Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Judaica - the Material Objects and the Spiritual Meanings

The classification 'Judaica' refers to things related to the Judean culture from its establishment in ancient times up to the present.  Naturally the things of the material culture such as the menorah, the mezuzah and the kippah are easily recognized by those outside the Jewish religion.  These material objects also carry spiritual meaning as well as being art objects.  The mezuzah carried written prayers and blessings.  The menorah was a part of the ancient tabernacle that the prophet Moses set up.  It is still used in both Jewish synagogues and Christian churches.  The kippah is a head covering that is often beautifully decorated with geometric shapes in fancy needlework for school boys and brides, in particular.  It implies a dedication to a certain way of life.

In addition to these common modern objects, there exists among certain Jewish communities in diaspora beautiful traditional jewelry and clothing that are quite distinctive and are growing quite rare at present.  As an example in my own experience is this antique mezuzah, also called a hirz, q'tub or amulet.  They are always worn as a pendant either sewn to the clothing or strung on a cord or chain to be worn.  For example in the community of Jews in Yemen in the early 1900s, Jewish brides wore amulets such as this one:

Antique Yemen Yemenite Silver Signed Amulet Hirz Kutub Pendant

Here is a fuller explanation of some of my Yemen jewelry collection or the Yemenite Judaica at the site linked here:

 This amulet is decorated with dangles with small bell like beads attached. This amulet was once worn by at least one Yemeni bride as part of her dowry and then again at the birth of each of her children. It would have hung on a multi-strand kirdan, a bib or yoke strung with large silver hollow beads, amber or coral beads, and as many as six of small hirzes with one large amulet or hirz hanging from a matching plaque. 

Dowries are still a part of the marriage arrangement between the two families that are being joined through the union of bride and groom. The amulets contained the prayers or scriptures that symbolized the sanctity of the union. 

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, such amulets were created from silver that was melted down either from Maria Teresa thalers or from jewelry that belonged to the previous generation. The prospective groom was expected to bring a hefty bit of silver to the bride. This was in turn melted and refashioned into silver beads and amulets, bracelets, hair ornaments, anklets and rings for Yemen brides to wear as their wedding finery. 

This custom also provided them a dowry, their store of silver to give them security, as their dowry was their own property. Silver in the form of beautiful jewelry also gave the woman status among her peers. She was not always the only woman in a household. And of course, the load of silver jewelry adorning her from the top of her head to the tip of her toes made her even more beautiful on her wedding day. Poorer brides simply rented the wedding finery from jewelers who kept wedding jewelry on hand. 

The bride would have worn this amulet as a blessing and a prayer for her health, safety and happiness. Since this is a relatively small amulet, it probably hung on a cord with other amulets, one being the large one that opened to insert the actual prayers.

Because the Yemen Jewish community emigrated to Israel in the early 1900s, there are no more such pieces being created in Yemen. 

Such rare items provide very special focal pieces for jewelry designers or are sold individually as I am offering this one. With organic beads such as amber, coral, horn, bone, wood and shells they fit in with ethnic designs very well. It is also spectacular when strung with lapis, turquoise or carnelian, obsidian and smaller silver bead separators. 

Such an amulet is very distinctive worn alone on this silver chain, though the chain was manufactured in modern times. 

Length of Chain - 18 inches - 45.6 cm
Dimensions of Pendant - 1 x 2.75 inches - 2.5 cm x 7 cm