Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar - April 21 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















Home and Family
Describing Our Living Jewish Art
by Devora Piha

Today we have a treasurehouse of hand or machine crafted Judaica, past and present, ceremonial objects and Jewish art, available from shops in Jerusalem and throughout the four corners of the world where Jews have been dispersed. Spice boxes, Kiddush cups, Shabbos candlesticks, Mizrach and Shivisi plaques, Challa covers, Chanuka Menoras, mezuzos, kesubos and even Judaica created for commericial purposes, like the various Omer counters (wooden displays which one updates, day by day) are just some of the rich ceremonial objects that are used exclusively for the fulfillment of mitzvos, even though the actual mitzva of lighting Shabbos candles or reciting kiddush can be accomplished with a common cup and candles makeshiftly stuck on to any surface by melting the wax bottom.

It is the hiddur mitzva, however, the embellishment and beautification of each commandment, that propells us to refine our performance. This is why we take pride and pleasure in acquiring the finest examples of tashmishei kedusha that we are able. Country, custom, and locally available materials account for the variations, but the essential objects are clearly recognizable for their Jewish identity and function. The adherence to Halocha is a major factor in setting a timeless Jewish standard and method of identification.

Many non-religious Jews collect and appreciate Judaica. It is their visual and tactile link to their heritage. Although they lack a Torah education and perspective, they cling to the visual elevation and symbolism provided by owning or admiring Jewish ceremonial art.

In the household of the Torah observant Jew, the links to our heritage surround us in our heart, thoughts and deeds. Torah is a living, breathing reality. It is more than a set of objects on a shelf to be collected and admired. Yet, we must not forget that we have eyes. These eyes are strong receptors of the physical world around us. Hashem did not mean to deny our visual senses but, rather, to control them carefully and use them as instruments by which to do His will.

If properly used, the eyes can see the infinite color-shape- texture and light in all of creation. They can watch it vary with the seasons. The air subtly changes color according to the temperature. The time of day or night increases or reduces what we are able to view in the panorama of the world. New fruits in season emphasize their flurry of colors like exotic birds spreading their plumage. From nature we meet an endless variety of spectacles to invigorate our visual senses.

A thing of beauty is pleasing to the eye; it also pacifies the soul. All the more so when that object is used for a high purpose; that of performing mitzvos. These are our treasures and our fine raiment. A silver cup in itself is pleasing to the senses. All the more so - silver with precious or semi-precious stones set in - and even more so when a silver cup takes on an added elevated presence when it is used to sanctify Shabbos. Silver threads on a blue velvet cloth are splendid to look at but all the more so when that cloth becomes a curtain on the aron kodesh.

We have the use of our external visual senses when we use them along with the sense of touch, smell and hearing to ennoble, beautify and carry out mitzvos. We also have the internal visual picture of remembering the moments that carved the Jewish identity such as the candles burning from Shabbos to Shabbos in the tent of Soroh Imenu that represent sholom bayis. A second example is the Menora positioned in the Mishkon radiating a non-corporeal luminosity that is evoked in our internal memories when we light our Chanuka candles. They are part of the eternal spark in the Jewish soul.

"He is my G-d and I will beautify Him." When the Jews of the Desert beheld the vessels of the Mishkon, their hearts and thoughts rose up towards Hashem. This is the goal of Jewish art and crafts on the highest level when they are used as tashmishei kedusha, to move our hearts and deeds via the physical senses to the service of Hashem.

With the many mitzvos and observances we are commanded to keep, either acording to time - daily, weekly, monthly or yearly, or not according to a set time, we have the advantage of filling our senses with a richness from within and from without as we use our living Judaica treasures.


* Use the following word/poetry/art activities to increase the recognition of a child's appreciation for the objects of tashmishei kedusha in our homes and shuls.

This is the time to expand English or Hebrew vocabulary. Speak one language at a time. Try not to mix them together in order to widen the vocabulary and concepts in each language. High quality language heard by young children translates into a broadened range of concepts and vocabulary later on in life.

In a special notebook (or on rough draft, first) write down your child's replies to the following questions and exercises:

1) Word descriptions: Ask you child to describe your Shabbos candlesticks, Shabbos table, or other tashmishei kedusha in your home. Give clues by asking stimulating questions that contain choices of adjectives such as: are the candlesticks made from a hard or soft material? Are they heavy or light, shiny or dull? Are they made from glass, silver or copper?

Aside from the notebook you create together, you can play Twenty Questions as a game on Shabbos, when taking walks or traveling.

2) Sentences and Concepts: Teach concepts in short sentences. Ask:

What is the job of the Shabbos candlesticks?

Why are they important?

Tell us about the candles burning in Soroh Imeinu's tent.

Explain that Jewish women, the world over, are lighting their candles at the same time (according to their time zone).

Recall the candlesticks sitting majestically in your grandparents' home. Ask the child to do the same.

3) Write a short story together. Have the child paraphrase what stood out in his or her mind from the above questions and discussions. Provide paper and pencil for the child to write a short story or essay. Write it down for the child who is yet unable to write.

4) Write a poem. Use words or sentences that rhyme in a unity of sounds such as light, bright and night (or in simple Hebrew, accordingly).

5) Optional: Make a drawing with a border decoration to illustrate poem or story.

6) Read the finished work at the Shabbos table or let child rephrase thoughts from memory.

[You may wish to create a tactile book, using silver foil for candlesticks, a small cloth to be used as a challa cover, real cloves for havdola, a sliver of lemon to smell for esrog or some flax which protects it, a hadas leaf, - your imagination and their's is the limit. Notebooks can be created for different times of the year or different subjects, using real or simulated materials to bring the subjects to life.]


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