Object of the Month - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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January 2021

three piece havdalah set

Three-piece Havdalah Set Ludwig Wolpert (1900-1981) Sterling silver New York, 1955 Abram and Frances Kanof Collection of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection of the Cincinnati Skirball Museum

The Havdalah ceremony takes place an hour after sundown on Saturday evening to mark the end of Shabbat, or Sabbath and the beginning of a new week. The Havdalah ceremony will usually take place when there are three stars in the sky, which indicates Shabbat has officially ended. A braided candle, spice box, and wine cup are ritual objects of the Havdalah ceremony, which mark the transition between the sacred time of Shabbat and the incoming, mundane week. The actual meaning of the word Havdalah is separation.

Born in Hildesheim, Germany in 1900, Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert studied at the School for Arts and Crafts in Frankfurt-on-Main until 1920 where he specialized in metalwork. After emigrating to Palestine in 1933, Wolpert went on to teach metalworking at the New Bezalel School for Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem.  In 1956 he was invited to New York to establish the Tobe Pascher Workshop for Jewish ceremonial objects at the Jewish Museum. Wolpert is known for his pierced designs in silver. In this Havdalah set, each of the three objects—wine cup, spice box, and candle holder—is pierced with its associated blessing.

The Havdalah ceremony was a part of synagogue ritual by the Medieval period. Each object used during the ceremony has its own purpose. The braided candle represents the Jews from across the world who are a unified people regardless of how far we are from each other. The flame of the candle represents the Shabbat lights. The wine is a symbol of joy, and its sweet taste reminds us of the sweetness of Shabbat. The spice box also represents the sweetness of Shabbat, but we hope to carry that sweetness into the week ahead.

After the blessings for the different ritual objects are recited, the song, Eliyahu HaNavi, is sung to remind us of the hopes for the coming of the Messiah in the future. However, it can also represent a Messianic time, in which the sacredness, rest, and renewal of Shabbat will transition into all the days of our lives. 

This entry was written by Ashley Englander, a third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. She studied Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. She is currently the Student Intern for the Cincinnati Skirball Museum. Ashley has a passion for Jewish history, and she is excited to engage with the upcoming exhibitions and programming at the museum for the 2020-2021 year.

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