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Judaism in the American Home: Women, Food, & Crafts

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.

Women: Cooking & Crafts


Matzot Cover, Embroidered Velvet

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

"Women have, for thousands of years, been the major producers of
textiles. “ Women’s work” has traditionally been compatible with simultaneous
child-watching. Spinning, weaving, sewing, pottery, basket weaving and preparing
food are repetitive, easily resumable following interruptions, reasonably child-safe
and easily done at home."  History of Textiles, by Catherine Bond

Jewish Women

From Judaism 101

• In Judaism, G-d is neither male nor female
• The Talmud says both good and bad things about women
• Women are not required to perform certain commandments
• Certain commandments are reserved specifically for women
• The first of the month is a minor festival for women
• Men and women sit separately in traditional synagogues
• The idea of Lilith as a feminist hero is based on a questionable source

Jewish Women Artists

Portrait of Louise Nevelson

"Although Jewish women artists surely did
artistic work before the 20th century, few of them are well known."

Chana Orloff, Siona Tagger, Anna Ticho, Charlotte Salomon, Lee Krasner, Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Louise Nevelson, Nancy Spero, Helène Aylon, and Sigalit Landau are discussed in the paper, A Survey of the First Century of Jewish Women Artists: The Impact of Four Upheavals

by Shulamit Reinharz, Ph.D.
Brandeis University

Books in the Libraries' Collection

The Jewish Kitchen


Spices, Labels in English and Yiddish

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


The Jewish Kitchen

One of the central places in the Jewish home that was largely reserved for women was the kitchen.  Several of the objects shown here evoke a time gone by when all meals were prepared by women by hand. 

In recent decades, the dramatic changes in the status of American women in general have expanded the role of Jewish women beyond the domestic sphere.   As a result, most of the objects in these cases are no longer used.  They do have powerful sentimental value, however, and are often kept as aesthetic objects or treasured reminders of mothers and grandmothers.

Food in Jewish History

From Judaism 101

• Jewish cooking adapts foods from countries where Jews have lived
• Jewish dietary laws sometimes influence the recipes
• Some Jewish foods are associated with specific holidays

Kosher Foods

From a Pinterest board by Bethany Mandel.

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Contemporary Jewish Crafts

From a Pinterest board by Helene Sinnreich.

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Crafts in the Home

Crafts in the Home

Domestic crafts, including stitchery and paper-cutting, are activities practiced by women in many cultures.  Jewish women, too, expressed their creativity and cultural identity through traditional crafts used to beautify their homes on holidays and every day.

Hand Made Tales

Hand Made Tales Logo

"Domestic crafts matter."

"Work produced by women in the home has regularly been dismissed as amateur..."

"Craft-making skills are often passed down in families from one generation to the next."

Eastern European Crafts

Historic Images of Young Seamstresses

Young Seamstresses, Russia

Young Seamstresses, Poland

Paper Cuts

Paper Cut with Traditional Flora and Fauna Motifs

Paper Cut with Symmetrical Lace Pattern

Paper Cuts

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