Stieglitz Collection

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Painting by Maurycy Gottlieb

Life Cycle


Among the foundations of the Jewish religion, the commandment of circumcision recalls God's covenant with Abraham: "As for you, you and your seed after you throughout the generations shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your seed to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days (Genesis 17:9-12)."

Various customs, special instruments and furnishings are associated with the circumcision rites (cat. nos. 204-211). As part of the circumcision ceremony, the following prayer is recited: "May this little one become great. Just as he has entered the covenant, so may he enter into the Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds."

Accordingly, it was the custom to embroider or paint the following words on the special cloth upon which the baby had lain: "May God raise him to the attainment of Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds, Amen Selah," along with the baby's name and birth date (cat. no. 203).

Among the special instruments included in the collection are the ornate knife and bottle of 17th-century circumciser Noah Catvan of Prague. The inscription on the gold plaques attests to the ceremony's importance, and the honor granted to the circumciser in performing it. It reads, "I rejoice over your promise as one who obtains great spoil (Psalms 119:162)"; "To glorify the commandment of the Lord with precious silver and gold (cat. no. 204)."

A depiction of the Binding of Isaac is carved on the wooden handle of a circumcision knife (cat. no. 206) and on a decorated Pidyon ha-Ben (Redemption of the Firstborn Son) plate ( 207). This dramatic Biblical scene is a central theme and significant symbol which appears frequently in Jewish art (see Introduction, High Holidays).

Bar Mitzvah

A boy becomes a bar mitzvah at 13 years of age, responsible for observing the commandments and legally a full-fledged member of the congregation, with all its obligations and privileges. He is presented with a tallit (prayer shawl, and a pair of tefillin (phylacteries), kept in special cases (cat. nos. 212, 213).


"The sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride (Jeremiah 33:11)." A myriad of traditions and customs, varying in time and place among the different communities, accompany the marriage ceremony. But common to all is the ketubbah (marriage contract). The text of the ketubbah became fixed as early as Talmudic times, its main purpose being to protect the rights of the wife in case of divorce or her husband's death.

The earliest illustrated ketubbot, from the 10th-13th centuries, were found in the Cairo Geniza, in the ancient synagogue of Fostat (old Cairo) in Egypt.

A 14th-century decorated ketubbah was discovered in Toledo, Spain, and another illustrated ketubbah from 1392, hailing from Crems, Austria, depicts the bride and bridegroom. The decorations and illustrations of ketubbot began in Italian communities in the late 16th century or early 17th century, apparently under the influence of Spanish sources, and continued in Sefardic communities throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (cat. no. 214-219). The marriage ring (cat. no. 220), with its architectural structure and inscription, is probably the oldest Jewish marriage ring extant. The rings in the following images: (cat. nos. 221-224), represent the Jewish marriage rings attributed to 17th-century in Venice.