, made out of necessity as well as a labour of love.

One could not write about this had his mother made him a scarf, or another ordinary utilitarian item of clothing. Once it had reached such a state of disrepair and with signs of moth infestation, it would probably have been discarded. Because it is a ritual object, imbued with so much more significance and sentiment, it remains available to us still, despite the fact that it is almost 110 years old.

As such, it has been bequeathed to the Adelaide Jewish Museum, but safely remains in the hands of Marjorie until such time as a Museum with adequate storage space comes into existence. This is the responsible way to handle articles that form the basis of promised museum objects, kept in community hands but promised to the Museum in the future, when it comes into its own.

Wrapped together with his Tallis is a handwritten sheet that we casually thought could have been his Barmitzvah Parshat. A total surprise came with translating this document, written entirely in Hebrew, which identified it as the Ketubah, or marriage certificate of his father Reverend Abraham Tobias Boas, the first Rabbi in Adelaide. The Ketubah is dated in the year of 5633, corresponding to 1873, the year of the marriage of the Rabbi to his bride Elizabeth Solomon, daughter of Isaac Solomon.

For those who are curious, you can read more about this pioneer Jewish Minister on the Adelaide Jewish Museum website. Louise Rosenberg, former Secretary of the Jewish Historical Society in Sydney, has written the biography of this man who was the spiritual leader of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation from 1870 to 1923. Born in Amsterdam in 1842, Rev Boas trained in the Theological Seminary in Amsterdam and then went to England, becoming Minister at the South Hampton Synagogue until he was recommended to the AHC. The story continues with him setting sail for Australia in 1869, tells of his three-month boat trip and how he managed to keep kosher, his landing at Glenelg, his marriage and his 9 children.

His son Harold inherited this sacred shawl and then passed it on to his daughter, hence bringing us to Marjorie Luno, as mentioned above. Marjorie has a keen understanding for the importance of documents and objects and imparts this sensitivity to her position as Beit Shalom Synagogue’s archivist.

I am learning to read Hebrew, but wonder if I’ll ever learn to know the meaning of what I’m reading. I guess it would help in being able to distinguish a portion of the Torah from a marriage contract.

Roslyn Sugarman