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On the Hunt for Good Judaica, Part 2: Menorahs

posted by Arielle Angel on December 15, 2011

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 info@ketuv.com, put it on our Facebook wall, or message us @KetuvTweets on Twitter.

On the Hunt for Good Judaica, Part 1: Mezuzahs

posted by Arielle Angel on December 14, 2011

Let’s face it: there’s not much good-looking Judaica out there. That’s the main reason we got into ketubahs when we did. It’s strange, because Judaism has a great history of amazing ornate illuminated and illustrated manuscripts and ketubot, as well as ritual and home objects. And yet, when Judaica artists get “ornate” these days, it almost seems, well, childish, over-the-top, and in bad taste. We decided to post today and tomorrow about our search for two modern, beautiful pieces of Judaica: the mezuzah, particularly those that hold glass shards from the glass broken at the wedding, and the Hannukah menorah (in honor of the approaching holiday). Today the mezuzahs, tomorrow the menorahs!

First, let’s look at some inspiration from the past. Here are some wonderful images of mezuzot from The Stieglitz Collection at The Israel Museum.

Carved wood mezuzah case with Star of David and eagle, Slovakia, 19th century


Mezuzah case decorated with a lion, unicorn, and eagles, Poland, 18th century

Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything quite like this! But, we didn’t come up empty, either. As I hinted at before, the most successful modern Judaica, in my opinion, is that that follows the rule my childhood art teacher taught me years ago: KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid. In the days since artisan apprenticeships have all but disappeared, we cannot expect the standards of craftsmanship of the past. The Judaica artists of today are those that are playing to the strengths of our era, opting for minimal and elegant over intensely crafted.

Our favorite so far are these by a father-daughter team, Arthur and Wendy Silver (come on, is that really their name?). While their designs are not necessarily easy on the wallet, they make a great wedding gift for a good friend or family member, and the Silvers provide easy instructions for giving them as gifts.

From left, these glass and sterling silver mezuzahs can be found here, here, here, here, and here, and range in price from $180 – $300. A different company makes a cheaper, and albeit simpler version of almost the same thing, which you can find here.

Soon after finding nothing much on the internet, we turned to Etsy. You know things are bad when even Etsy– that bastion of handmade goodness- has got about a page-worth of worthwhile Judaica amidst about a hundred pages of offerings.

Still we managed to find one or two gems, at much lower prices than the above work.

Fused Glass Wedding Shards Mezuzah by EnidTraisman, $49

Each one is different, as each one is fused from the broken glass shards from the wedding! You also have a choice between a Shin, Chai or Star of David on the front of the final design.

Polymer mezuzah by Myflorides, $18

(Get it while it’s hot, people, there’s only ONE in this exact design, and we don’t necessarily endorse the others!)

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure in Judaica: menorahs! And please please please, if you see something you think we’d like, email us at info@ketuv.com, put it on our Facebook wall, or message us @KetuvTweets on Twitter.