I’m home in Miami for a couple of weeks, technically on vacation, realistically visiting every rabbi in a 50 mile radius. A few days ago, my own childhood rabbi, Rabbi Ed Farber at Beth Torah Adath Yeshurun sent out this video of an informal dialogue on Hannukah with BTAY’s other rabbi-in-residence, Rabbi Rojzman. I recently read Christopher Hitchens’s 2007 article likening Hannukah to “fundamentalist thuggery.” It’s hard to disagree. We know the Maccabees were religious zealots that few of us “progressive Jews” would be able to get behind. But where I disagree with Hitchens, and agree with the forthcoming message from my rabbi, is in his assertion that it would be better had it never happened, and the world chose Hellenism and turned their backs on “oldtime religion.” Religious identity, culture and, texts, coupled with flexible and creative thinking, can be an entirely enriching force, and it is hard to charge the religion itself with being polluted, any religion, when so many people practicing do so in a way that does not conflict with their progressive humanist values. The more I reach out and meet with rabbis all over the East Coast, the more I am finding this to be true. My rabbis make a great argument for the value of Hannukah and its lessons: the value of religious freedom, and how to interact with the host culture so that we have the best of both worlds (“Have the Torah in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” says Rabbi Rojzman). And all this under 5 minutes. Enjoy!
Yesterday, we posted about how fed up we are with the state of modern Judaica. We’ve got such a rich history, why does everything look the same? And by the same, we mean awful. Still, we’ve managed to find a few great menorahs, and just in time for Hannukah (and since no one has ever decided how to spell Hannukah, we’re going to spell it every which way throughout the course of this post)!
First, some inspiration from The Stieglitz Collection at The Israel Museum. These images come from a gallery of 70 chanukias, and I must say, it was hard to choose only a few because they are all breathtaking. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
Early triangular Hanukkah lamp, Northern Italy or France, 15th-16th century
Hanukkah lamp adorned with sea horses, mermaids, and putti, Italy, 16th century (Don’t ask us what putti is.)
Hanukkah lamp decorated with centaurs and Medusa head, Italy, 16th century
Hanukkah lamp with openwork scaled pattern, Italy, 16th century
Hanukkah lamp, Berlin (?), Germany, 18th century
Hanukkah lamp modeled after synagogue facade, Poland, 18th century
What I find so inspiring about these menorahs–besides, of course, the unbelievable craftsmanship–is that they don’t seem boxed in by a few tropes of “Jewishness.” Not a single “tree of life” among them. Instead we have menorahs inspired by myths and stories, but architecture, by spaces of worship. There are mermaids, the head of Medusa. Heck, in the one below, there are even “demonic figures” (or at least The Stieglitz Collection identifies them as such).
Hanukkah lamp adorned with three demonic figures, Fez, Morocco, 18th century
The Judaica artists of the past were not afraid to draw subject matter from the world around them, instead of cannibalizing the same few ideas over and over and over again. These menorahs show us that Jews didn’t live isolated, but exchanged ideas with the world around them. Nowadays, the Jewish community is more “connected” than ever before, and yet our art looks like it was made by people who’ve been locked in a basement for decades. Come on, people, it’s time for Jewish art to get out in the open air, look at the world and respond!
Here are a few menorahs from Etsy that we think are doing just that.
Patron Tequila Bottle Tops and Oak Wine Barrel Stave Menorah by bottlehood, $72 (only one available, snag it!)
From their product page: “This menorah combines reused oak wine barrel staves with the necks of Patron Tequila to make a beautiful menorah.” Bonus points for being eco-friendly: “Bottlehood’s glassware has a significantly lower carbon footprint as compared to recycled or landfilled bottles. A glass bottle takes more than 4000 years to decompose in a landfill!”
Yesterday, I wrote that because apprenticeships are less and less common, we cannot expect the level of craftsmanship that was once the norm. Also, we cannot expect the highest quality raw material to be as available now as it was then. But we can play to our strengths. One of the modern-day strengths is the ability to repurpose, and the new awareness in regards to upcycling. We may not have the highest quality materials or the highest quality craftsmanship, but we do have a lot of old junk lying around, and a ton of ingenuity.
Modern Style Hannukah Menorah in Wood by littlealouette, $65
True it’s not as much fun without fire, but think of it as a gift to the littlest members of the family. From the product page: “The light /fire is simple hand carved cherry so even the youngest member of the family can celebrate and enjoy the ‘lighting’ of the candles without worry of fire danger.”
Infinity Menorah by JudaicaDesignsUSA, $99
Very clever play on the miracle of the eight days of Chanukah. From the product page: “Year after year, generation after generation, from ancient time till infinity (∞). For 8 days the candles of Chanukah give light. This infinity menorah was designed with inspiration of the number 8 and the symbol of infinity (∞). Original design by the artist Anat Basanta.”
The Pea Menorah by JudaicaDesignsUSA, $135. Available in either aluminum or brass
Simple and elegant.
Happy Hannukah everybody! And as we said yesterday, if you see a menorah, or another piece of Judaica that you think we’d like, please please please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, put it on our Facebook wall, or message us @KetuvTweets on Twitter.