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Earliest Times

The earliest manufacture of glass does not antedate the late third millennium B.C.E., when the first glass beads were made in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The invention of glass vessel-making dates to the mid-second millennium B.C.E., when the first core-formed glass vessels appear almost simultaneously in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Egypt's glass industry was particularly flourishing in the el-Amarna period (the first half of the 14th century B.C.E.). Some Mesopotamian glass vessels have been found in northern Syria, though none in Palestine, but several Palestinian sites have yielded Egyptian glass vessels of the 14th–13th centuries B.C.E. A rich collection of such vessels was found in the small Canaanite Fosse Temple at Lachish; others were found at Beth Shean and Tell Dayr ʿAllā (the ancient Sukkoth). Egyptian glass vessels were also found in tombs at Tell al-ʿAjūl, Beth Shemesh, and Ẓahrat al-Ḥumrāya south of Jaffa. Gezer and Megiddo yielded similar glass vessels. There is no positive evidence that there was any manufacture of glass vessels in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age. A complete decline in glassmaking set in toward the end of the second millennium B.C.E. and it is only in the second half of the eighth and the seventh centuries B.C.E. that glass vessels appear again. None of the molded and cut luxury glass bowls and other colored vessels of that period has come to light in Palestine, but a core-formed vessel of the seventh century was found in a tomb at Achzib. Glass-inlay pieces of the late ninth and eighth centuries were found together with the ivories in the palace of the kings of Israel at Samaria, but whether they were made of Syrian or imported glass is not known. An active production center of core-formed glass vessels, probably on the island of Rhodes, began making small amphoriskoi, aryballoses (short-necked flasks), alabastra, and juglets late in the seventh century B.C.E., and specimens have been found in an early sixth-century tomb at Gibeah, north of Jerusalem, and in Ammonite tombs in Jordan. Other vessels of this type have been found in Israel at Athlit, Achzib, Hazor, Beth Shean, and En Gedi. Molded and cut luxury glass vessels continued to be made in the Achaemenid period (sixth to fourth centuries) and the remains of an alabastrum of this type were found in a tomb at Athlit. Core-formed glass vessels of the Hellenistic period have occasionally been found in Palestine. The fragments of molded bowls found in second- and first-century B.C.E. levels at Ashdod, Jerusalem, Samaria, and other sites, may be products of local glass factories, possibly situated somewhere along the coast. There is, however, no indication whatsoever that Jews had any connection with glassmaking during the Hellenistic period, either in Palestine or in the Diaspora.

Glass in Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Glass is mentioned only once in the Bible, in Job 28:17, where it is equated with gold. This reflects the early situation when glass was of great value. The obscure statement in Deuteronomy 32:18–19 about Zebulun's hidden treasures in the sand was explained by Targum Jonathan as referring to glass, but this seems anachronistic. The Septuagint followed a very different line when it chose to render this passage as close as possible to Genesis 49:13. This probably indicates that when the Greek version of the Bible was prepared, this area had not had the obvious connection with glass that it had later on. A very early tradition seems to be preserved in the Palestinian Talmud (TJ, Pes. 1:6, 27b) and in the Babylonian Talmud (Shab. 14b, 15a), according to which Yose b. Joezer and Yose b. Johanan, who lived in the first half of the second century B.C.E., declared that glass vessels are liable to become impure. The U.S. talmudist Louis Ginzberg suggested that this declaration had an economic basis – it was meant to protect local pottery and metal ware from competition with foreign glass imports. Glass was, however, rare and valuable all through the Hellenistic period, and could not have presented competition to any local products. An explanation must therefore be sought in the cultural-religious sphere. The edict is contemporary with the first large-scale production of glass drinking bowls, and the two Jewish authorities may have objected to them because they identified them with Hellenistic influence, manners, and customs.

A revolutionary event was the invention of glassblowing toward the end of the first century B.C.E., which made it possible to produce glass vessels cheaply and in great variety. The invention seems to have taken place during the reign of Augustus (31 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) somewhere along the Phoenician coast, perhaps at Sidon, an area where a glass production center was apparently already in existence. The fame of Sidonian glass must have been considerable, since glassmakers working in Rome in the first century C.E. boasted of their Sidonian origin when they stamped the handles of their canthari in Greek or Latin, as, for example, Artas Sidon.

Several Jewish tombs of the first and second centuries C.E. have yielded glass vessels. Glass vessels are relatively rare in ossuary tombs around Jerusalem, which are no later than 70 C.E. A tomb excavated at Ramat Raḥel in 1931 (Tomb I) contained a small bottle with a spheric body and a short cylindrical neck. Several tombs in a cemetery on The Mount of Olives yielded simple, small glass bottles with pearshaped bodies and elongated necks. All these glass vessels are typical of the first-century vessels common throughout the Roman Empire. A Jewish tomb of the middle of the first century at Carthage yielded a shallow glass bowl of a shape very common in the early imperial period. So-called "candlestick" bottles which have small convex bodies and long tubular necks were found in a few ossuary tombs in and around Jerusalem which can be dated to the second century. To the relatively limited testimony from Jewish tombs were added in 1960–61 the finds from the Judean desert caves in which fugitives of the Bar Kokhba revolt took refuge. The finds included typical glass vessels of the early part of the second century C.E. It appears, then, that the only Jewish glass vessels of this period were the normal ware of the day. It stands to reason that some of the vessels, perhaps even many of them, were made by Jews but this is no more than a logical assumption. The Mishnah includes passages which refer specifically to glass-making. Kelim 8:9 mentions עוֹשֵׂי זְכוּכִית – those who make glass (the "metal") – and זַגָּגִין – those who make glass vessels and their furnaces. Makers of glass vessels are also mentioned in Kelim 24:8. The Mishnah would not have included regulations about these trades if they had not been part and parcel of the daily life in Palestine, at any rate in the second century C.E. and possibly earlier. This, then, proves the existence of Jewish glassmakers in this period.


The first group of glass vessels which is distinctly Jewish by reason of its decoration is the famous gold glass with Jewish symbols. The term is used to describe decorations of thin gold foil encased between two layers of glass medallion; and must not be confused with gilding, where the gold is left uncovered. The commonest type of gold glasses are those which were used, in the third and the fourth centuries C.E., as a decorated base of very shallow plates, bowls, or beakers. The thinly hammered gold foil was pasted on a round piece of clear or dark blue glass, within the boundaries of a low raised glass base. The outlines and the designs of the desired pictures, patterns, and inscriptions were prepared by removing the superfluous gold from the background, and leaving the designs in gold. Enamel paints were used at times to enrich the decoration. In the final stage the decorated base was reheated and joined to the outer surface of a large, hot, clear glass "bubble" which was later given the shape of the required bowl. A similar method was used to decorate the body of a vessel by smaller medallions of gold foil on blue glass. This technique was not exclusively Jewish. In the third and fourth centuries C.E. this particular craft flourished on an unprecedented scale. The center of the industry was Rome, and most of the pieces were found in pagan, Christian, or Jewish catacombs in and around the city. The vessels were broken deliberately, often skillfully chiseled around the edges, and stuck into the plaster near or on the graves of the deceased. The reasons for this custom have not yet been convincingly explained. Of the 500 bases and decorative medallions that have survived, only about a dozen bear definitely Jewish symbols. The earliest was found in 1882 in the catacomb of the saints Peter and Marcellinus (now in the Vatican Museum) and another around 1894 in the catacomb of Saint Ermete. A gold glass now in Berlin is said to have been found in the Jewish catacomb of Vigna Randanini in Rome and another which is now in the Cologne City Museum is said to have come from the Villa Torlonia catacomb. Other Jewish gold glass pieces are now in the Vatican and in the British, the Ashmolean, the Metropolitan, the Wuerzburg University, and the Israel museums. Most of the Jewish gold glass bases have their decorations presented in two registers. These include representations of the Ark of the Covenant flanked by a pair of lions or doves, temple vessels like menorot, amphorae, and shofarot, and objects relating to Sukkot, the Feast of the Temple, such as lulavim, etrogim, and motifs found in other Jewish objects and catacombs of the period. Of a different type is the Vatican fragment found in 1882. This bears a miniature painting of a tetrastyle temple inside a peristyle court surrounded by palm trees. The temple is approached by four steps and on the tympanum of the gable is a menorah. In front of the temple are a lulav, an etrog, two amphorae, and other objects. The temple is flanked by two free-standing columns. Most scholars seem to agree that this is a representation of Solomon's Temple, and it can be assumed that it was copied from an early illuminated Bible manuscript. This fragment bears a Greek inscription. Other Jewish gold glasses have inscriptions in Latin, similar to those found on the non-Jewish glasses such as ANIMA DULCIS ("sweet soul"). Only one Jewish small gold glass medallion is known. This shows a shofar between two etrogim. It is now in the Vatican Library. These Jewish gold glasses are generally thought to have been drinking vessels, perhaps for ritual purposes. The fragment with Solomon's Temple may tentatively be attributed to the third or early fourth century C.E.; the rest are more likely to be of the fourth century. Their decoration has numerous parallels in Jewish art. It is possible to assume that they were made by Jews.

In addition to the gold glasses and cut bowls from Rome there are further specimens worth noting: Moshe *Schwabe and Adolf *Reifenberg uncovered and published in 1935 a Jewish gilded glass sepulchral inscription in Greek ending with Shalom in Hebrew, with a menorah below the inscription and a shofar on its right. They also published a stamped glass medallion from Rome bearing a menorah and the name of the glassmaker: EX OF [FICINA] LAVRENTI.

The Eastern Mediterranean: Third Century to Arab Conquest

The excavations at the Jewish cemeteries at Beth She'arim have yielded some finds of glass. Several vessels and many fragments were found in catacombs 12–20 and date to the third and first half of the fourth century C.E. These are, with very few exceptions, fragments of various common types of receptacles of the period, mainly bottles, and do not have any characteristics which could identify them as Jewish. An exceptional decorated glass plate was discovered in catacomb 15. With a diameter of 52 cms. (c. 20 ins.), it is unusually large, and engraved on its exterior are 13 arches under which are vessels, tools, doors, and hanging lamps and several unidentified objects. Although this may represent a temple facade, nothing in the designs on the plate is specifically Jewish. The remains of a glass factory were found at Beth She'arim during the excavations in 1940 and were attributed to the first half of the fourth century C.E. and to the Byzantine period. A large slab of glass – 3.40 × 1.94 × 0.45 m. (11 × 6½ × 1½ ft.) – apparently the bottom of a glassmaker's tank, was also discovered in a cistern. This too possibly dates to the Byzantine period. It is therefore reasonable to assume that some of the vessels found in the cemeteries around the site were local products. Several glass vessels, also of contemporary Palestinian types, were found in a Jewish tomb of the late fourth to fifth centuries at Gezer (Tomb 201). Glass lamps having three handles for suspension and cups of the type used for bronze polycandela were in use in Palestinian synagogues of the Byzantine period. Lamps suspended from seven-branched candlesticks are depicted on the mosaic pavement of the synagogue of Naaran (sixth century C.E.). Several other synagogue mosaic pavements have representations of seven-branched candlesticks with glass lamps. A complete glass lamp and many fragments of lamps of various types were found in the Beth-Shean synagogue. They belong to its last phase in the first half of the seventh century and are now in the collection of the Israel Department of Antiquities. Similar fragments of lamps from the late sixth or early seventh centuries were also found in the synagogue of Maon near Nir Am, southeast of Gaza. Exactly the same types of lamp were used in contemporary churches in Palestine and Syria, so the glass finds in such Jewish contexts as the catacombs of Beth She'arim, Gezer (Tomb 201), or the ruins of synagogues do not differ from the normal glassware of their times. Between the late fourth and early seventh centuries there are a few groups of ornamental glass objects such as pendants and bracelets, bearing symbols which identify them as specifically Jewish. In a tomb excavated at Tarshīḥā in western Galilee a small circular pendant of greenish glass with a loop for suspension was found stamped with a menorah. The tomb was in use in the fourth and fifth centuries. The pendant is now in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem (31.286B). The British Museum has a pendant made of light brownish glass, said to be from Tyre, with a menorah, a shofar on the left, and a lulav and etrog on the right. There are similar pendants in the Israel Museum and in the Reifenberg collection. Of unknown provenance is a small greenish glass medallion in the Jewish Museum, New York, representing a menorah in a wreath. It was originally applied to a vessel and dates to the fourth century C.E. An identical piece from Egypt is in the Israel Museum. A fragment of a blue glass bracelet with the menorah stamped on it several times was found in the western part of the Jezreel Valley. It is now in a private collection. A complete bracelet of blue glass with 14 impressions of a menorah and shofar on its right side was acquired in New York in 1965. It is said to be of east Mediterranean provenance. Both the fragment and the complete example are probably of the fourth or fifth century. Another bracelet of very dark green glass with similar impressions but of unknown provenance is in the Museum Haaretz, Tel Aviv.


By far the most interesting Jewish glass from Palestine are the mold-blown hexagonal and octagonal small jugs or jars. These were blown into hexagonal or octagonal metal molds which were open top and bottom. The designs which were hammered into the molds appeared on the lower part of the jug, as an impression and not as a relief. Some hexagonal jugs have a long neck and a handle while others have a short neck and outsplayed rim. Nearly all these vessels were made of a bubbly brown glass, but there are a few known examples made of greenish glass. Of many such mostly Christian jugs, only about 30 survived bearing Jewish symbols, such as menorot, often with a shofar on the left, and a lulav and etrog on the right, sometimes with an incense shovel on the right. The other sides are decorated with trees, arches, and other objects or patterns. Similar jugs and jars bearing Christian symbols have identical features, indicating that they were made in the same workshops. They are believed to have been used as containers for oil taken from the lamps of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be blessed at Golgotha, and there can be no doubt that they were made in Jerusalem. These are attributed to the late sixth or early seventh century, and by analogy the Jewish vessels can be attributed to the same period. It can be assumed that Jewish pilgrims used the vessels for carrying away oil from lamps at their center of veneration – probably the Western Wall. During the excavations at Ephesus in Asia Minor a bottle was found on which are painted in black a menorah, a shofar, a lulav, and an etrog. Though this seems to be the only known Jewish glass vessel from the eastern Mediterranean area, apart from Palestine and Syria, the existence of Jewish glassmakers in the region in the sixth century C.E. can be deduced from two popular Byzantine fables of that time, one from Emesa (Homs), the other from Constantinople, in both of which the central figure is a Jewish glassmaker.

In the East from Medieval to Modern Times

The fact that Jews were active in glassmaking in medieval times is borne out by references in sources of the period. Arab historians have preserved the interesting information that the Khalif ʿAbd al-Malik (685–705) employed a group of Jews to make the glass lamps and vessels for the Mosque in Jerusalem but that Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz deprived them of this office. Very important data have been preserved in the *Cairo Genizah . A document signed in the spring of 1011 deals with a dispute over the payment for a consignment of 50 "bales of glass" sent by three Jews from Tyre to Cairo. This ties up with a statement made by *Benjamin of Tudela , who visited Palestine in 1170, that at Tyre were "Jews, makers of good glass which is called Tyrian glass and is famous in all countries." Benjamin of Tudela also mentions that at Antioch "are aboutten Jews and they are glassmakers." In an article on the Cairo Genizah published in 1961, S.D. Goitein mentions four contracts of partnership in glass workshops, one of which refers to a Jewish glassmaker who arrived in Cairo "from the west." He appears to have traveled overland from Tunis. Goitein believes that Jews were connected with the issue of the well-known Islamic glass weights. However, no actual survivals of Jewish glass manufactured in this period are known.

It has been suggested that Jews were connected with the age-old glass works at Hebron. The first to mention these works seems to have been the Augustine monk, Jacob of Verona, who visited Hebron in 1335; but he made no reference to any Jews there, although production was already on a large scale.

[Dan P. Barag]

L.A. Mayer assumed that a group of clumsily inscribed Syro-Egyptian glass mosque lamps were executed by "Jewish craftsmen, who were literate, but in a different script." During the Ottoman period, in the 17th century, there was in Damascus a Jewish center for the manufacturing of similar glass lamps. One such lamp in the Jewish Museum in London bears a Hebrew inscription and dates from 1694. Of Middle Eastern 18th-century origin are bottles of opaque glass, which have Hebrew dedicatory inscriptions cut in them. One which belonged to the Charles Feinberg Collection is now in the Israel Museum. Another specimen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a metal top and decorative chains. These were probably used as oil or wine containers.

In the West From Medieval to Modern Times

The art of glassmaking was reintroduced into Europe during the period of the Crusades. Numbers of Eastern glassmakers settled in northern Italy, Spain, and southern France. Jewish craftsmen may have been among them; though it cannot be proven.


There were, however, Jewish glassmakers in Central and Eastern Europe after the 15th century. There are also records of Jewish glaziers and glassmakers in Bohemia and Moravia from the 15th century onward, and the craft was frequently practiced by Bohemian Jews in the latter half of the 16th century.

From glass vessels and from contracts between Jewish glassmakers and the aristocracy it is clear, for instance, that the Jews took an active part in the flowering of glassmaking in Hungary in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ḥevra Kaddisha Beakers. In the 17th and 18th centuries Hungarian and Bohemian Jews apparently participated in the general practice of manufacturing decorated jugs or beakers for special occasions. Among them were prominent beakers used by members of a guild or a fraternity at their annual banquets and given each year by the men chosen head of the guild. Interesting are some painted and cut-glass beakers which were executed for the Jewish Burial Society, the *ḥevra kaddisha , in some German and Bohemian communities. Several such beakers survived, mostly in the Jewish Museum in Prague. Their most common decoration is the burial procession. One such beaker dated 1692 is now in the New York Jewish Museum.

In modern times too Jews were prominent in the marketing and industrial production of Czechoslovakian glass, centered in Bohemia. In the period between the world wars there were many Jewish firms which produced sheet glass, plate glass, and mirrors, as well as glass pastes for artificial jewelry. When Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia some of the leading Jewish producers of artificial gems and costume jewelry moved their firms to the United States.


In the late 18th and 19th centuries Lazarus Jacobs (d. 1796) of Bristol and his son Isaac (d. 1833) were important glass manufacturers and merchants, the latter holding a royal appointment as glass manufacturers to George III. They were especially celebrated for their opaque white, and the elegant royal blue glassware for which Bristol was famous. Another eminent Jewish glassmaker was Meyer Oppenheim, who came from Pressburg in Hungary. He invented a ruby flint glass which he produced in Birmingham from 1756 to 1775. A number of Jews were associated with the glass industry in Birmingham, where the lead glass used for artificial gems was known as "Jew's glass" in the middle of the 19th century.


The earliest known American glass cutter was a Jew named Lazarus Isaacs who arrived from England in 1773. He was employed by Stiegel at his factory at Manheim, Pennsylvania, where the first fine glassware in America was produced. Jews do not reappear in American glassmaking until the late 19th century, when Lazarus Straus and Sons of New York was a leading producer of high quality cut glass in the United States and Europe (see *Straus family ).


On their return to Ereẓ Israel, the Jews revived the glass industry on the Phoenician coast, where it existed in ancient times. In the late 19th century, the Baron de *Rothschild set up a glass factory at Tantura near the site of the Phoenician harbor of Dor to provide bottles for the nascent wine industry, and in 1934 Phoenicia, the Israel Glass Works, was founded in the Haifa Bay Area. Under the patronage of Baroness Bathsheva de Rothschild, a new style of art glass was evolved in the early 1960s, based on forms of the talmudic period.

From the end of the 19th century a school of primitive glass paintings developed in Safed, Jerusalem, and other centers. One of its later offsprings is the painter Shalom of Safed. Their subjects were *holy places , *Mizraḥ panels , amulets, and biblical topics.


Mayer, Art, index, S.V. glass, glass blowing, glass bottle, glass cutters, glass makers, gold glasses; Goodenough, 1 (1953), 168–77; 2 (1953), 108–119, 218; Krauss, Tal Arch, 2 (1911), 285–8; A.B. Engle, in: Miscelanea de Estúdios Arabes y Hebráicos (1969), 15–16; E.H. Bryrne, in: JAOS, 38 (1918), 176–87; C.J. Lamm, Mittelalterliche Glaeser und Steinschnitt-Arbeiten aus dem Nahen Osten, 1 (1930), 522–44 (a general bibliography); J.C. Pick, in: The Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), 379–400; Roth, Art, 242–3, 355.

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