Signs and Symbols

Do Jews use symbolism in personal, private, or nonliturgical rituals?

In addition to the ritual articles mentioned earlier, Jews use a number of important symbols while praying at home or for occasions such as weddings. During the observance of Passover, the Kiddush (or blessing) cup is an important item. Some ritual sets designed for the Seder (“order,” ritual of Passover) ceremony include an “Elijah cup” set aside for the guest, the prophet who may appear at any time. Some families are fortunate enough to own heirloom silver cups. Similar goblets are used in wedding ceremonies and in the ceremony called havdalah that marks the “separation” of holy Sabbath time from the rest of the week. Havdalah occurs Saturday evening at nightfall to mark the end of the twenty-five hour period begun Friday at sundown. (Jewish tradition measures all days this way.) Also used in the latter is a small symbol called the “spice tower” that recalls a reference in Song of Songs to the safekeeping of precious spices. Traditional Jewish communities have produced magnificent illuminated pages called ketubbot to recognize marriage vows. Typical decorations in these pages include allusions to the Temple and its implements in addition to scenes of domestic life. Amulets worn around the neck or suspended over an infant’s cradle have been popular throughout Jewish history. Many are made of silver. A more elaborate and expensive amulet might include the tablets of the Law along with a number of symbols of the Temple, such as the menorah, incense burner, and ritual headdress of the High Priest. A stylized hand in outline, used as a pendant or on a keychain, symbolizes divine protection and functions as an amulet.


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