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Judaism in the American Home: Ritual Objects

A Special Exhibit of decorative, ritual, and household objects from Jewish-American homes featured in the Undergraduate Library April 14, 2013 through May 12, 2013.

Ritual Objects - An Overview

The ritual objects included in the exhibit represent a cross-section of items used during celebrations of major holidays in the Jewish home.  Many of these objects are cherished antiques or heirlooms meant only for display.  They are prominently displayed for aesthetic reasons or simply because these objects are considered to be fundamental to Jewish identity. 

Kiddush Set

Kiddush Set

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Passover

Passover Ritual Objects

Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt as told in the Hebrew Bible.  The holiday includes a Seder or festive meal at which the Exodus story is recounted in a special book known as the Haggadah, as well as distinctive foods such as unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 

 The objects displayed in the exhibit represent a cross-section of items used during a Seder in the Jewish home.

 

Wood Seder tray

Wooden Seder Tray

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Chametz Set

Chametz Set

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Traditionally, Jews do a formal search for remaining leaven (Hebrew chametz) after nightfall on the evening before Passover.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah Ritual Objects

Rosh Hashanah, the traditional Jewish New Year, is marked by both solemn prayer and joyous celebration.  On the holiday, Jews wish each other a sweet New Year by serving honey and sending greeting cards.

Pop-Up GreetingCard

Pop-up Greeting Card, circa 1895

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Ceremonial and Decorative Art

Ritual objects for use in the home and synagogue were often very decorative. Materials and design motifs reflect various points in history and geography.

Elaborate filigree menorahHanukkah lamp. Poland or Russian, first half of the nineteenth century. The Jewish Museum, New York (© The Jewish Museum / Art Resource, NY)

 

Read more about ritual objects:

Chanukah

Chanukah Ritual Objects

The eight-day celebration of Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C.E. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after Jews overthrew their Graeco-Syrian oppressors.  The holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah (to commemorate the miracle of the oil in the candelabra in the rededicated temple that lasted for eight days), traditional foods, games and gifts.

Three Menorahs

Menorahs

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Grouping of Dreidels

Grouping of Dreidels

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Purim

Purim Ritual Objects

Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jews of Shushan, Persia from the wicked Haman who sought to destroy them all.  On the holiday, Jews are commanded to read the story of Queen Esther who saved her people and to drown out the name of Haman using noise–makers or greggars.

Shabbat

Shabbat

Shabbat or the Sabbath occurs on Saturday in the Jewish calendar and is the traditional day of rest as denoted in the biblical Creation Story.  The day is commemorated in the home with the recitation of a prayer over wine, the serving of challah (a braided egg bread), and the lighting of candles. 

Though many holiday observances in the home are led by men, Shabbat includes several important women’s rituals -- most notably the lighting of candles and the preparation of a festive meal.

Shabbat Candle Holders

Pair of Souvenir Candlesticks

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Grouping of Besamim

 Grouping of Besamim (Spice Boxes)

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Kiddush

Daily Life: Kiddush Cups and Hand Washing

Several ritual objects are used frequently throughout the year in the Jewish home. These include cups for Kiddush, the prayer over wine on the Sabbath and holidays; and various handwashing cups, which are an important part of purification rituals in the Jewish home.

Red Glass Kiddush Cup

Kiddush Cup, Red and Clear Glass with Gold Transfer Decoration

The Jewish Heritage Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan