Jewish Culture & IdeasJewish History

Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, From the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Aug 30, 2018–Jan 6, 2019

Clothing is intended to cover our bodies, but it also uncovers. To what extent is our choice of dress freely made, and how do our surroundings affect our decisions? The variety of costumes displayed in this exhibition attests to the diversity of Jewish communities around the globe. In many cases, the clothes worn by Jews were similar or even identical to those worn by non-Jewish neighbors, although at times special features distinguished them from the dominant culture.

This exhibition invites viewers to consider the language of clothing in all its complexity. Though this language can disclose information about gender, age, background, and custom, some important meanings remain vague and fluid. Clothing may accentuate or conceal; it may be transitory, but it may also be ageless and universal. These garments, dating primarily to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are drawn from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the repository of the most comprehensive collection of Jewish costume in the world. Its holdings provide a unique testimony to bygone communities, to forms of dress and craft that no longer exist, and to a sense of beauty that still has the power to enthrall.

about the exhibtion

The extraordinary range of textile designs and clothing in the exhibition illuminates the story of how diverse global cultures have thrived, interacted, and inspired each other for centuries. Jewish communities from Afghanistan, Algeria, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Georgia, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq,
 Iraqi Kurdistan, Israel, Italy, Libya, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Yemen are represented. Approximately 65 items of clothing will be on display, selected as representative excellent examples from the much larger collection of Jewish diasporic clothing held by the Israel Museum. Mostly women’s clothing from North Africa and the Middle East, these exquisite objects from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries showcase color, texture, function, artistry, and craftsmanship, and offer an incisive and compelling examination of diversity and migration through the lens of fashion.

Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, From the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem will focus on how clothes balance the personal with the social, how dress traditions distinguish different Jewish communities, and how they portray Jewish and secular affiliations within a larger societal context. The exhibition offers historical, geographic, ethnographic, cultural, and symbolic interpretation to highlight the diversity of Jewish dress throughout its diaspora.

A spectacular selection from the collection of the Israel Museum, with an emphasis on Jewish cultures in North Africa and the Middle East, this exhibition was developed jointly between The CJM and The Jewish Museum in New York, which will be the only two venues for the exhibition.


Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, From the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem is organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Lead sponsorship is provided by the Koret Foundation and Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt. Patron Sponsorship is provided by Gaia Fund and Taube Philanthropies for Jewish Life and Culture. Supporting sponsorship is provided by David Agger.

Image Credit

“Great Dress” (berberisca or al kesswa l’kebira) (detail). Fez, Morocco, early 20th century. Silk velvet, gift metal cords, braided ribbons, and embroidered tulle. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Gift of Perla Ben-Soussan, France; Gift of Armand Amselem, France, B66.1099, 1551, B71.0267, B79.0460. Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem by Mauro Magliani.