Monday, November 8, 2010

Delightful Discoveries - Oy! You'd Never Know I'm a Goy! 11.08.10

It's true... I'm a goy... there was probably a time I would have been considered a shiksa as well... I'm still blonde, but I've learned to kvetch and kvell with the best of the them! Okay, I'll translate - a goy is someone who is not Jewish, while a shiksa refers to a beautiful young goy woman (especially the blonde ones), and kvetching - well, it's the Yiddish equivalent of "bellyachin" as in "quit yer bellyachin!" Kvelling is simply showing pride ;)

My in-laws are Jewish and while I'll admit I was just a little bit concerned about being accepted by them since I'm not (see goy above), they have always welcomed me with open arms and a lot of love - and I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about what is not simply a religion, but a rich and intriguing heritage.

Since the feast of Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or any of the other spellings) is only a few weeks away, I thought I'd devote an entire feature to Judaica - the terms used to collectively describe all things Jewish. If you'd like to learn a little more about Hanukkah itself, please feel free to read this article I posted last year about this wonderful holiday! Now let's take a look at some of the symbols and traditions associated with Judaism that many of us see and some of us wonder about...

The Star of David (Magein David, Magen David) is easily the most recognizable symbol of Jewish culture. What isn't so easily recognized is its origin. While legend links it back to David, the boy who would become King David, the symbol itself wasn't "born" until sometime around the 12th century AD. While there are many explanations of this symbol, the most commonly accepted is that these two intertwined triangles represent the relationship between G-d and the people of Israel. Beautifully shown in this sterling silver Star of David necklace from LittleDevilDesigns, the upward pointing triangle represents G-d while the downward pointing triangle represents mankind and the real world. It's interesting to note that this star has 12 sides, perhaps representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and the fact that the triangles are intertwined is believed to represent the unbreakable unity of the Jewish people.

For anyone who has visited a Jewish home, you may have noticed a Mezuzah case attached to the door jamb. A Mezuzah is a klaf (a kosher parchment) which has been prepared by a qualified scribe and inscribed with the word of G-d. The parchment is rolled up and placed inside the Mezuzah case (usually wrapped in plastic when placed on an outside door jamb). Some interpret religious law to say that a Mezuzah must be placed at every doorway in the home (with the exception of bathrooms or closets), while others just place one at the main entrance to the home. Since rabbis have been unable to come to agreement whether the Mezuzah should lie horizontally or vertically, it is typically hung at an angle. There are many beautiful types of Mezuzah cases... the striking cast metal case from Arkadiy** to the left features a likeness of Jerusalem as well as a Star of David and the common shaddai symbol... while this vibrant Blue and green retro Mezuzah case from PolyAndClayed to the right creates a look that would be perfect to add a touch of color inside your home while still fulfilling your religious obligation.

I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
When it's dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

That's a little children's song about dreidels - those four sided tops used to play a game that's especially popular during Hanukkah. The symbols on the sides of the dreidel are 4 letters of the Hebrew alphabet - Nun(נ), Gimel (ג), Hei (ה), and Shin (ש)- the first letters of which are an acronym for the phrase "nes gadol hayah sham" - "a great miracle happened there" referring to the land of Israel. While many dreidels are simple and made out of clay or wood, others like this breathtaking Dreidel Bell from gru2000** are rightfully works of art to be cherished for generations to come.

The Hamsa, or Hand of G-d, or Hand of Miriam, popular especially among the Sephardic Jews is rich in symbolism. According to the tradition, the Hamsa hand protects the ones who display it in their homes or wear it around their necks, to ward off the "evil eye." Many Jews also believe that the number 5 figures strongly in the five fingers of the hand - the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Heh, another of their names for G-d, as well as the five books of the Torah, and our five senses which should be used by the wearer of the hamsa to give g-d praise. I chose this particular Hamsa Jewish art print from jewjewart because of the artist's interest in religious symbolism - which you can read more about in the item description!

The skullcap that Jewish males (and in some cases females) wear is known by a number of names and their spellings... you may hear it referred to as a yarmulke, a kippah, or a hech cap. It is a symbol of respect for the men and modesty for the women which is worn during religious ceremonies. Found in many colors and designs and made of many different materials, these head coverings are often used to distinguish between different religious sects within the Jewish religion. Etsy has a grand selection of styles and designs to choose from - from whimsical ones for children to elegant and ornate ones like this stunning kippah from designkippah made with "Lion of Judah" fabric.

I was surprised to learn that the pomegranate also figures importantly in Jewish tradition. It is even believed by some to have been the "fruit of the tree of knowledge" which the serpent tempted Eve with. A symbol of fruitfulness, the pomegranate could be found throughout the stories of the Old Testament including the Book of Exodus, the Book of Kings, and Deuteronomy. As a tradition on Rosh Hashana, pomegranates are eaten not only as a reminder of the fruitful life the Jewish people have been given, but also in the belief that they contain 613 seeds - which is the number of mitzvot (commandments) of G-d found in the Torah. Pomegranates are also one of the seven species of fruits and grain that the land of Israel was blessed with. With such rich symbolism, it's no wonder that the pomegranate would be a popular item in home decor as well - and this Porcelain Pomegranate Vase from NewMoonStudio would make a lovely and meaningful gift for Hanukkah.

Two foods that are likely to put in an appearance during the festival of the lights are latkes and challah. Unlike Passover, fried foods are eaten during Hanukkah in memory of the oil in the lamps of the temple. Latkes, more commonly known as potato pancakes, are one of these traditional foods. Usually served with sour cream or more traditionally applesauce, these delicious pancakes serve well for any meal of the day. They're also a popular dish in many eastern European cuisines, which explains why I grew up enjoying them all year round! I, unfortunately didn't have a cute personalized girl's potato latke plate like this one from suzaluna tho! Wish I had!

Challah, that delicious braided bread that's heavy on eggs, and usually parve (meaning no butter or milk is added to the dough) is one of our absolute favorite parts of the holiday season. For anyone who's never had challah, find a Jewish bakery and try some. It makes the most delicious french toast too. We use raisin challah dipped in egg nog (with a couple of extra eggs and just a dash of nutmeg or allspice added to the batter) for our Christmas morning breakfast meal - it's just scrumptious! We also put some challah on the table for anyone who might want to indulge with a little cinnamon butter or honey. And of course to keep the bread from drying out, it's always great to have a festive challah cover. I love this Challah Cover - Shabbat from KetubahStudio!

And, just as a Christmas tree is a symbol of Christmas, the menorah is the symbol of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Observed over eight nights, this holiday celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud tells that when the Israelites began their eight day re-dedication of the temple after its desecration by the Seleucids, they realized that they only had enough oil for one night, but miraculously the lamps continued to burn for the entire 8 nights... and that miracle has been celebrated every Hanukkah since - beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev and lasting for eight days and nights.

While the original menorahs had seven branches, modern menorahs have nine candle or oil holders or branches - one for each of the 8 nights of the festival as well as a holder for the Shamash. The Shamash candle is used to light the other eight candles since it is forbidden to use the Hanukkah lights for any purpose other than viewing. On each night of Hanukkah a candle is added beginning from the right, and lit in order from left to right. The candles should be lit with all family members present and should remain lit for at least a half hour. Prayers are recited, dreidel is played, and presents are exchanged on each of the eight nights.

Candelabra type menorahs are still popular, although their styles are always being updated to reflect the G-d given talents of the artists designing them as you can see in this gorgeous BRONZE CHANUKAH MENORAH by SHAUL BAZ of artnharmony58**.

Some artists also create an amazing new look by mixing historic themes with modern design, as you'll find in this lovely and unique Jerusalem walls hanukia from ancientlamp**.

As with almost all ancient cultures, the culture of Judaism is rich with folklore and tradition and history. While I've always enjoyed learning about world religions and cultures, the opportunity to learn about this particular way of life has been a real treat for me - and I still have so much to learn! i hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit too!

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing one of my favorites - glass! You may be amazed at how many different glassworking techniques there are! Or maybe not - maybe you're a glass artisan who would love to strut your stuff here - if so, send me your links... you know I'd love to see them! And then maybe you'll see them here tomorrow!

Another week underway - and one week closer to the holiday season. Hope you're getting a jump on your early shopping!
**designates an undiscovered or underdiscovered shop!


NewMoonStudio said...

I am so glad to see my pomegranate vase in this lovely blog. I am originally from Turkey and we also have strong believes for pomegranates. Richness, fertility, good luck and maybe many more that I don’t know of it. Great to find your blog and thank you very much for featuring my work.

averilpam said...

Thank you for this interesting piece. I'm Jewish and didn't know quite a lot of the information you have found!

Inbal said...

Wow! This is one piece of research! Thanks for featuring my Mezuzah case.

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