Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘New England’

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Yesterday I posted about my visit to Jewish cemeteries in Rhode Island — and I included a photo of the tombstone of a woman (Rebecca Polock) who died in 1764, aged 65. It bears the image of a winged head —  very similar to the images found in Christian tombstones on New England from the Colonial period, of men and women alike. (These are usually described as “soul effigies” that symbolized the soul in spiritual transition from death toward “new life” in the afterworld.) The image seems to have developed from  the death symbol of the winged skull as well as from depictions of the winged heads of cherubim.

 

Angel head over Hebrew epitaph. Rebecca, wife of a Mr. Polock, d. 1764

 

Winged angel head -- gravestone of Sarah Robinson, Newport RI. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

One of the few Jewish tombstones I have seen with this image on it is this one in the Jewish cemetery in Nova Gorica, Slovenia (Gorizia, Italy). It appears to be that of a man named (I think) Avraham Rosati.

Winged head in Gorizia/Nova Gorica. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Read Full Post »

 

Only the candlesticks are visible above the snow. Newport, RI.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Over the weekend, I visited friends in Rhode Island who took me to look at several Jewish cemeteries. I was interested in seeing whether, and if so how, the iconography of candlesticks marking the graves of women was found in America as well as eastern and central Europe. I had wanted to visit the old Jewish cemetery in Newport, near the historic Touro Synagogue (the oldest synagogue in the United States), but this was closed — and in any case, the stones were mostly covered by the thick layer of snow that still lies on the ground after many heavy snowfalls over the past few weeks. I was able only to photograph, at a distance, one stone — which bears carved decoration very similar to that found on the famous Colonial period Christian tombstones — an angel head with wings — over a Hebrew epitaph.

Gate to Old Jewish Cemetery, Newport.

Angel head over Hebrew epitaph. Rebecca, wife of Mr. Polock, d. 1764

There is another, much later, Jewish cemetery in Newport, though, occupying three fenced-off sections in a big municipal cemetery on aptly named “Farewell Street,” and here I found quite a few women’s gravestones bearing the decorative element of candlesticks. The carving was mostly quite simple and rather standardized, though some were slightly more elaborate.

 

One of the more elaborate tombs.

One tombstone was notable for the way the candles were depicted as flickering, or seeming to be on the verge of flickering out — you find a variation of  this motif in Eastern Europe, but with the flames pointing to the center of the candelabra, not to the outside.

Flickering candles

Also interesting (at least to me!) were the couple of tombstone of MEN that employed the candlestick imagery — like the one below, of a Nathan Shuser, a Jewish medical officer killed in World War II.

The most fascinating tombstone to me, however, was the gravestone of  Eva (or Hava) Segal, wife of Dov Mordechai Segal, which did NOT bear the candlestick imagery. In fact, it bore a carved motif that I had never seen before — a loaf of bread, with slices cut from it on a plate, and a neatly aligned knife and fork. No candlesticks in sight. To me, the image could symbolize one of several things.

It could refer to the Seudat Havra-ah, the first meal that mourners are served when they come home from the cemetery to start the shiva mourning period. Bread is generally part of this meal — as are eggs. Or it could illustrated that Mrs. Segal was generous (by showing food offered to be eaten.)

But — and this is what I like to think it represents — it could somehow be a pictorial representation of the “women’s commandment” of “taking Challah,”  that is,  burning a piece of dough when baking bread. (See in the “articles” section of this web site the article “A Mystery on the Tombstones.”)

As I have noted elsewhere, one of the reasons that candlesticks are used to represent women appears to be the fact that lighting the Sabbath candles is the only one of the three “women’s commandments” that lends itself to easy visual representation — in addition to lighting candles and taking Challah, the third commandment is Niddah, or observing the laws of menstrual purity.

Gravestone of Eva Segal, with image of bread

The epitaph does not shed direct light on this — though it praises her generosity. It reads: “A woman of valor; the crown of her husband, has mercy on the poor and guests in her home and acts well and honestly. [She] guided her sons on a straight path.”

Read Full Post »

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Though the focus of this site and project is the representation of women in Jewish tombstone art, and particularly the use of candlesticks, it is interesting to see how women (and men) are portrayed artistically in other tombstone carving.

New England — where I currently am, on a fellowship at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA — is famous for its colonial period old cemeteries. In the past, I have visited one or two of them — and when I was in college at Oberlin, I had a friend from Connecticut, Charles Bergengren, who had made rubbings of many New England tombstones (and eventually wrote about folklore in New England gravestone imagery in the journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies).

From gravematter.com, a web site on cemeteries in Massachusetts and Maine, I discovered that there is a historic cemetery in Waltham dating back to the early 18th century — so I will plan to visit it in the next few days. Meanwhile, I’ve looked at the pictures from it posted on line — interesting to see that there is essentially no differentiation (at least in that cemetery) in the decoration or iconography used on the tombstones of men and women. Most seem to feature a winged skull (or occasionally a winged head) above the epitaph, with some decorative carving at the sides.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: