The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe

BookThe Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe

The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe

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National Jewish Book Awards Finalist for the Visual Arts Award, 2017. The carved wooden Torah arks found in eastern Europe from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were magnificent structures, unparalleled in their beauty and mystical significance. The work of Jewish artisans, they dominated the synagogues of numerous towns both large and small throughout the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, inspiring worshippers with their monumental scale and intricate motifs. Virtually none of these superb pieces survived the devastation of the two world wars. Bracha Yaniv’s pioneering work therefore breathes new life into a lost genre, making it accessible to scholars and students of Jewish art, Jewish heritage, and religious art more generally. Making use of hundreds of pre-war photographs housed in local archives, she develops a vivid portrait of the history and artistic development of these arks, the scope and depth of her meticulous research successfully compensating for the absence of physical remains. In this way she has succeeded in producing a richly illustrated and comprehensive overview of a classic Jewish religious art form. Professor Yaniv’s analysis of the historical context in which these arks emerged includes a broad survey of the traditions that characterized the local workshops of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. She also provides a detailed analysis of the motifs carved into the Torah arks and explains their mystical significance, among them representations of Temple imagery and messianic themes—and even daring visual metaphors for God. Fourteen arks are discussed in particular detail, with full supporting documentation; appendices relating to the inscriptions on the arks and to the artisans’ names will further facilitate future research. This seminal work throws new light on long-forgotten traditions of Jewish craftsmanship and religious understanding.

'Bracha Yaniv has made a meticulous study of lost arks and of the lost Jewish crafts of joinery, woodcarving, painting and gilding that made them possible. She demonstrates that these arks cannot be dismissed as mere folk art. They exhibit a high level of artistic accomplishment.’
Sharman Kadish, Jewish Chronicle

'Bracha Yaniv’s book addresses a wide audience; for scholars it is an excellent source book, a cradle of new ideas, but it is accessible to readers who are less familiar with Judaism and Jewish visual culture... This book is not only a pleasure to hold, see, and read, but it opens new horizons for many professionals who research Jewish visual culture.'
Prof. Rudolf Klein, BRILL

'Bracha Yaniv’s book addresses a wide audience; for scholars it is an excellent source book, a cradle of new ideas, but it is accessible to readers who are less familiar with Judaism and Jewish visual culture. The large-format book is graphically coherent, with only historic photographs that were edited to be similar in tonal gamut and micro-contrast, all black and white. On pages without illustrations beautiful portrayals of the Torah arks adorn the pages, in abstracted form, enriching the aesthetically pleasing layout and well chosen typography. This book is not only a pleasure to hold, see, and read, but it opens new horizons for many professionals who research Jewish visual culture.'
Prof. Rudolf Klein, IMAGES

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Author Information

Bracha Yaniv is Professor Emerita of Jewish Art History at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and founding editor of Ars Judaica: The Bar-Ilan Journal of Jewish Art. She has published two pioneering books in Hebrew on the history, design, and iconography of ceremonial synagogue objects.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover1
Contents9
Note on Transliteration11
Introduction12
PART I: HISTORY AND CULTURE, FUNCTION AND DESIGN14
1. The Emergence of the Torah Ark from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century16
2. Historical and Cultural Background32
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth32
The Rise of Hasidism and the Influence of Kabbalah37
3. Construction and Design42
Crafts, Artisans, and Workshops42
The Lithuanian Workshop of Jacob ben Solomon of Raseinai50
The Workshop of the Vase in a Niche52
The Rococo-Style Workshop52
The Belarusian Workshop54
The Ukrainian Workshop54
Constructing the Ark57
Building57
Materials and Techniques60
Style and Design62
PART II: FORM AND CONTENT82
Introduction: The Architectural Structure of the Torah Ark84
4. The Kingdom of God in the Little Sanctuary88
The Throne of Glory88
The Three Crowns115
The Eagle as a Metaphor for God108
Praise of God123
Perek shirah123
Music in the Temple140
5. The Temple151
The Gateway to Heaven151
The Passageway154
The Inscription Avinu Malkenu158
Yakhin and Boaz162
The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple Appurtenances169
The Kaporet and the Cherubim175
The Tree of Life: Symbol of the Torah183
The Seven-Branched Menorah189
Introduction189
The Menorah and the Showbread Table193
The Menorah as a Solitary Motif197
The Menorah in Zechariah’s Vision199
The Menorah as a Mystical Symbol202
The Temple Rituals: Avodat Hakodesh206
The Sacrificial Offerings206
The Priestly Blessing210
Offering of the First Fruits213
6. Messianic Expectations216
Personal Redemption: The Leviathan and the Ox216
National Redemption225
Aaron’s Rod, the Manna Jar, and the Jug of Anointing Oil225
The Four Species and the Shofar232
PART III: APPENDICES240
I. Fourteen Torah Arks: Comprehensive Description, Technical Data, and Supporting Documentation242
Introduction242
1. The Ark of Kamyanka-Buzka, Western Ukraine, c.1775243
2. The Ark of Vyžuonos, Central Lithuania, 1784245
3. The Ark of Zabłudów, North-East Poland, 1765247
4. The Ark of Druya, Northern Belarus, 1774/5249
5. The Ark of Zelva, Western Belarus, 1849/50252
6. The Ark of Lukiv, Western Ukraine, c.1781256
7. The Ark of Hrodna, Western Belarus, Late Eighteenth Century259
8. The Ark of Nowe Miasto nad Pilica, East-Central Poland, after 1800262
9. The Ark of Šaukenai, Central Lithuania, 1885/6264
10. The Ark of Przedbórz, Central Poland, c.1775267
11. The Ark of Valkininkai, South-East Lithuania, 1804269
12. The Ark of Kepno, West-Central Poland, 1816/17273
13. The Ark of Vowpa, Western Belarus, 1781276
14. Unidentified Ark, Ukraine, Nineteenth Century279
II. Biblical Quotations and Liturgical Phrases Adorning the Arks282
III. Carpenters and Woodcarvers of Arks285
IV. Alphabetical List of the Arks Comprising theVisual Database for This Study289
List of Illustrations300
List of Institutions305
Bibliography306
Index324