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Personal and Family Rituals
Objects documenting the sphere of personal and family rituals in the Global Jewish Diaspora constitute a conspicuous aspect of the museum holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. These objects, which are often small, and therefore highly portable, were created in different geographic areas throughout the world, carried by the individuals who used them along their paths of immigration, and often cherished by their families for generations. In some cases, they were donated to the Judah L. Magnes Museum by families in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. The majority was added to the collection through a selective acquisition process, as in the case of the Strauss Collection, purchased by The Magnes in 1967.
Personal and family ritual objects intersect several aspects of Jewish life. They encompass the observance of Jewish customs – kasherut, or dietary laws, and the laws of "family purity" (taharat ha-mishpachah) governing marital relationships – and the celebration of the Life Cycle – marked by the ritual circumcision of male children and the celebration of the religious adulthood of youth of both sexes (bar and bat mitzvah), by engagement and marriage ceremonies, and by death and burial – and of the Yearly Cycle – including Sabbath and the holidays marking the Jewish calendar – by individuals and inside the Jewish home.
The thousands of ritual objects in the collection originate from the entire Jewish Diaspora, including Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, and present a unique opportunity to study the dynamics of Jewish life from a variety of perspectives. Considered in the social and historical context that presided over their making, ritual objects often open new windows on the understanding of everyday life, social structures, gender and generational roles, beliefs, practices and their relationship with normative religion, aesthetic currents, and the interactions between the makers of these objects and the individuals and families that commissioned them.
Personal and family rituals are represented in the collection by a wide spectrum of item types, including objects relating to the sphere of personal prayer (head coverings, prayer shawls, phylacteries and the often embroidered bags that hold them), to life cycle events (circumcision sets, wimpel Torah binders, wedding clothes, marriage contracts or ketubbot, and burial and memorial objects), to magic beliefs (amulets made of paper, metal and other materials), to the Jewish home (doorposts, or mezuzot, mizrach plates and other home furnishings), and to the celebration of the Sabbath and other holidays, especially Passover and Hanukkah (lamps for the Sabbath and Hannukah, kiddush cups, spice boxes and havdalah sets, hallah bread and Passover matzah covers, Passover haggadot, bread knives, Passover and Purim plates, Sukkah decorations, etc.).
Beyond typology, which is generally uniform across the Diaspora, ritual objects also help highlighting how personal and family life differs greatly in each community, thus providing detailed insights in the specific characteristics of the many cultures of the Jews. The dynamic set of behaviors governing the performance of ritual by individuals and families, and within the Jewish home, present scholars with the chance of attaining an insightful look into the most intimate realms of the Jewish experience across time and space.
An expanding item list (with approximate item counts) includes:
- Head coverings: 50
- Prayer shawls: 40
- Tefillin sets: 10
- Ornamented bags for prayer shawls and tefillin: 200
Life Cycle Events
- Circumcision sets: 30
- Wimpel (Torah Binders made from circumcision cloths): 120
- Wedding clothing (dresses, shoes, head coverings, jewelry): 50
- Ketubbot: 200
- Burial and memorial items: 20
Personal and Jewish Home Objects
- Amulets: 150
- Mezuzot (doorposts): 100
- Mizrach plaques: 50
- Home furnishings: 350
- Kiddush cups: 50
- Lamps for the Sabbath and Holidays: 350
- Hallah covers,table coverings for the Sabbath and Passover Matzah covers: 70
- Havdallah sets and spice boxes: 60
- Passover Haggadot: 600
- Knives (for cutting the Sabbath bread, or hallah): 10
- Plates for the Passover Seder and other holidays: 100
- Sukkah decorations: n/a
In-depth descriptions of individual items and item are available in the pages listed below.
Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children [Kochi, Kerala, India, 18th century)
Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn childrenCollected in India (before 1976) Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew square scriptInk on vellum, pasted on stitched ...
The collection, which was donated to The Magnes in 2011, includes objects collected and photographs taken in Djerba, Tunisia by Keren T. Friedman. After training as an ...
Painted manuscript of the Book of Esther, rolled for use on the holiday of Purim. The Hebrew text, in Ashkenazi squared Hebrew script (without Masoretic punctuation), is set in 15-line sections ...
The Haggadah (Heb. הגדה, "narrative;" pl. haggadot) is a Jewish text performed at the Passover Seder, a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Festival of Passover (Heb. פסח). The Seder ...
Passover textiles include specially designed covers for the matzah (Heb. מצה; Yiddish matsoh), the unleavened bread eaten during the Passover Seder, and pillow cases used to cover pillows on ...
The detailed description of Jewish ceremonial customs by Kirchner, a Jewish convert to Christianity, first published in 1717, was re-edited by the Christian Hebraist, Sebastian Jugendres ...
Knives of different size and shape (and their cases) are used for ritual purposes,such as cutting bread (challah) at festive meals, ritual slaughtering (shechitah) of animals ...
A "Torah binder" is a Jewish ceremonial textile used to keep a Torah (Hebrew Bible) scroll closed tightly when it is not being used for synagogue reading. In some Jewish communities in ...