Interview with Batsheva Goldman-Ida-Hasidic Art & the Kabbalah

The presentation of history using objects is currently the trend in many books and exhibits. There are books on the history of a given topic in 8, 10, or 50 objects. For example, I recently saw an exhibit on the history of Frankfort am Main with 100 objects.

Scholars in religious studies are also turning to material culture, where they apply anthropology, art history, performance studies, and aesthetics in the investigation of belief in everyday practices. They look at the images, objects and spaces of religious devotion and the sensations and feelings that are the medium of experience. The new questions include those of embodiment, sensation, space, and performance. Here is a podcast on the topic of material religion.

In a new book, Hasidic Art and the Kabbalah (2018) by Batsheva Goldman-Ida, she connects material culture and Hasidism, the textual world of Kabbalah meets the art exhibit. In several ways, this is the best book I have seen on Hasidism in many years. This may seem like hyperbole but for teaching and understanding the movement, the new book Hasidic Art and the Kabbalah gives a new angle of access to Eastern European life.

Batsheva Goldman-Ida, Ph.D. (2008), The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is Curator of Special Projects at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and specializes in visual culture, especially in the early modern period. Born in Boston, MA, she studied Decorative Arts in New York at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and Parsons School of Design, then studied Jewish thought at Hebrew University.

hasidic art

In the past, Jewish ceremonial art was treated as decorative and functional. This book, in contrast, explicitly investigates the symbolism and theological meanings of the objects. It is as if we merged the studies of Moshe Idel with art history. Hasidic Art and the Kabbalah presents eight case studies, almost as exhibits, of manuscripts, ritual objects and folk art developed by Hasidic masters in the mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries. Goldman-Ida investigates the sources for the items in the Zohar, German Pietism, Safed Kabbalah and Hasidism. She shows Kabbalah embodied in material culture, not just as abstract ideas.  In addition, we are treated to discussions of magical theory from James Fraser and on the subjective experience of the user at the moment of ritual using the theories of Wolfgang Iser, Gaston Bachelard, and Walter Benjamin.”

Goldman-Ida  also curated a recent exhibit and catalog Alchemy of Words: Abraham Abulafia, Dada, Lettrism (Tel Aviv Museum of Art 2016), which juxtaposes the medieval mystic with early modern innovators of linguistic mysticism as well as contemporary performance artists.

The book shows that the concern with liturgical objects as used in the life of the Hasidic court was built into the theology and fabric of Hasidism. The concern with special garments, crafted ritual objects, and folk arts were part and parcel of the movement. So too, the 19th century movement focused on objects blessed by the Rebbe or used by him, which then had magical powers. There was no pristine point where the movement was not involved in how one dressed, how one performed a ritual, or how one prayed. All of this concern for objects was part of a Hasidic imagination of divine immanence. Tobacco pipes, drinking cups, and synagogue art were all infused with a quest to serve God through physical objects, what we would now call material culture.

Everyone acknowledges that foods such as borsht, pirogies, stuffed cabbage and pączki were Eastern European foods, eaten by Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants alike. About foods there is little debate, except for the occasional squabble in historical cookbooks about who contributed the food item to the region. But when discussing Jewish liturgical material culture-such as Purim groggers, wimples, or havdalah sets with Polish eagles – there is a deep reluctance to admit that one can learn the most about the history of these items by studying the non-Jewish folk arts of the region. For a good example of contextualizing a Jewish object, see the award winning essay by David Zvi Kalman, The Strange and Violent History of the Ordinary Grogger.

Batsheva Goldman-Ida’s book shows how the Hasidic movement used the material culture, the arts, the crafts and craftsmen’s of the wider culture. They took the designs of Germany, Austria, Poland, and Russian and made them their own. It was never a mystery to Jews of the era that these crafts were also done by the non-Jews surrounding them. Hasidim were embedded in their broader culture as much as acculturated Italian or British Jews. Hasidic arts were embedded in the world around them

However, Hasidism made the arts their own. They connected the objects to Kabbalistic and Hasidic thought, or broader Jewish ritual themes, or to a special status of the Rebbe.  Silver tableware used by German non-Jews or by wealthy German court Jews became symbolic seder plates or kiddish cups. Sometimes the difference for the Jewish version was in method, such as the woven silver brocade made on a special loom and not by hand.

There is an old Yiddish phrase, translated as “know your poritz,”- know the Polish noble (Polish pan or Hebrew- Yiddish poritz) for whom you work because your relationship with him determines your life and livelihood.  In the arts, this book also shows that they knew the arts of the non-Jewish superior, in that, Hasidic art used models from the wealthy nobility and life of the princely court, not the church or its chalices or church liturgical objects. The Hasidic court was to be like the royal court, showing kingship and royalty, especially in the court of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin and his descendants. The book left me with the question of: why further East did they turn to Russian folk arts? The book also shows that some of the same arts were shared with Non-Hasidic Jews, for example in Prague.

Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art curated a costume exhibit of Catholic inspired clothing. On the walls, the curation cited the 2000 book by sociologist Andrew M. Greeley, The Catholic Imagination. Greely defined this imagination as referring to the Catholic viewpoint that God is present in the whole of creation and within human beings whereby material things and human beings are channels and sources of God’s grace. God is present in the world discloses Himself in and through creation. According to Greely, the Protestants on the other hand, assume a God who is radically absent from the world. Which is Judaism? Batsheva Goldman- Ida clearly shows that the Hasidic imagination finds God manifest in material objects as part of serving God through corporeality and that no place is devoid of God.

I would be delighted to have similar books combining kabbalah and the arts for the Jews in Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, or  especially Morocco. Three years ago, I interviewed Marc Michael Epstein about his book Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts, edited by Marc Michael Epstein (along with many contributors), where he also weaves together Jewish thought with Jewish art.

The book is a 450 page gold mine of the Hasidic theological imagination expressed in material culture. This wonderful book reads like a curated exhibit moving from object to object based on the eight representative objects. Reading it makes one feel as if one spent several days wandering around a well-curated special exhibit on the topic. However, if you want to have a sense of chronology and regional differences then it would be profitable to read it a second time to piece together the historical narrative.The book is worth reading more than once for a new way of seeing the movement. Similar to a return walk through a well-curated museum exhibit a second or third  time to collect the details.

The major flaw of the book rested with the regrettable cost of the book at $165, I look forward to a reasonably priced paperback edition. Another issue is that the book came out as a monograph book size at  6.1 x 9.2 inches when it should have been a coffee table book size 9.5 x 11.8 inches to display properly the abundant photographs and illustrations. If you can get a hold of the book despite the price, then read and work it into your courses on Hasidism and into your thinking about the movement.

All pictures are property of Batsheva Ida Goldman and copyrighted© . I thank her for use of the pictures. 

  1. How did you get started in this project?

The project began gradually. When I first approached the university, I came with an idea to combine Jewish studies, especially Jewish thought, with the study of objects. It was a long process. I had to first complete art history studies through the MA, and only on a doctoral level could I concentrate on my initial interest in the symbolism behind Jewish objects.

On a personal level, I had a direct connection through my brother-in-law to a Hasidic dynastic family, whom I joined for holidays such as the Passover Seder. As Assistant Curator of Judaica at the Israel Museum from 1977 to 81, and through inventorying the collection, I became very familiar with the field of Jewish ritual objects.

As an art historian, I looked for symbolic Jewish art, while most viewed those objects as solely functional. I felt this was a new field, a last frontier of Jewish art. What I love about the early Hasidic traditions is their creativity in thought and action, and I wanted to discuss the subjective experience of the user.

jul03_38 close up
(King David dressed in Hasidic garb)

2) Why is there an emphasis on material culture in Hasidism?

Hasidic objects are important because Hasidim have an inclination to raise up mundane or everyday objects not considered under the category of tashmishai kedusha (sacred objects) or tashmishei mitzvah (ceremonial objects) under Halacha, and attribute to them higher levels of sanctity (pp. 7, 395; BT Megillah 26b)); this is called ma’alin be’koshesh (raising the level of sanctity).

In this category are most of the objects presented in the book, since in these objects Hasidim were able to be creative and invest the objects with Kabbalistic and Hasidic significance. These include the Prayer Book, the Kiddush Cup, the Seder Plate, the Sabbath Lamp, the Atara, the Shmire (amulets), even the Pipe and the Rebbe’s Chair. My point in my research is that these are not to be presented solely as functional, rather as theological and symbolic.

The reason behind this radical move of investing objects with holiness is rooted in a general Hasidic approach to worship through the mundane, also called Avodah be’Gashmiut (Worship through Corporeality) (pp. 389-391). This approach was very much part of early Hasidism and is generally attributed to the Baal Shem Tov.

We have two approaches to beauty in Hasidism. The first approach of the Baal Shem Tov insisted on actually focusing and seeing the letters in the Siddur and through this intent gaze – by a direct encounter with the material world – to experience the Divine.

In contrast, the Maggid of Miedzyrzecz chose a different path, of cognition – upon seeing a beautiful object, to reflect on the Divine source of that object and hence encounter the Divine (pp. 5-6).  In both cases, the true beauty is that of the Divine.

Among the Hasidic followers, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonnye, the scribe of the Baal Shem Tov, and his son Rabbi Shimshon of Rashkov, who wrote the Siddur I describe below, both felt strongly about following the Besht’s direct encounter.

Others, such as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a disciple of the Maggid, continued on to a more rarified, conceptual standpoint. However, rather than a strong dispute, I think the third and fourth generations of Hasidim chose a combination of the two approaches.

3) What is the concept of hidur mizvah as a Hasidic concept of beauty?

The concept of hiddur mitzvah is closer to that of kavod (respect) (p. 3) and relates to the user and to his approach to the ritual object that as part of the commandment should be a respectful one.

The Hasidim use a more emotional and extreme term of hibbuv mitzvah (liking or loving the commandment as a term of endearment), so, when leaving the Sukkah, they kiss the coverings as if they were a mezuzah. This also refers back to the user and his approach, rather than to the object itself.

Unlike the Maggid of Miedzyrzecz conceptual thought of the Divine source, here it is a general idea that hiddur mitzvah and hibuv mitzvah as describing a person’s approach of respect or emotional ecstasy respectively  to a ritual object

There is also the concept of pe’er (grandeur or splendor), which is used to describe the extra-large size of, for example, the atara on the tallit of the Rebbe (p. 241).

This, in turn, when applied to the Ruzhin dynasty and its related Chernobyl dynasty, refers to their status as a royal family – derekh malchut (the Royal Way; also possibly carrying more complex connotations to the tenth and lowest sphere of Malchut). The Ruzhin dynasty traces its ancestry back to King David (p. 390-91), and this sense of royalty is expressed in all the ritual objects, buildings and furnishings, costume, etc. In all of these, the finest workmanship and materials are used (gold, silver, velvet, silk, etc.) as befitting royalty.

4)      What are the different shapes of Kiddush cups and what do they signify?

The most important Kiddush cup is the Epl-Becher (apple-shaped beaker), whose form was designed by the Maggid of Miedzyrzecz, according to Hasidic tradition. The apple-form is symbolic of the Shekhinah (also called: the Assembly of Israel), as the “rose among thorns” which is “surrounded by five petals” as depicted in the opening page of the Zohar,

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The Hasid is requested to hold the cup upright in his right hand (equivalent to the sefirah Hesed or Compassion) with all five fingers; and the “orchard of the holy apples” referred to in the Ari’s Sabbath hymn (p. 102). The apple-shaped cup stands on a winding chain with generally three leaves and a trefoil base. Over time, the petals underneath the cup were multiplied to 13 corresponding to the 13 attributes of Mercy and to 26 petals, corresponding to the name of God. The finial on the cover is sometimes in the form of an olive and other times in the form of a dove with outspread wings, both referring to the Assembly of Israel.

A second kind of cup relates to the Hasidic custom of Tikkun, which has become a familiar custom in general, that is, to recite Kiddush on Sabbath morning from a shot glass or small beaker for whiskey or alcohol (Schnapps) (p. 312; Fig. 133, p. 313). The original custom was to greet a new member or share a simcha with a ceremonial drink and wish a le’chayyim (to Life).

The third Hasidic Kiddush cup is of no particular size or shape (being sufficient to hold 150 ml). However, it relates to a unique Hasidic custom since it is forged or melted down from Shmire coins blessed by the Rebbe and treasured as talismans, mainly among the Ruzhin and Chernobyl dynasties, and their related branches.

5)      How was Hasidic material culture affected by non-Jewish
material cultural? Did they follow German, Polish or Russian folk arts and crafts?

The non-Jewish Austrian and German Courts were an influence on the Hasidic art in the ornamentation of silver and gold objects.

The use of figurative scenes reflects the influence of the Russian Lubok or folk print, which featured figures and texts and were distributed widely.

The carved wood decoration on the Chair of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav on the one hand reflects Polish or Russian (now Ukrainian) folk art motifs of the flowerpot, for example, but also motifs from the Empire style (pp. 355-356). However, whereas the Ukrainian folk art is highly geometrical, the Hasidic wood carving of Reb Nahman’s chair is symmetrical, with motifs paired, but much less rigid in design. The chair shares motifs with Ukrainian folk art, but although symmetrical, is much less geometrical displaying more rounded forms.


An interesting trend in Hasidic appropriation is the tendency to use materials from the urban or city folk in terms of costume, headgear or objects rather than look to the church and the clergy.

This availability of visual materials from the surroundings is best explained by the scholar of the Yiddish Language Max Weinreich, who explained that the difference between Jewishness and non-Jewishness was in the “combination of the ingredients.”

There are two axes – the horizontal plane of the society around them and the vertical plane of past generations and tradition. “There is no marked attempt at horizontal legitimization in Ashkenaz. It identifies itself vertically, with previous generations of Jews.” (See pp. 381-2).

The apple form of the abovementioned Epl-becher, for example, is a smaller version of a type of non-Jewish naturalistic domestic cup designed by Albrecht Durer in the 16th century (pp. 87-92, Fig. 29, p. 90). It should be noted that a domestic silver cup was chosen rather than a Church chalice.
The Chernobyl and Ruzhin Seder plates, although they hold attributes of the Kabbalah in its design and reflect Hasidic life in their figurative scenes, are similar in size to 18th century large pieces of dinnerware of the period among European royalty

Bildnis des Joseph Hölzl
German table silver similar to those used for Seder plate

6)   What is a Henglaykhter? What does it mean and why was it popular?

The Henglaykhter (hanging lamp) is used for the Sabbath and was designed by the Lelov Rebbe Elazar Menchem Mendel Biderman, after he came to Eretz Israel in 1851. Its three levels of metal rings with apertures for shallow glass dishes echoes the diagrams of the ten sefirot with an upper level of 3, middle level of 6 and the lowest – a single ring for Malchut. It is simple to make of low grade metal rings and glass, yet it provides a very real vehicle for contemplation of the ten heavenly sefirot. Later on, a more elaborate one of 26 glass vessels was made, echoing the more complex parzufim diagrams.

Fig 89 Henglaykhter, Jerusalem 1979

The Henglaykhter is ingenious since it combines a Middle Eastern prototype of the hanging glass lamp with the Ashkenazi six to eight armed Judenstern, a hanging Sabbath lamp used from the Middle Ages in Europe. The original prototype was Islamic – ubiquitous throughout the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century but already in use in the Byzantine period but now combined with European Jewish lamps. In this way, the Hasidim were able to create new objects that built on their familiarity with their Ashkenazi background.

From the time of the Ari and later the Shelah (16th century), the custom spread to kindle 7 lights for the Sabbath corresponding to the seven heavenly spheres used to create the world, and then 10 lights for all of them (the three highest are considered to be in another realm).

7)   How were prayer shawls and atarot used as art?

The atarot (collars on the prayer shawls) in Eastern Europe were made among many Hasidic groups in the 19th and early 20th century using a unique Jewish technique of braiding silver thread on a loom, similar to bobbin lace. According to Milton Sonday, the textile expert from the Cooper Hewitt Museum, this is a uniquely Jewish technique. It emulates the couched and laid thick gilt embroidery found in  German or Austrian church vestments and Parokhot Torah Art Canopies for example in the synagogue, from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The silver braid was also used for gilt bonnets among Jews and Gentile women in the 18th century. The uniquely Jewish Shpanier loom was a Jewish response as a way to emulate these more elaborate bonnets and collars, without resorting to non-Jewish hand embroidery.

Fig 112 COLOR Yosef Greenwald spanier SAM_1860

The designs were various and related to the Hasidic dynasties. For examples, Ruzhin had a rosette and Sasow had a heart-shape. There was even the unlikely find of a Star of David found among the designs.

The Magen David Star of David was used in Prague in the 16th century. However, it became a national symbol – a Zionist emblem – only in the latter half of the 19th century. The Hasidim were on the whole firmly for making Aliyah but not all identified with the Zionist movement. So, the Star of David on an Atara seems to represent a Zionist background, which is unusual.

These atarot were made especially large and decorative for the Rebbe, who also had a narrow braided strip around the waist. The atara-makers produced these also for those outside of Hasidism, for example, for the Chief Rabbi of Prague or Warsaw, and even sent gilt collars to Paris! Hasidic women used the same technique and the same designs to decorate their Sabbath bonnets (sterntichel)

8)   How did the seder plate take on extra Hasidic meaning?

When the Chernobyl or the Ruzhin-Sadigora Rebbes designed and ordered the design of a silver Seder plate, there were already similar Seder plates from Austria and Germany in the 19th century with a platter on the top for the Seder foods and three drawers for the matzot. The combination plate is typical of Ashkenaz, but the Kabbalistic attributions to the parts of the plate are only found among the Hasidim.

Fig 54a COLOR Peshkan Seder plate frontIMG_9525

For the Rebbe all parts of the plate and the plate as a whole were given Kabbalistic significance. The platter with the six Seder foods were arranged according to the Ari in two triangle shapes, and corresponded to six of the seven lower sefirot. The three matzot refer to the three upper heavenly spheres. The plate as a whole was considered to be the lowest sphere malchut, symbolized by a small crown on top

This elaborate Seder plate is a combination object typical of Western Europe especially Germany and Austria, similar to the combination havadalah spice box which was combined with a candle holder. This plate which holds the matzas and the top part is the Seder plate with the symbolic foods.  The three-fold matzah napkin or porcelain and metal Seder plates continued to be in use even in this period among Jews and other Hasidim.

In Hasidic thought, hesed is always on the right, and all things move from left to right toward hesed to mitigate the gevurah or din with hesed, lovingkindness.

Noteboard: The diagram on page 178 has a problem. (The publisher did not agree to correct the diagram– but please simply switch the right and left. The Shank-bone and the Haroset should be on the right. I explain it properly on the previous page, 277. Please forgive me this mistake.)

9) Why was smoking, pipes, and snuffboxes important for Hasidic art?

Any object connected with the Rebbe is considered by the Hasidim to be precious. Many would only touch them after immersing oneself in the mikveh (ritual bath). For this reason, pipes or snuffboxes used by them are considered special. Later in the 19th century, smoking was associated with raising the divine sparks, a necessarily delicate act of tikkun according to the Lurianic doctrine of the Ari.

There is no special design here. Only the idea that a mundane and not especially healthy habit was uplifted through a conceptual relation to the object 1) as something the Rebbe had; and 2) related to the incense in the Temple.

10)      How do images lead to ecstasy or communion with God?

The ritual objects are used in real time, held with the sense of touch, utilizing other senses, and with a prayer or song said or sung in connection with them, intensify the ecstatic experience. (p.3).The combination of a text that is spiritual or otherworldly with concrete actions combines to create a magnified experience.

Moreover, the gaps between the actions, words and objects – gaps in space and gaps in the text itself – are completed by the user while enacting the ritual. The user is thus an active participant who brings the different aspects together and so feels as if entering a sacred time. The sacred is experienced as a kind of reality that is above time. The texts provide a context outside of time while the objects and ritual enacted in real time provide a context of reality.

11)   What is the role of magic in Hasidic art?

In Hasidism, the mystical and magical are intertwined – the ecstatic and the theurgic. The Baal Shem Tov who was a leading figure for the Hasidim began as a writer of amulets and talismans, inherent in the very name Master of the Divine Name. Regarding the shmire coin blessed by the Rebbe, it clearly seems to be sympathetic magic (magical ritual using objects or actions resembling or symbolically associated with the influence  sought.) However, the experience for the Hasid of meeting the Rebbe is on a very high spiritual plane.

There are two kinds of sympathetic magic as defined by James Frazer: involving direct touch (contagious); and influencing an action from afar (homeopathic or imitative). The Shmire coin is both. The Rebbe holds it (direct touch) but a Hasid can also receive one for a friend and bring the friend’s contribution or pidyon to the Rebbe (thus acts from afar). That is why I bring in a discussion of Marcel Mauss who explains that a person who brings a gift also gives over part of him or herself. (See p. 341). The Hasidic Rebbes also understood it in this way. That a blessing can only be made effectively when the Rebbe has possession in some way of part of the person, or has interiorized that person. Often other gifts are given to the Rebbe with the intention that they will be blessed, including ritual objects and also Siddurim prayer books.

Silver objects made of melted-down Shmire coins retain the same magical (or protective) nature. So there are soup tureens (See p. 310), Kiddush cups, even Torah crowns, etc. made from these coins. And there are many amulets written on parchment or metal that are used by Hasidim.

12) How were some of the printing houses producing beautiful books?

The son (Moshe Shapira) and later grandsons (Shmuel Avraham Abba and Pinhas) of the Rebbe Pinchas of Korets (Korzec) established a Hasidic printing press in Slavuta (from 1791-1835)   Their frontispieces are known for their beauty with red (and black) print on tinted blue or pink paper and open spaces on the page.

FIg 21b COLOR crop Menahem Mendel EE.011.019
(Hasidic manuscript from the GFC Collection, Tel Aviv)

In addition, Hasidim illustrated manuscripts, on paper or vellum, were produced within the Hasidic communities  This follows on the 18th century Bohemian and Moravian revival of manuscript illumination and illustration that served the Court Jews and other wealthy families, often copying the script of printed editions out of Amsterdam and this was encouraged within the Hasidic court, especially in the Sadigora court. Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin’s grandson (son of Rabbi Shalom Yosef Friedman) and the son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigura – Nahum Dov Ber Friedman of Sadigora had an amazing library of these illuminated manuscripts.

The illumination of hand-written manuscripts was a tradition in mid-18th century Central Europe (Prague, Bohemia, and Vienna, also Moravia, and parts of Germany like Hamburg). The Hasidim continued this tradition in the 19th century. The revival of manuscripts followed the very popular printed books and prayer books done in Amsterdam with a unique font that was used in printing there. It gained a reputation and the scribes would be proud to emulate the printed font in their manuscripts, so they called it “Amsterdam script.” The manuscript editions were generally made for Court Jews, and the Hasidic Rebbes especially of the Ruzhin-Sadigora and Chernobyl groups sought to have a similar royal lifestyle also expressed in their manuscript books. A kind of prestige item.

13) What is the role of the ilan hagadol in Hasidic art?

The Ilan ha’Gadol is a diagram of the ten sefirot according to the Lurianic doctrine of the parzufim (Countenances of God), spiraling down from the Ein Sof (Infinite One) and encircling the light of the Ein Sof as it penetrates the world. Such diagrams from the 18th and 19th century served as ways to understand the intricate Safed Kabbalistic contemplation. The Ilanot are a kind of map to explain the cosmography of the Lurianic doctrine. The contemplation comes when the various names of the Sefirot and the names of God are incorporated into the liturgy of the Siddur.

Fig 95 Ilan Hakodesh 028.012.016_008
(Ilan ha’Gadol, GFC Collection, Tel Aviv)

14)      How were prayer books used for contemplation?
The symbolic illustrations of the early Hasidic Lurianic Siddur Hechal Ha’Besht of Avraham Shimshon of Rashkov, the son of Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, show the Sabbath table and Mikvah in a realistic, figurative way – following on the concept of Worship through Corporeality and according to the approach of early Hasidism to focus on the mundane

Generally, in Lurianic Siddurim, there are diagrams of the mikveh or the order of the 12 hallahs Sabbath loaves on the Sabbath table. The diagrams help the reader in organizing his kavanot or yihudim meditations while praying.

In the early Hasidic Siddur, however, instead of a diagram you have an actual depiction of a mikveh with an attempt to show depth or 3D and a depiction of an actual table with a table cloth and actual looking hallahs on the table. This idea of showing real objects expresses the Besht’s concept of “worship through corporeality.” In this way, even the Lurianic theosophy is brought before the worshipper in concrete terms as an image of a real object in the real world.
The Hasidim incorporated the Lurianic kavanot (contemplation) of the Ari of Safed from the writing of Hayyim Vital into their Ashkenazi prayer books, preferring, following the Ari, to use the Sephardi liturgy (13-15). For example, the Sabbath morning service follows the use of Lurianic kavanot to move the sefirot through the Four Worlds to the highest sefra of Keter, recited during the Kedushah by way of the Hechalot (Palaces), which are related to different paragraphs, such as the preliminary paragraphs to the Shema Yisrael prayer, and the Kaddish de’Rabanan (pp. 57-63). The symbolic drawings of the Hechalot and the angels of the Kedusha prayer (p. 35-36) aided the Hasid to contemplate or visualize this Lurianic contemplation.

Similar to other diagrams found in Lurianic Siddurs, the seven Hechalot (palaces) of the stages in prayer are generally shown as diagrams. However, in the early Hasidic siddur, the images are a quarter of the page, very large and ornamented, often with a significant number of motifs that carry a Kabbalistic significance.

Thank you to Rebbe Dr. Yisrael Ben-Shalom Friedman

One of the Rebbes who assisted me and passed away last year, was Dr. Yisrael Ben-Shalom Friedman (1923-2017) of blessed memory, a scion of the Buhush and Peshkan dynasties related to the Ruzhiner Rebbe.

Upon visiting him at Kibbutz Saad where he then lived, we were walking down a path and in his quiet voice he was explaining something to me. I do not remember what he said, but as he talked I began to see around me every detail of nature, and even the dots on the neck of a pigeon we passed, and hear the sounds around in a new way.  Of course, the story is told of the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Aryeh Leib of Polnoye, the Preacher, who wanted to learn the language of the animals. (Shivhei HaBesht [Rubinstein Edition, Jerusalem 1992], 298-300 (in Hebrew); but it really happened to me.

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