Scala/Art Resource, NY

The Torah, which contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, is the symbolic focus of Jewish ritual worship today. When not in use, Torah scrolls are generally “dressed” in the finest fabric and ornaments, and stored in a compartment in the synagogue known as the ark. In the ornate ark (shown here, compare with photo of festival of Sukkot) of the 19th-century Spanish Synagogue in Prague, three Torah scrolls are wrapped in velvet cloaks fronted by silver breastplates. One scroll’s regal appearance is completed by a crown that caps the poles on which the scroll is wrapped. The poles of the two other scrolls are encased in individual silver caplets.

But as Tikva Frymer-Kensky notes in the accompanying article, the Torah became a monarch in captivity—a symbolic figurehead wielding much less power than the court of rabbinic tradition that surrounds it.