Find Authentic Antique Judaica

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Antique Judaica refers to any art, object or written parchment that portrays the culture, history and religious ethos of the Jewish people. These Antique Judaica items are much sought-after either for religious-ceremonial purposes or to decorate a Jewish home.  Either way, Antique Judaica objects bring the presence of God to those who made use of them.  But it is to be expected that these religious and cultural objects will not serve their true spiritual purpose if they are less than authentic, meaning the Judaica was recently crafted and just passed off as antique.

The sad thing is there some unscrupulous people who fake Antique Judaica. These objects are being acquired left and right worldwide by Jewish communities and even non-Jews who, in a nascent religious kick, have been enamored by the oldest known religion in the world. Scheming artisans took this as a cue to churn out imitation Antique Judaica and make money from proceeds of the sale.

It is unique in that they items take on the characteristics and beliefs of Jewish communities wherever in the world they lived.  This diversity of styles, materials and techniques combined with rarity make Judaica an area of collecting prone to adapted, embellished and reproduced articles. The Judaica of recent make are often made to appear as coming from the 18th or 19th centuries and thus worth more than their actual cost.

Respected dealers in Antique Judaica such as the Joy Schonberg Galleries go out of their way to help people find the authentic specimens. At the outset, the prospective buyer must examine the age, condition, rarity and intrinsic value of the material. These factors, together with the historic and artistic importance of the Judaica, can determine the actual money value of the item.

When buyers go out to acquire an Antique Judaica, they are advised to look at the object up close to determine its authenticity.  For a silver Judaica object supposedly dated 18th or 19th century, the examination should focus on whether the engraved text or decoration is mellow or sharp. Does the item look as if it had been handled, polished and dented through generations of use or does it appear crisp and newly minted without any scratches or missing parts? The latter case is the red flag that the Antique Judaica is not authentic.

There is a wooden Purim Grogger traced to the American Jews in the 19th century.  Don’t be fooled. It is not made of exotic woods from the Amazon rainforest or Southeast Asia as it should be but of some native woods like cherry, oak or walnut.

Buyers should be especially turned off by claims that an Antique Judaica was made circa 16th century. The fact is, although silver has been a key material in the fashioning of secular and religious objects for millennia, very little that was made specifically for Jewish rituals before the 16th century has survived. Most of the objects in museum and private collections of Ancient Judaica date from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

High-value Antique Judaica items include Mezuzah cases, Spice towers and containers of various designs and engravings, Kiddush cups, Pilgrim’s clay flask, Cohen clay oil lamp, Clay Container for Scrolls replica (from the Dead Sea Scrolls excavations, two-headed Herodian-style Oil Lamp Replica made of aged terra cotta, and Sefirat Ha’Omer counter made from olive wood.

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The Crescent on the Temple

The Crescent on the Temple

By: Joy Schonberg

The Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary By Pamela Berger

The Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary By Pamela Berger Published by Brill, Leiden/Boston 2012, 367 pages, $164

The Dome of the Rock, often represented with an Islamic crescent on top, became the image for the Temple in Jewish, Christian and Moslem art for over 500 years. How and why this historical anomaly persisted is the subject of a fascinating in-depth study of Jewish, Christian and Moslem imagery and its interpretation spanning more than 2,000 years of biblical & later history by Dr. Pamela Berger, professor of Medieval Art at Boston College, Boston, MA.

For the Jews, the Rock represents the site of both Temples: for the Moslems the Rock symbolizes the site of the “Night Journey” of Muhammad from earth to heaven while for Christians it recalls Jesus’s association with the Jewish Temple. Interestingly, for all the three religions the Dome of the Rock is commonly used to portray “The Temple” in art imagery.

Dr. Berger, in her scholarly, well-researched book, describes works of art using this image, evaluating how feelings of mutual respect and recognition between these three religions throughout history waxed and waned and how it led to its universal use and acceptance from the 15th century till the 1930’s.


Tetradrachma showing façade of Temple in Jerusalem and the “Table of Shewbread” in centre, 132-135 CE. Courtesy Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The earliest known representation of the Temple occurs on a tetradrachma coin used in the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome 131-135 CE. The star on top of the Temple alludes to the name of the commander of the revolt, Shimon Bar Kochba (“son of a star” in Aramaic). The Dura Europos Synagogue in Syria, 245 CE, boasts the first surviving paintings showing the Temple and is similar to the Bar Kochba coins. Berger, who has written about Temple/Tabernacle images in Dura, believes that perhaps these coins were an inspiration for the Dura Europos paintings.

Therefore, with an established visual tradition of representing the Jewish Temple how did the Islamic Dome of the Rock image emerge to represent the Temple?

Ever since it was brutally razed by the Romans, the site of the Temple continued to be remembered and revered by Jews, Christians and later Moslems alike even though the site was totally destroyed and left as exposed bedrock littered with debris, a haunting symbol of all the Jews had lost.

Interestingly, our relationship with the site of the Rock midrashically goes back to Bereishit as the source of Adam’s creation, the sacrifices of Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah as well as Akedat Yitzchak and Jacob’s Ladder and David’s sacrifice.

Later in Isaiah 28:16 the Rock is referred to as the “Foundation Stone” or Even ha-Shetiyah. This lay in the most sacred part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, and the Ark of the Covenant rested upon it. According to the sages of the Talmud (Yoma 54b) it was from this rock that the world was created, itself being the first part of the Earth to come into existence. In the words of the Zohar (Veyechi 1: 231): “The world was not created until G-d took a stone called Even haShetiya and threw it into the depths where it was fixed from above till below, and from it the world expanded. It is the centre point of the world and on this spot stood the Holy of Holies.” In Midrashic sources, the prophet Yonah, when swallowed up by the large fish, saw the base of the Even ha-Shetiyah in the abyss beneath the Temple. Such sources describe it as a precious stone plucked from beneath G-d’s throne, or as a covering of the source of all the waters the world drinks. It has been told that the Ten Commandments were hewn from that Rock, which was also said to be the navel of the world (Tanchuma, Kedoshim,10). According to Dr. Berger these midrashim were probably familiar to those Jews who throughout the ages continued to visit the Temple site and weep and anoint the Rock.

From the 7th century on, Dr. Berger points out that there was a multi-directional flow of influence from Judaism to Islam; Jewish folklore material relating to biblical figures being imported into Arab tales and vice versa, as both traditions used one another’s stories. In both traditions the Rock is close to Heaven.

Eventually the Even ha-Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone, became al-Sakhra, the Rock, in Arabic. For the Moslems, too, the Rock was the “last remaining vestige of the Holy of Holies in the ruined temple.”

Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah

Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, Sefer Avodah, opening page, northern Italy 1457-65. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Dr. Berger relates that when the invading Moslem forces captured Jerusalem in 638 CE, their arrival was seen as a great deliverance for the Jews who were again allowed to walk freely into the city and to live and pray on the Temple Mount. The Moslems built a rudimentary mosque on the southern part of the Temple Mount – later to be called al-Aqsa. In 691/692 CE, a Moslem caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock, a wooden, octagonal shrine, and it is documented that the Jews became servants there; keeping the place clean, making glass vessels for the lights and kindling them (reminiscent of the rituals in ancient times). Even a synagogue may have existed on the esplanade.

Dr. Berger maintains that by the 9th century the Dome of the Rock had already merged with the ancient Temple in the popular imagination and from then on the Jewish Temple was seen in imagery as polygonal or circular covered by a dome; even though the Christians and Jews knew that the Bible had described the Temple as rectangular. Evidentially the physical reality of the building in that place simply supplanted the ancient demolished historical reality.

When the Crusaders entered Jerusalem in 1099 CE, they wiped out nearly the entire Jewish population along with the Moslems. They also identified the site of the Dome of the Rock as that of the Temple, calling it “Templum Domini” and the nearby al-Aksa mosque was associated with the Temple of Solomon. After Saladin expelled the Crusaders in 1187 CE, the Jews returned to Jerusalem. The visual tradition remained the same in Byzantine, Western and Islamic Art with the circular, or polygonal domed building used as the image for the Temple.

The earliest surviving depiction of the Temple as the Dome of the Rock in Jewish art is in Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, Sefer Avodah (the eighth of the fourteen books), northern Italy, 1457-65. This manuscript, previously owned by Michael and Judy Steinhardt, New York, was recently bought jointly (Sotheby’s May 2013) by the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, for approximately 5.5 million dollars – the highest price ever paid for a Judaic item!

Reflecting amicable Jewish/Islamic relations, 15th century Rabbi Meshullam ben Menachem of Volterra observes that on Tisha B’Av the servants at the Dome of the Rock made sure to extinguish the candles, exhibiting an affinity between the practices of Jews and Moslems. Dr. Berger observes that from the texts that Tisha B’Av was actually commemorated by Moslems too! The Jews did not suffer any type of persecution by the Moslems in this period.

Sefer Zevach Pesach, commentary on the Haggadah by Don Yitzhak Abravanel, with Temple in the image of the Dome of the Rock, as Hebrew book Printer’s mark. Giustiniani, Venice, 1545

By the mid 16th century, this polygonal domed image appeared widely in Jewish books, especially as a Hebrew Printer’s mark, such as on Sha’ar Blette (title pages) in the books of Marco Antonio Giustiniani, Venice 1545-52. Though Giustiniani was a gentile, he worked for Jews, since the Jews of Venice were forbidden to own Hebrew presses at that time.

In Jewish art of the 16th century the Dome of the Rock symbolically stands for the Temple at the end of days, seen in the final page of the Venice Haggadah, 1609; showing the walled-Jerusalem with an octagonal domed Temple building and depicting the Messiah riding a donkey lead by the prophet Elijah towards the Gate of Jerusalem. The 18th century Washington Megillat Esther (Library of Congress), continues this tradition with images of the Temple alluding to the Jews’ desire for redemption; showing dancers rejoicing and the Messiah at the End of Days approaching Jerusalem with the domed Temple building.

In descriptive views of Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock as the Temple was found in many different motifs including Shabbat tablecloths, ketubot, many textiles as well as Christian, Moslem and Jewish decorative maps, placing the holy sites around a centralized Jerusalem. A 19th century Italian textile shows the Dome of the Rock as the Temple in the triadic image of Midrash Shlomo, Beit HaMikdash and the Kotel Maaravi. Midrash Shlomo was the name given to the Al-Aksa mosque as the site of Solomon’s Temple and is thus depicted next to the “Beit haMikdash“.

Until 1930 this iconography was widespread in the Holy Land and in the Diaspora, suggesting a modicum of respect and friendship between Jews and Moslems. After 1930 the image of the Dome of the Rock is no longer found in Jewish Art or it is kept in the background. The unprecedented riots of August 1929 in Jerusalem and Hebron resulting in the deaths of 133 Jews was the immediate cause. The continued rise in the Middle East of nationalist politics had changed the region forever and the imagery reflects this.

So the question remains: why until 1930, was the polygonal/circular Dome of the Rock adopted by Jews to depict our most sacred spot on earth and the Temple of the End of Days, the embodiment of the desire for redemption?

One reason, in my opinion, is the mere fact that the domed structure was a reality on that holy spot, a realistic image before one’s very eyes and this caused it to be artistically rendered again and again in our works or art.

Dr. Berger believes that another reason is that until 1930 the Jews regarded the Moslems neutrally. The image of the Dome with the crescent didn’t have a negative connotation. Both Jews and Moslems fought the Christians and when the Crusaders were defeated they rejoiced together. Anti-Semitism towards Jews in Moslem lands was less marked and developed than in Europe. European Jews in times of persecution readily sought refuge in Moslem countries. Historically understood in this light one can begin to appreciate the use of the image of the Dome of the Rock for the Temple.

In her easy to read, flowing, eloquent presentation of the material, Dr. Berger shows us how one apparently small iconographic detail can be an eye opener to an entire weltanshaung of harmonious and peaceful relationships between Arabs and Jews. She concludes by suggesting that we should use our imagery of the past as a role model for the future to try to find a peaceful solution to the Middle East problem to invoke the holiness of the place of the Foundation Stone together – thus rather stretching an examination of art appreciation and imagery into matters a little beyond the scope of the material. As for the rebuilding of the Beit haMikdash on the Even HaShetiyah

– “this will have to be left for the Messiah”!

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Jewish Gifts and Judaica Arts Attract Interest

Judaism as practiced and expressed through Judaica Arts and gift items is attracting the interest of more and more people.  Those of Jewish ancestry who have strayed into other cultures and religions in their previous lives are turning back to their roots by acquiring Jewish-inspired arts and gifts to renew their devotion to Judaism.  Even non-Jewish people are showing their fascination with Judaica arts and gifts as evidenced by the brisk sale of these items in stores located in largely non-Jewish neighborhoods.  This phenomenon could be attributed to the religious renaissance that all the lawlessness and inequities in the world have given rise to.

Judaica Arts

We see people from all social classes and cultures trying to learn more about Jewish life and get connected to their forgotten heritage in a more intimate way.  We even hear of some Hollywood celebrities joining Jewish converts and returness to go deep into the study of Kabbalah.  Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish wisdom that reveals how the universe and life work.  Most of us at some point feel that fulfillment is elusive and there’s something missing in our lives. Through the study of Kabbalah, we learn how to achieve fulfillment and serenity.

Each one of us desires fulfillment and joy which could explain the interest many are now giving to Judaism and its promise of spiritual richness and deliverance.  Apart from the study of Kabbalah, worship in the oldest of all known religions is practiced with the aid of synagogue items, Judaica arts and Jewish gifts.

The world of Judaica encompasses virtually all possible objects pertinent to Judaism.  It comprises mainly but not exclusively of articles that are inseparable parts of the religion, such as the Judaica Tallit.  This is the prayer shawl that Jewish men wear when they pray according to their custom.  Most Ashkenazi Jews wear the Tallit everyday once they get married, while Sephardic Jews wear it daily long before they tie the know, usually once they turn 13 years old at their Bar Mitzvahs.

Bar Mitzvah Outfit 19th century Moroccan

Another Judaica object that is not only an intrinsic part of Judaism but also immensely popular in Judaica stores is the Mezuzah.  This is a scroll enclosed in an elaborately designed case on which is written religious passages from a Jewish holy man.  Hence, the Mezuzah is mostly attached to doorposts of houses to signify the homeowner’s religiosity and also to ward off evil.  Some Mezuzah can cost a pretty penny depending on design and make.

Decorative Mezuzahs are not the only example of fundamental religious items that Judaica offers in an array of colors and styles.  There is also the famous Kippah, known by its Yiddish term Yamaka.  This is the small skullcap Jewish men wear on their heads at all times symbolic of their subjugation to God.  Judaica stores offer Kippahs in many different colors, sizes, shapes and materials.

Judaica offers anything from vital ritual items to antique jewelry of Jewish motif, Jewish art and Judaica gifts.   Jewish gifts are inexhaustible, with new items inundating the Judaica market constantly.

Gift giving is a wonderful way to increase the sense of closeness between family and friends. Gifts are given on countless occasions in Judaism; food packages on Purim, gifts on Hannukah, milestone gifts for girls and boys reaching Bat and Bar Mitzvah, gifts for newly married couples who are setting up their home, and so many more.

Apart from the pleasure of giving and receiving a gift, Jewish gifts and Judaica gifts have an additional aspect of being deeply meaningful and often being items that are passed from generation to generation, strengthening the chain of Judaism within the family. Judaica items that are given as presents today become the heirlooms of tomorrow – Kiddish Cups, Mezuzahs, Shabbat Candlesticks and Passover Seder Plates are all examples of items that are passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter over the generations, appreciated, cherished and admired.

Jewish Jewelry is a category of Jewish gifts that is developing and growing at an astonishing speed. From traditional symbols, such as the Star of David and Chai symbols to the more contemporary Kabbalah and Hamsa, Jewish Jewelry is a popular way for Jewish people to display their Jewish pride and sense of unity.  Rings, pendants, earrings, pins and necklaces can be found in an array of styles in our Jewelry collections, made of a variety of materials, silver, gold, ceramic, plastic resins and others.

Antique Jewelry

For more information, please visit Joy Schonberg Galleries.

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Popular Judaica Gifts

Judaica describes religious items for use in celebrating Jewish holidays or Jewish-themed art.

Here are some essential Judaica Items:

Mezuzah: A beautiful, small case (could be made of any material) containing Judaism’s most sacred prayer the Sh’ma.

Kiddish cup: A unique goblet used during the prayer over the wine as we usher in each holiday, from weekly Shabbat to special holidays.

Menorah: A 9-(8) branch candelabrum used for Chanukah festivity. Holds eight candles and the shamas (helper candle) which is used to light the other ages.

Shabbat candlesticks is a set of candlesticks which is used to hold the two candles we light to usher in Shabbat weekly. This is reserved for women and during the lighting of the Shabbat candles is the best time to pray for whatever one needs… Jews NEVER blow out candles, whether Shabbat or Chanukah candles; They let them burn out themselves. These candlesticks are perfect wedding, housewarming, and Bat Mitzvah gifts for Jewish friends.

Seder plate: Passover is the only Jewish holiday that is primarily celebrated with a service at home (the Seder), not at synagogue. The Seder plate is the centerpiece of our home celebration, holding all of the important items used during the service. Seder plates have sections to hold the items, but they can be as varied in design (glass, metal, ceramic, bone china; traditional, classic, contemporary) as their owners. Perfect for engagement, wedding, anniversary, and housewarming gifts for your Jewish friends.

Elijah’s cup: The prophet Elijah is said to visit each Seder and we fill a special cup of wine and set it in the centre of the table for him to drink from when he arrives. Elijah’s cups make a lovely Passover gift.

Spice Container: Usually in the shape of a tower, containing sweet smelling spices. This is used in the Havdalah ceremony every week when the Sabbath goes out at dusk and is symbolic of having a sweet week.

Kippa or Yarmulke: A thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men is called a Yarmulke and it is sometimes adorned by men (and some women in Conservative and Reform communities) during services to show devotion to God. It makes a nice gift.

Tallit: The Tallit is the prayer shawl worn by men during services.

Hamsa: A hand-shaped amulet which is used for protection by both Jewish and Muslim people, it is shaped in the form of a symmetrical hand, with thumbs on both sides. The Hamsa is used to ward off the evil eye and can be found at the entrances of homes, in cars, on charm bracelets & chains and more. In Jewish use, Hamsas are often embellished with prayers of a protective fashion. Hamas makes great Jewish gifts for all occasions.


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For more details, please visit: Judaica Arts Gallery from Joy Schonberg.

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Antique Judaica Arts | Antique Judaica Paintings | Judaica lithographs | Antique Jewelry

Joy Schonberg is pleased to announce the release of our new Gallery Website, Conducive for browsing and searching. We hope you enjoy navigating through the expanse of our fabulous offerings; from rare, historically relevant archaeological pieces to new, exciting, highly collectible fine art works by talented international artists.

Visit Judaica Arts Galleries in New York

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