Ritual Objects and Folk Art

Shalom Sabar

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Ritual Objects and Folk Art

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Decorative ritual objects constitute a central category in the field of traditional Jewish art. In contrast with the limiting biblical-rabbinic approach to graven images, creativity in the field of ceremonial art was subject to a rather favorable attitude of the authorities, who often even encouraged the production of certain costly ritual objects. This attitude is closely related to the concept of hiddur mitzvah, the “beautification of the commandment,” which rabbinic authorities introduced in the Talmudic period. Though not referring to objects only, the concept called for producing costlier and rather attractive objects, if and when they were produced in the context of observing the commandments. The concept developed in diverse ways among the various Jewish communities residing in Europe or lands of Islam, and the objects strongly reflected local tastes and styles, particularly the popular decorative arts of the host society. Extant examples date from the late Middle Ages to the present era. They fall primarily under five basic categories: Ritual art for the synagogue (e.g., Torah finials [rimonim], Torah Ark curtain [parokhet]), Objects for the life cycle (e.g., circumcision implements, marriage contracts, Hevra Kadisha items), Objects for the year cycle (e.g., spice boxes for the havdala ceremony at the end of the Sabbath, Hanukkah lamps), Illustrated liturgical manuscripts and books (e.g., Esther scrolls, Passover Haggadot, Grace after Meals), and personal and home objects (e.g., tefillin, prayer shawl, mezuzah, mizrach tablet).

Article.  10571 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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