You are here

Spertus Institute Collection Highlights

Spertus Institute Collection Highlights

Online Exhibition

Spice Containers (Besamim), Spertus Institute Collections

Preserving the material culture of the Jewish people is fundamental to the mission of Spertus Institute. Our collections — of books, films, music, artworks, artifacts, rare antique maps, and archival items — number more than half a million. Items from our collections are incorporated into our exhibits, courses, and public programming.

With generous support from the Spitz Foundation, highlights from the Spertus Institute collections can now be viewed online, showcasing examples of Jewish art and material culture that have shaped and given expression to the Jewish experience.

We invite you to explore these collection highlights, share them, learn from them, and use them to teach and inspire. Browse objects by themes, view items by category, or search by keyword. Take a closer look with high-resolution photography and multimedia clips. If your interest is piqued, learn more with suggested resources from the Asher Library.

Start exploring

Roots of the Spertus Collection
The roots of the Spertus Collection lie in the vision of its founding donor, Chicago businessman Maurice Spertus. Maurice was born in the Ukraine in 1901 and escaped Communist Russia with his brother Herman in 1923. Together they established Metalcraft Corporation, which became the world's largest supplier of picture frames. The tragic events of World War II, including the plunder and destruction of European Jewish cultural heritage, had a profound effect on Maurice and inspired him to reexamine his Jewish heritage. He traveled the world in pursuit of Judaica, with the aim of eventually establishing a museum "to sharpen the memory of an incredibly rich and varied heritage in the minds of students, teachers, and the general public." By the 1960s, he had amassed one of the world's greatest private collections of Jewish ceremonial art and Holocaust objects. With his 1967 donation of 330 items to Chicago's College of Jewish Studies, Spertus Museum was born. Today, the collection, a component of Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership's multifaceted approach to education, has grown to roughly 15,000 objects, a testament to the enduring power of Maurice's vision.


See the stories behind the objects from our Collection. This one is about the Dottheim-Brooks' Family Breastplate.

Brooks Breastplate (short) from Spertus Institute on Vimeo.