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RitualobjectsatMagnesbringmessagesof
textshome
byrobertnaglermiller,j.correspondent
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Whetheritisourgrandparentsketubah(marriagecontract)
gatheringdustinacloset,thesederplatewepulloutofthehutch
atPassoverorthemezuzahweaffixtoourfrontdoor,byourvery
ownershipoftheseitems,weareextendingthenarrativeofour
Bible.

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Thatsbecausetheseobjectstellstories,inbothwordsand
illustrations.Yourgrandparentsketubah,forinstance,mightrecallthe
weddingofIsaactoRebecca.Thesederplatehelpsrecallthestoryofour
ExodusfromEgypt.ThemezuzahcontainsthewordsofDeuteronomy.

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TheseitemsenableJews
toconnecttoreligious
bookswithouteven
havingtoopenthem,
saysFrancesco
Spagnolo,curatorofthe
MagnesCollectionof
JewishArtandLifeinBerkeley.

SowhenDanielFisher,thisyearsMagnes
graduatefellow,proposedanexhibitfocusingon
howJewishobjectshelpusimpartourstories
andconnecttoourhistoryandfaith,Spagnolo
jumpedaboard.TheresultisLivingbytheBook:
TheJewishBibleandtheEverydayPowerof
Text,cocuratedbySpagnoloandFisher,which
openedthisweekattheMagnes.
JewsareoftencalledPeopleoftheBook,says
Spagnolo,butthatphrasehasmany
dimensions.Inthisexhibit,wearepushingwhat
itmeans.

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toJewishterrorattacks
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deadat84,broughthistorytovivid
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Viewingthescoresofitemsondisplayfrom
tefillinandmezuzahcasestoToraharksand
JewishNewYearscardsvisitorscanobserve
howJewshavesharedbiblicalstoriesoverthe
centuries.Theexhibitcontainsobjectsinstained
glass,embroideredfabric,wood,finemetalsand
PopupNewYearsgreetingcardfromGermany,1910
othermedia,fromMorocco,IndiaandIraq,to
photos/themagnescollection
Europeandclosertohome,Wyoming.Both
SpagnoloandFishersuggestthatthecreatorsof
thesematerialswerenotonlytryingtoreachfellowJewswhomightnotbeschooledintheirtexts,but
alsotoeducatethewiderworldaboutJewishcontributionstoreligioushistory.
CocuratorFisher,aU.C.BerkeleydoctoralstudentinNearEasternstudies,saysthisexhibitionhas
allowedhimtomakenewforaysintohisacademicinterests.Myscholarlyinterestisobjectsfoundin
theJewishBible,hesays.ThisexhibitisabouttheJewishBiblefoundinobjects.
Passoverhaggadah,
1945

OnenotableviewofvisualTorahisastainedglasssynagoguewindowwiththe
TabletsoftheLawatthecenter,surroundedbypanelssymbolizingeachofthe
TwelveTribesofIsrael.Thewindow,ahighlightattheformerhomeofthe
MagnesMuseuminBerkeleysElmwoodsection,willagainbeonpermanent
displayatthecurrentlocationonAllstonWay.
AnotherobjectthatpowerfullyintegratesnarrativewithJewishpracticeisan

1840wimpel,aTorahbindermadefromtheswaddlingclothfromababys
circumcision.Thewimpelwouldbebroughtoutasaprotectiveamuletwrapped
aroundaTorahscrollatkeymomentsduringtheyoungmanslifecycleevents,
includinghisbarmitzvahandwedding.CommonamongJewsofsouthern
Germany,thewimpelincludedpersonalinformationaboutthebabyalongwith
theinjunction,MayhegrowtoTorah,chuppahandgooddeeds.Asthebaby
wasswaddledinthewimpel,hewasliterallycloakedinthewordsofTorah.
AgoodportionoftheexhibitconcernsthedeconstructionoftheTorah,with
scrollsseparatedandexaminedexaminedasvehiclesfortellingstories.The
Torahaccessoriesalsotellstories.Forexample,a19thcenturyYemeniteTorah
pointerisengravedwiththewords,AndthisisthelawwhichMosessetbefore
thechildrenofIsrael.ATorahmantle,circa1930,fromSanFranciscos
CongregationSherithIsraeldepictstheTabletsoftheLaw.SilverTorahfinials,
datingbackto1837inLivorno,Italy,includedepictionsofJewishritualobjectsusedintheTemplein
Jerusalem.
WhilemuchoftheexhibitfocusesonobjectsrelatedtoJewishritualpracticesuchastheTorahark
fromtheRMSQueenMary,speciallybuiltforJewsfleeingHitlersEuropeanumberofitemsborder
onkitsch.Amongthem,atrippypopupJewishNewYearscardfromGermanythatfeaturesMosesand
theTenCommandments,aswellasaseriesofIsraeliethnographicdollsthatincludethelikenessesof
thebiblicalpatriarchs.Nonetheless,theycontinuetotellstories,notonlyabouttheBibleitselfbut
aboutourmyriadinterpretations.
LivingbytheBook:TheJewishBibleandtheEverydayPowerofTextrunsthroughJune24,
2016.http://www.magnes.org.Anopeningreceptiontakesplacefrom5to7p.m.Sept.9atthe
Magnes,2121AllstonWay,Berkeley.Free.RSVPatbit.ly/magnesopening2015

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