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  • Shared Symbols of the Sacred WithinMezzuzah Series
  • Judith Block Solomon (bio)

Mezzuzot are small decorative "pockets," usually of precious metal or wood, that contain a Biblical verse and are hung in doorways at a specific angle to consecrate a Jewish home. While researching old mezzuzot, I was struck by the Islamic, Moorish influences in their design. I was fascinated by the mix of cultures that was expressed in the aesthetics of these and other Jewish ritual objects, especially in light of the political polarizations today. We in the West don't often recognize the origins of these designs. We think of separation, delineation, defense.

I think of mezzuzot as domestic, and therefore related to a woman's world and concerns, as well as to that of the whole family and community. The traditional prayer on the scroll within the mezzuzah is to remind us of our relationship with god (or spirit) every time we leave our houses and every time we return. In my own work, this object, as a container of something sacred within, came to have great significance for me in other than religious terms. [End Page 86]

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Salaam Mezzuzah

Normally there is an opening in the front of a mezzuzah that shows the letter "shin" which stands for "Shadai" (in Hebrew, the sacred one). The "shin" is also the first letter of "shalom," in Hebrew, "peace." On this mezzuzah I use the Arabic letter "sin" for "salaam," the Arabic word for "peace." The opening of the mezzuzah uses the shape of a prayer niche found in Islamic architecture. Above, the "Jewish" star is embedded within another shared symbol, the hand of Fatimah, the hamesh or hamseh hand. [End Page 87]

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Peace Mezzuzot

These two square forms were influenced by a rustic, wooden mezzuzah I saw from Eastern Europe. The "shin" again is to represent "shalom," in the other the peace symbol marks the sacred opening. In the Salaam and Peace Mezzuzot, many of the decorative elements were adapted from designs of North African menorahs. [End Page 88]

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Burkah Mezzuzah

The idea of the sacred within, often inscrutable, hidden, contained, is expressed here through the burkah, the head and face covering worn by some women in Muslim societies. Is she protected, or imprisoned? When we peer in through the metal screen, we see ourselves reflected back. [End Page 89]

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Carp Mezzuzah

This design is derived from a tiny ivory mezzuzah from China dating from the 1950s. Again, what fascinates me about this is that it is a symbol from another culture and its art, but it is incorporated into a Jewish sacred object. So, what is Jewish, anyway? The symbols and styles in ritual objects speak volumes about the complexity of the traditions and history that created them. There are no simple answers.

All mezzuzot are ceramic, some with metal additions, and measure from 19" to 26" in length. [End Page 90]

Judith Block Solomon

Judith Block Solomon lives in New York City and has been an artist there for over 30 years. In addition to her past teaching and clinical work, she has curated many exhibits for the Bank Street College of Education Exhibition Space. She has shown in galleries throughout the United States and is currently represented by the SKH Fine Art Gallery in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. For the last seven years, her work has expressed her political as well as aesthetic concerns, especially exploring how forced categorization of images, as well as words, serve to create a history that separate peoples and facitiltates war.



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pp. 86-90
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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