CEREMONIAL OBJECTS


Due to the partial prohibition of plastic arts (see *Art), Jews found an outlet for their artistic abilities in the synagogue and in producing ceremonial objects. The high regard in which the fashioners of religious art were held is evident from the biblical description of *Bezalel as being filled "with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship" (Ex. 31:3). The rabbis, commenting upon the verse, "This is my God and I will adorn him" (Ex. 15:2), declare it meritorious to observe the precepts with attractive objects such as "a beautiful sukkah, a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar, beautiful fringes, and a beautiful Scroll of the Law" (Shab. 133b). Such an interpretation imposes upon the Jew the necessity of utilizing aesthetically pleasing appurtenances in the performance of his religious duties. The ceremonial objects of the Jews are used in religious worship in the synagogue and home, on the Sabbath and festivals, and in observance of the life cycle. The focal object in Jewish worship is the Torah Scroll (*Sefer Torah) and ritual art in the synagogue centers around it. Since the scroll itself may not be directly touched by the bare hand (Shab. 14a), it became customary in oriental communities to enclose the scroll in an ornamental case (tik). These cases are usually of wood, often decorated with metal inscriptions, but are occasionally of silver, and sometimes even gold. In other communities, the Torah scroll is wrapped in a mantle. Before the mantle is placed on the Torah, the scroll is fastened together by a long strip of material or "binder." In Germany, it became customary for the mother to fashion a binder, termed "Wimpel," for the scroll from the piece of linen used on the occasion of her son's circumcision. The child presented it to the synagogue on his first visit, and it usually was embroidered and inscribed with a blessing for him.

Torah-crowns (keter) or finials (rimmonim) are placed on top of the staves of the Torah. These are usually decorated with bells whose chime symbolizes both the joy of the Torah and the bells which were attached to the robe of the high priest (Ex. 28:31–35). The Torah is also adorned with a breastplate which often contains semi-precious stones. To obviate the touching of the sacred text by hand when reading from it, a pointer is provided. In most countries the form ultimately developed for this was a rod terminating in a hand with an outstretched forefinger. It is therefore generally termed *yad ("hand"). The Torah is often housed in a specially built and elaborately decorated *Ark of the Law, placed on the eastern wall of the synagogue. It is popularly known as the "aron ha-kodesh" or the "holy ark" after the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and the Temple (Ex. 25:10–22), and among the Sephardim it is termed Heikhal ("palace"). The perpetual lamp or eternal light (*Ner Tamid) is usually hung in front of it. Although not required by Jewish law, this probably alludes to the light set up "to burn continually" outside the veil in the sanctuary (Ex. 27:20–21). The curtain (parokhet) adorning the Torah ark may have also been intended as an illusion to the sanctuary, representing the veil which partitioned off the Holy Ark. In many Sephardi congregations, the parokhet is placed behind the doors of the Torah ark, while in Ashkenazi congregations it is placed in front of the ark door, where it occupies a more prominent position. Synagogues usually use colorful veils during the year and a white curtain for the High Holy Days. Usually some biblical or Mishnaic phrase is written above the ark in elaborate characters in beautiful colors, e.g., Shivviti Adonai le-Negdi Tamid (Ps. 16:8; "I have set the Lord always before me"), or Da Lifenei Mi Attah Omed ("Know before whom you are standing"). Some of the most beautiful ceremonial objects have been fashioned for the items used in fulfilling the Sabbath rituals. Sabbath lamps, candlesticks, *Kiddush beakers, and bread knives have been manufactured in a multitude of designs from various precious metals, glass, and wood. The spice box used in the *Havdalah ceremony at the termination of the Sabbath has long been a favorite for imaginative craftsmen. It has been shaped like fruits, flowers, fish, towers, and windmills. Interesting forms were at times devised by combining the spice-box with a candle holder for the candle used in the Havdalah ritual. Besides the spice-box, the *Ḥanukkah lamp is the only other ceremonial object that can boast of a great variety of forms and material. These have been made of clay, stone, brass, pewter, copper, porcelain, glass, and silver. Their forms have represented trees, animals, biblical scenes, and events in Jewish history. For Purim, cylindrical cases of precious metal, wood or ivory, fashioned to hold the Esther scroll, have also been decorated with scenes from the Esther story. The "groggers" utilized by the children during the reading of the Esther scroll are usually made of wood, although occasionally silver was used. These silver rattles sometimes had floral decorations or depicted Haman on the gallows. Special decorative plates have also been designed for the bringing of the food-gifts on Purim. A further opportunity for Jewish ritual art was also provided by the domestic *seder service on Passover eve. Seder plates were designed to hold the symbolic food preparations. In Germany, three-tiered seder dishes were made, so that the three maẓẓot ("pieces of unleavened bread") could also be accommodated. To simplify the counting of the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot (sefirat ha-Omer), *Omer calendars have been fashioned. These usually are simply unadorned tablets and books, or wooden cases with adjustable rolls inside. *Etrog containers have been constructed from wood or precious metals for usage during the festival of *Sukkot.

Ceremonial objects were not restricted to the Jewish holidays, but were also created for other important events in the life cycle of Jews. A beautifully carved chair or bench, known as the "chair or throne of *Elijah," was used at the circumcision ceremony since the prophet Elijah traditionally attends this ritual. Even the circumcision instruments themselves have been embellished, the knives sometimes having on their handles scenes from the life of Abraham, the sacrifice of Isaac, or simply representation of a circumcision scene. Since ancient times the bride has been adorned on her wedding day. In some communities, she wore a crown, diadem, or wreath on her head, as is still customary in Oriental Jewish communities. The ḥuppah ("canopy") used for the wedding ceremony has also been richly decorated, and the rings given by the groom to the bride were occasionally adorned with filigree and enamel decorations. Sometimes they were inscribed with the words mazzal tov ("good luck") and were crowned by a house which symbolized at the same time the Temple and the future home.

Most Jewish communities possess an organization known as the *ḥevra kaddisha which is responsible for the burial of the dead. Generally, once a year, often on the legendary anniversary of the death of Moses (Adar 7), the members of the ḥevra kaddisha observe a special day of fasting and the recitation of penitential prayers. The day is concluded with a banquet for which large wine beakers were made. These wine beakers, made of glass, frequently were decorated with scenes of the society carrying out its pious work. Large silver beakers were sometimes engraved with the names of the members of the society. To remind a Jew of his daily ritual obligations, he was commanded to affix a *mezuzah to the doorposts of his home (Deut. 6:9). These have been fashioned from precious metals and wood in innumerable designs and figurations. On the wall of the home, it became customary to hang a *mizraḥ (east)-tablet to indicate the direction which should be faced when praying. These tablets were often painted with biblical and holiday scenes. Sometimes they were decorated with the verse, "From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof the Lord's name is to be praised" (Ps. 113:3).

Collectors

The earliest known collector of Jewish ritual art was the court Jew Alexander David (1687–1765), whose collection was later housed in the synagogue which he built in Brunswick, Germany. After 1850 such collections began to be assembled more widely and systematically. One of the most important was that of Joseph Strauss, the musician and conductor, which was exhibited at the Universal Exhibition, Paris, in 1878, and at the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, London, in 1887. Subsequently, the collection was acquired by Baron Nathaniel de *Rothschild who presented it to the Musée de Cluny in Paris, where it was on exhibit for some time. In England, Philip Salomons (1796–1867), the brother of Sir David *Salomons, gathered some outstanding pieces of liturgical silver for use in his private synagogue in Brighton. They were later acquired by Reuben *Sassoon, in whose extensive family collection these pieces remained. Another outstanding English collection was that of the banker-publisher Arthur Ellis *Franklin. With his death it passed to the London Jewish Museum. In the 1920s Arthur Howitt (1885–1967) built up a superb collection in a remarkably short time at his home in Richmond, outside London. However, in 1932 business reverses compelled him to dispose of the collection by auction. The objects purchased from the Howitt collection formed the nucleus of both the newly established Jewish Museum in London and the Gustave Tuck collection of the Jewish Historical Society of England. Howitt later assembled another collection, which was small but distinguished. More recently in England, the private collection of Cecil *Roth and that of Alfred *Rubens – which consists largely of engravings – have become important. In Germany, before the Nazis, there were numerous collectors. Leopold Hamburger of Frankfurt on the Main probably had the greatest collection of Jewish coins in the world. It was acquired by the British Museum in 1908 and forms the base of their entire collection. George Francis Hill wrote the Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Palestine (1914), the standard textbook on Jewish coins, using this collection. Outstanding among them was Sally Kirschstein (1869–c. 1930). The bulk of his collection was dispersed by auction in 1932, but a secondary collection was purchased intact for the Museum of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. A good representative collection was built up by Sigmund Nauheim (1879–1935), who made his purchases largely during his travels in Italy. His acquisitions were bequeathed to the Frankfurt Jewish Museum and they shared the museum's fate in World War II. In Eastern Europe, Matthias *Bersohn was a pioneer in gathering ritual objects. His collection formed the basis of the museum bearing his name in Warsaw, until its destruction during World War I. In Israel, the collectors include Heshel Golnitzki, who devoted the scholarly volume Be-Maḥazor ha-Yamim (1963) to his possessions; Heinrich Feuchtwanger, whose collection was given to the Israel Museum; Adolf *Reifenberg, whose collection of Jewish coins forms the basis for his definitive writing on coins; and Yitzḥak Einhorn, whose collection is distinguished for its specimens of Jewish folk art. The museum at Bat Yam houses the bulk of the ceremonial art collection of Sholem *Asch, deposited there by Victor *Carter of Los Angeles, who had purchased the collection after the novelist's death. In Paris, memorable collections are owned by Victor Klagsbald and the Kugel family. In the Amsterdam Jewish Museum there is the collection of Arthur Polak, which concentrated on medals and ceremonial silver.

In about 1890 Ephraim Benguiat brought from Smyrna to the United States an uneven collection, which, however, included some fine pieces. Benguiat's collection was exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, during 1892 and 1893. After his death it was placed with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Cyrus *Adler and I.M. Casanowicz cataloged the collection in 1901. In 1925 it was acquired for the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and comprised the nucleus of the exhibits at the Jewish Museum in New York during the 1930s. The greatest benefactor of the Jewish Museum was Harry G. Friedman (1882–1965), who responded to the museum's requirements with large-scale yet discriminating purchases. In 1941 he made an initial gift of 850 objets d'art. Subsequently, his gifts totaled 5,000 objects, amounting to about 50 percent of the museum's holdings. The remarkable medal collection of Samuel *Friedenberg also went – in 1960 – to the Jewish Museum. Another American collector of renown was Michael Zagayski (1895–1964) who, after having lost all he owned when the Germans occupied Warsaw in 1939, built an unrivaled collection anew in the United States. This collection, which comprised mostly ritual silver, was dispersed at Parke-Bernet auctions held from 1955 to 1968. Another American collection is the small but exquisite one of Judge Irving L. *Lehman, which on his death passed to Congregation Emanu-El in New York City, where it is now displayed. Other important U.S. collectors include Joseph B. Horwitz of Cleveland, S.B. Harrison of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and Charles E. Feinberg (d. 1988) of Detroit, whose collection was dispersed in 1967. The S. Salomon collection, formerly in Paris and London, was sold in New York City in 1949. This collection formed the basis for the illustrations in H. Guttmann's Hebraica, Documents d'art juif (1930). By the late 1960s, the collection of Jewish ritual objects had become more widespread than in any former period, particularly in the United States. In addition, there sprang up commercial collectors, who from time to time put their acquisitions up for sale. At present, authentic 15th-century Jewish ceremonial objects are difficult to find, 17th- and 18th-century objects are rare, and good 19th-century pieces are snatched up. And with the various Jewish museums competing for the finest specimens, it is virtually impossible now to build up private collections on a level with those of the past.

[Cecil Roth]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J. Gutmann, Jewish Ceremonial Art (1964); Roth, Art, 308–50; Mayer, Art, index, S.V. Collections.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.