On occasion we feel moved to make additional comments concerning the items offered for sale on this site. We may also want to express ourselves with longer discussions on topics related to our collection of objects. So as not to interfere with your shopping adventures, we are collecting these irrepressible tidbits of information in this section of the site. Read them or not as you will. If you have any comments and observations, please contact us via e-mail. Every message you send will be appreciated. We shall even answer them all whether of not we can think of an appropriate response.
Roman Glass does indeed come from the Roman era. While a valued rarity when first introduced, glass rapidly became common through mass production and was found in homes and taverns throughout the Roman Empire. The Roman glass that appears in the jewelry we offer here derives from the centuries when Rome and then Constantinople ruled Palestine. Excavations in Israel of sites that date to those times commonly contain small, usually broken pieces of aged glass. These ancient shards are of little value to the archaeologist and they often find their way to the workshops of jewelers, who set them into gold, silver or other metal. It is the ageing process that makes these pieces so attractive. The clarity and transparency that the glass had when first made has changed to vibrant lusters and specklings that depend on the contaminants unwittingly manufactured into the glass and the environment in which the glass spent so many hundreds of years. The coloration of a particular piece also depends on the way the jeweler treats and sets that piece. Greens, blues, purples, and even tints of red are commonly found, and because the history of each piece is different, the appearance of any one piece is quite unique. This makes Roman glass interesting to the jeweler and to the individual wearing a piece. But there is a cautionary note. Roman glass is sensitive to water; please do not wear it in the shower, since the surface of the glass can then flake. But with care Roman glass will remain beautiful for…well it did make it through all those centuries.
According to the 5th Ed. Webster Collegiate Dictionary an illumination is “an adornment of a letter, manuscript, book, etc., with brilliant colors, gold, silver, elaborate flourishes,miniature designs or the like…” While we might commonly associate illumination with medieval and renaissance Christian manuscripts, there is a rich illumination tradition in Jewish art, associated especially with the Passover Haggadah and with marriage contracts. Arguably, this Jewish art form was at its height during the Baroque period, but the tradition continues strongly to this day. Every published Haggadah must have its complement of decorations and illustrations, and the past three decades have seen a rebirth in handmade decorative ketubot.
Amulets were commonly worn by Jews around the world to protect the individual from evil spirits, and they still have currency today, for example, in Israel where they are even used as electioneering giveaways. While one might wish to dismiss amulets as a superstitious custom inconsistent with Jewish religious values, we must, at the very least, consider them as a Jewish folk expression and folk art. Indeed, many amulets do have intrinsic aesthetic appeal. What constitutes an amulet depends on the cultural milieu in which it was created and the purpose for which it was intended. Most generally they are made of paper, parchment, silver, or other metals. Consistent with Jewish strictures against images, Jewish amulets are not iconic but rather textual. Decorative elements, if any, are limited to such symbols as the Mogen David or to patterns formed from the words themselves. The texts used vary widely; often included is the word Shaddai, the names of various angels, ritualistic formulae and acronyms. At times the text has no meaning at all, but appears on the amulet in the hope that the evil spirit reading the nonsensical text will become confused and so leave the individual alone. Perhaps the definitive English text on amulets is Hebrew Magic Amulets – Their Development and Interpretation by T Schrire, Behrman House, NY 1966.
The General Federation of Jewish Labor, or the Histadrut, was founded 1920 in Haifa, Palestine as a confederation made up from a small number already existing Jewish Socialist labor groups. David Ben Gurion who had been active in the formation of the Histadrut became its first Secretary General. Starting with a membership of less than 5000 workers, by 1948 the Histadrut had become the most important social institution in the newly founded state of Israel. For example, approximately 75% of all wage earners in Israel were members; it sponsored the largest health care and insurance program in the country; it owned one of the three largest banks; approximately one-third of all Israeli students were enrolled in Histadrut schools; it published a morning newspaper, Davar; it owned the largest marketing co-op in the country; and through the companies that it owned it was also the largest employer in the country. Today, the power and influence of Histadrut, while still important in Israel, has greatly waned.
Boris Schatz began the Bezalel school and workshops in Jerusalem during the year of 1906 in order to establish a Jewish art and craft movement in the land of Palestine and to train Jewish artists and artisans. In addition to the school, Schatz also established a Jewish museum (which ultimately became the Israel Museum) and workshops (and promoted others to establish workshops) that would produce items for sale to tourists in Palestine and Jews elsewhere in Europe and the United States. At its height, approximately 1912, the Bezalel complex employed more than 400 individuals and was selling art and sculpture; items of Judaica in silver, gold, wood, ivory and other materials; handwoven rugs; ceramics; carved wood and woven reed furniture; photographs and photographic albums, and even a short-lived attempt at silent movies; books and prints; and more. But the institution was constantly short of money and plagued with internecine squabbling. World War I brought difficult times that fatally weakened the institution, which could only hobble along until its closure in1929. In the mid 1930’s, Bezalel was reestablished by German and European refugee artists driven to Palestine by the Nazis, and uderwent a final reorganization in 1965 that established Bezalel as a school for crafts. Schatz took the name of Bezalel for the school after the biblical craftsman, Bezalel, who made the tabernacle carried by the Israelites in the desert. In some ways the school was as pivotal for Jewish culture as the ark was for Jewish religion. While centers of Jewish art could be found elsewhere early in the 20th century (most prominently the school of Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk) these were even more transitory than Schatz’s Bezalel. But the Bezalel tradition continued to influence the art of the Yishuv and the new State of Israel. By the second half of the 20th century, the Bezalel style had been completely dismissed as a vibrant art movement, but the school remains, reincarnated perhaps, as a major center of Israeli art and the products of the Bezalel artists and artisans have become very collectible.
The American Colony was an organization of an American Protestant group that established a number of tourist related business in Jerusalem at about the turn of the 20th century. One of these businesses still exists – the American Colony Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem. Another, the photography shop sold photographic supplies and individual images to tourists. This shop was sold in the early 30’s after which it ceased operating. The images that were sold came from negatives that were printed repeatedly. Thus, the images could have been obtained at any time between the early 1900’s and the early 30’s.
Rusel refers to Jane Rusel who catalogued the prints of Hermann Struck in a publication entitled, Realms of Judaism, published by Peter Lang in 1997. The text, in German, includes an extensive biography of the artist together with an inclusive catalogue of his graphic works, numbering 1215 entries. The reference in the print description (e.g., Rusel 465L; 1915/16) refers to the catalogue number for that print, whether the print is a lithograph or etching, and the year the print was struck. This book is invaluable to anyone seriously interested in the prints of Struck.
A shviti is an amulet that can also be hung as a mizrach. The term comes from the verse, “Sh’viti Hashem l’negdi tamid,” “I will keep God at the forefront of my mind at all times.” A typical shviti contains many but not exclusively and not necessarily all of the following elements: the verse just cited; the tetragram for God’s name – in large type and always at or near the top of the piece: the 67th psalm, which begins with the words, “God be gracious unto us, and bless us,” an obviously amuletic text; a seven-branched menorah of which each branch either contains or is made from the seven words found in each one of the seven verses of the 67th psalm (Seven is a “lucky” number.); a representation of two pillars symbolic of the Holy Temple; and when used as a mizrach the word mizrach which means east and/or which is also the first letters of the four words forming the phrase, “From this direction the spirit of life”. For those practicing Kabbalah, the shviti also serves as a focusing image during meditation.