A Simchat Torah flag from Warsaw, 1902
This flag was printed in Warsaw in 1902 and would have been given to children to wave on the festival of Simchat Torah. The three main characters represented on the flag are Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and Theodore Herzl. Moses is holding the two tablets of stone that he received on Mt. Sinai, Aaron is holding a vessel containing incense, while Herzl is depicted wearing a top hat.
In the middle of the picture is the Ark in which Torah scrolls are kept. At the top of the flag are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and their symbols. On the left-hand side of the flag are quotes from the Mishnah proclaiming the joy of the festival of Simchat Torah. the obligation to be happy because Israel is the chosen people and a proclamation that Moses went up to the heights to receive the Torah. A deer and a lion are represented in the middle of the sentences with the words “Run like a deer” and “be brave as a lion”. These are quotes from Ethics of the Fathers 5:20. The printer’s details appear at the bottom of the flag.
Simchat Torah is celebrated on the last day of Sukkot and signifies the completion of the annual reading cycle of the Torah and the beginning of the new cycle. Flags were designed to encourage children to participate in the celebration of dancing around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls.
The flags often reflected their historical time period. In this particular case, the design connects the traditional leaders of Israel, Moses and Aaron, with the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl who was, at the time, actively working to realize his vision of a Jewish state.
The three characters can be seen as three approaches to Jewish nationalism: Moses represents spirituality, Aaron represents commandments and law, and Herzl represents the modern dream of Jewish sovereignty.
This flag was printed in Warsaw where there were over 300,000 Jews at the start of the twentieth century. Jewish life was vibrant in Warsaw which, with its many famous Jewish writers, had become the centre of Hebrew publishing in Poland.
Teachers of Jewish Studies could use this source when learning about Simchat Torah and its customs. The illustrations on the flag could be analysed, leading to discussions on why they were chosen.
Teachers of Jewish History could use the flag when learning about Jewish life in Poland at the start of the twentieth century and about Herzl’s role within the timeline of Jewish history.
In Art lessons students could be asked to design and create their own Simchat Torah flags and to decide which personalities they would choose to portray and why.
Who are the personalities on the flag?
What other images appear on the flag?
Where and when was the flag published?
Reading Between the Lines
When would the flag have been used?
Why do we celebrate this festival?
Why do you think Moses, Aaron, and Herzl were chosen to appear on the flag?
Why was Herzl on a flag designed in 1902?
The flag was printed in Warsaw in 1902.
How was Jewish life in Warsaw at that time? Use the internet or other sources to find information.
How many Jews lived there?
What kind of jobs did they do?
Do you go to synagogue on Simchat Torah?
If so, do you enjoy it?
What happens at synagogue on Simchat Torah?
Have you previously heard of Theodore Herzl?
What did you know about him?
How did he contribute to the establishment of the State of Israel?
Choose one of the personalities that appear on the flag and explain why you think that he had more influence on Jewish history than the others.
Which historical personality would you put on a Simchat Torah flag?
Why did you choose this personality?
Draw your own flag depicting this personality based on the Warsaw Simchat Torah flag.