Stieglitz Collection

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The Torah Scroll and its Ornaments
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The High Holidays and Sukkot
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Painting by Maurycy Gottlieb

High Holidays and Sukkot

Yom Kippur

"In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when the shofar (horn) is sounded (Numbers 29:1)." Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.

The prayer U'netaneh Tokef - "Let us describe the great [holiness of this day]" - is part of the musaf service of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It originated in the Land of Israel and was adopted by all Jewish communities (a legend ascribes the authorship of this prayer to the martyr Rabbi Amnon of Magenzta [Meintz]). Intoned by the congregation before the open Torah ark, it describes the significance of these High Holidays:

"Let us tell how utterly holy this day is and how awe-inspiring. It is the day when thy dominion shall be exalted, thy throne shall be established on mercy, and thou shalt occupy it in truth. True it is that thou art judge and arbiter, discerner and witness, inscribing and recording all forgotten things. Thou openest the book of records and it reads itself; every man's signature is contained in it.

"The great shofar is sounded; a gentle whisper is heard; the angels quaking with fear declare: 'The day of judgment is here to bring the hosts of heaven to justice!' Indeed, even they are not guiltless in thy sight. All mankind passes before thee like a flock of sheep. As a shepherd seeks out his flock, making his sheep pass under his rod, so dost thou make all the living souls pass before thee; thou dost count and number thy creatures, fixing their lifetime and inscribing their destiny. On Rosh Hashanah one's destiny is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, how many shall pass away and how many shall be brought into existence; who shall live and who shall die; who shall come to a timely end, and who to an untimely end; who shall perish by fire and who by water; who by sword and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by plague; who by strangling and who by stoning; who shall be at ease and who shall wander about; who shall be at peace and who shall be molested; who shall have comfort and who shall be tormented; who shall become poor and who shall become rich; who shall be lowered and who shall be raised. Only repentance, prayer and charity can cancel the stern decree."

This section in the collection includes a holiday kiddush cup, Yom Kippur belt buckles, shofar (ram's horn) and charity box. A large kiddush cup for Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot (cat. no. 101) was made in Narva, Estonia, on the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Ottoman Empire. Renowned for its silversmithing, Narva was not known to have a Jewish community at the time. The cup was apparently commissioned by a Jewish resident or by a merchant visiting the city.

Among the Yom Kippur belt buckles (cat. nos. 102-104), one depicts the akedah (the Binding of Isaac), a central motif in Judaism found on many Jewish ritual objects (see Life Cycle). The akedah is mentioned in the musaf (additional) prayer service of Zichronot (Remembrances), as the sounding of the shofar (cat. nos. 105-106) recalls the ram caught in the thicket. Allusions to this great test of Abraham's faith are also found in Selichot prayers (penitential prayer, especially those said before the High Holidays), in prayers pertaining to public fasts (Ta'anit 24), and in the daily prayers.

The charity box (like that in cat. no. 107) was found in every Jewish home and community. It was either fixed to the wall of the synagogue or built into it. Charity treasurers distributed alms to the city's poor, who received special funds for the holidays.


"On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord... And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days... Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:34-42)."

On the calendar, Sukkot begins four days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). However, it actually belongs to the cycle of the three pilgrim festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks) and Sukkot (Booths). While according to the tradition, each of these festivals commemorates a event in the history of the Jewish people (the Exodus on Pesach, the Giving of the Torah on Shavuot and the 40-year sojourn in the wilderness on Sukkot), they also mark pivotal agricultural seasons: Passover-Spring, Shavuot-Harvest and Sukkot-lngathering. Although the Bible calls for the taking together" of "Four Species," lulav (palm frond), hadas (myrtle sprigs), aravah (willow branch) and etrog (citron), on Sukkot, but tradition refers to them simply as lulav and etrog. The three plants, lulav, hadas, and aravah, are bound together, but all four species are held closely together when the blessing is recited.

Sukkot utensils include cups (cat. nos. 108-109), a small bowl (cat. no. 110), and a rare etrog container shaped like an charity box and adorned with a Sukkot inscription (cat. no. 111).