Object of the Month - April 2014 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - April 2014

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Passover Plate - 19th century - Pewter - Cincinnati Skirball Museum, gift of Maurice E. Oshry in memory of William J. Baude

Passover celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt more than three millennia ago. It is a celebration of freedom; at its core is a special meal, called the seder, marked by special rituals and special foods. These foods include flat, yeastless bread, matzah (symbol of affliction), maror (symbol of slavery’s bitterness), and haroset, a pasty mixture of fruits, nuts, and wine (symbol of the mortar used for the bricks in Egypt transformed by the sweetness of freedom). Food and rituals are prescribed in the text read during the seder. Through the reading of the haggadah (telling) each year at Passover, participants in the seder re-experience the process of redemption and its covenantal responsibilities.

The Passover Plate depicted here carries an inscription around the rim which reads: “On the second night of Passover begins the Omer.” The Counting of the Omer is a verbal counting of each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, representing spiritual anticipation and preparation for the giving of Torah. The plate depicts seven men seated around a long narrow table. One of the men lifts a wine cup and utters a prayer.  A single figure on the left, probably a servant, carries a pitcher on his shoulder and prepares to bring a basket to the table. Pitchers and wine jugs are in the foreground on the left, framed pictures decorate the walls, and a judenstern hangs above the scene over an arched doorway. The judenstern, German for “Jewish star” was used in Germany and the Netherlands from the 15th century through the late 19th century to fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of lighting a Shabbat lamp. The star-shaped judensterns were made of brass. The one depicted on this plate appears to have six oil fonts, and a pan to catch the drippings below.