Object of the Month June 2016
David Holleman (b. 1927)Mount Sinai: The Giving of the Ten CommandmentsQuincy, MA, c. 1960sStained glass, epoxy edge, mounted on glass plateConstructed for Temple Beth El of Quincy, MA.Gift of Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills, formerly Temple Beth El, Quincy, MA and Temple Shalom, Milton, MA.
The merging of two Jewish congregations is always challenging, but it was the emotional aspect of the experience that Temple Beth El of Quincy, MA faced in 2015. As this congregation prepared to merge with Temple Shalom of Milton, MA, a question arose of how to preserve the treasured stained glass windows their old building, scheduled for demolition, housed. The Cincinnati Skirball Museum worked with the leadership of the former Temple Beth El to provide the stained glass collection a new home. The windows were created by acclaimed artist, David Holleman in the 1960s.
David Holleman’s work in mosaic and stained glass has been featured worldwide and in several synagogues around Massachusetts. He also designed a window for the chapel of Yavneh Day School, now Rockwern Academy, in Cincinnati. Holleman taught at Harvard University School of Design from 1960-1977 and at Stonehill College from 1971-1996. Holleman has worked in various media throughout the years and in recent years has returned to his early interest in portraiture.
The festival of Shavuot is one of the three Hag Hakatzir, or Harvest Holidays, mentioned in the Bible. Shavuot began as a strictly agricultural festival to celebrate the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest, a new agricultural season. Two loaves of bread made from the first wheat crops were traditionally presented by priests at the Temple in Jerusalem as an offering of thanksgiving. Shavuot is also known as Yom Habikkurim, the Day of First Fruits, because the first fruits of the seven Biblical species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) were brought to the Temple.
Since the third century, the spiritual significance of Shavuot has been celebrated as the day on which God was revealed at Sinai. The Torah reading for Shavuot is the description of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, as well as the Ten Commandments. The Book of Ruth is also traditionally read at Shavuot services. In many Reform congregations, the Confirmation ceremony, which signifies the end of formal Jewish education and the passage into adult Jewish life, is also held on Shavuot.
Among the windows gifted to the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion is a spectacular window titled Mount Sinai: The Giving of the Ten Commandments. This window held pride of place above the Ark in the sanctuary of Temple Beth El. The large yellow space in the center of the window was designed to frame the temple’s Nir Tamid, or Eternal Light. The two tablets are depicted behind Mount Sinai with a six-pointed crown above, representing the six books of the Mishnah, the first major work of rabbinic literature, dating to the 3rd century. The multifaceted bits of glorious color symbolize the diversity of opinions and ideas that emerge from the study of Torah. In the foreground are the red Israelite tents, encamped around the base of the mountain. The unique depiction of the tablets separated, rather than pictured together are the focal point of this piece.