WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has recently added several important objects of Judaica to its collections: a sterling silver and gold Kiddush cup and a silver and gold yad (or Torah pointer). These mark the first such objects in the Foundation’s holdings and exemplify the concerted efforts in recent years by the curators to acquire objects and address the stories of all early Americans while remaining true to their long-standing strength in British and American decorative arts.
Additionally, objects that represent the early Anglo-American experience have also been acquired. These include an alphabet sampler created by a Jewish schoolgirl that is unique both for who made it and where it was created, as well as Chinese porcelain pieces that were owned by prominent London Jewish families.
“The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation sees the objects in its collections as documents of the people, places, and events of the past,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s Carlisle Humelsine chief curator and vice president for Collections, Conservation, and Museums.
“Because we use these objects to tell the compelling stories of early Americans, we seek to acquire things that speak to the full range of their experiences, whatever their race, religion, gender, age, or cultural ethnicity may have been. These latest acquisitions mark important steps toward that goal.”
The silver objects are noteworthy additions to the collections as they represent a faith that was more prevalent in early America than most people realize today.
They also span the realms of public and private worship in the Jewish religion.
Kiddush cups are used both as part of family worship at home and as part of congregational worship, while the yad is used in congregational worship in a synagogue. The Colonial Williamsburg curators know that these specific examples are representative of what was owned and used in early America.
The Kiddush cup, which is used while reciting the blessing over wine (the Kiddush), is part of the commandment from the Torah to sanctify the Sabbath (Shabbat). Before the Friday night meal on the eve of Shabbat, the tradition dictates that a family’s Kiddush cup is filled with wine and held as the blessing is spoken, usually by the head of the household. Few ceremonial Jewish objects from the early Anglo-American world are known today.
This Kiddush cup, probably made by William Harrison I (active ca. 1758-1781) in London about 1775, was the first piece of silver Judaica to be added to the Colonial Williamsburg collection. It is an elegant example with a circular stepped foot and a tapered stem that supports an egg-shaped cup with a gilded interior.
It is engraved with three lines of Hebrew, “Remember the Sabbath day, and sanctify it,” within a shield suspended from a bow-knot and flanked by slender foliate sprays.
The yad, which literally means “hand,” can be interpreted as a representation of the hand of God and is used as a pointer during Torah readings, which allows the rabbi to follow the text without physically touching the sacred scrolls.
The chain on the yad was used to suspend it from the Torah scrolls when not in use. This example, made in Birmingham, England, between 1843-1844, is made of silver with gold gilding, which was the predominant material used to make yads since the early 1600s.
It features a long wand of quadrangular shape that is engine-turned and engraved with foliage and has a media band also flanked by foliage. One end of the yad has a foliate-engraved knop with a suspension ring and hanging chain. The other end has an applied cast hand with an extended index finger wearing a ring. There are traces of gilding on the hand.
Additional information about the Art Museums and Colonial Williamsburg as well as tickets are available online at colonialwilliamsburg.com, by calling 855-296-6627.
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