Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
In my last post I took note of the candlesticks motif that is often used to mark the gravestones of Jewish women—it is very widespread in parts of Eastern Europe but also found elsewhere.
I have an ongoing project about the Candlesticks motif, which I have been working on for several years—and which has its own website: candlesticksonstone.wordpress.com
I have photo galleries and individual pictures from Jewish cemeteries in Romania, Ukraine, Poland—and even the United States—showing the wide variety of ways that the candles have been portrayed by stonemasons who, in some cases, created real works of sculpture that combined religious tradition and folk art. Some, especially in parts of northern Romania, show hands raised to bless the candles. I encourage readers to go to the site and take a look at some of the many, many remarkable images!
I worked on the project with the help of a research grant from the Hadassah Brandeis Institute (HBI) and as a Scholar in Residence at the HBI last year. I have supplemented the pictures on the web site with a blog, links to resources and other material.
From the web site:
In Jewish tradition, Sabbath candles are a common, and potent, symbol on women’s tombs. That is because lighting the Sabbath candles is one of the three so-called “women’s commandments” carried out by female Jews: these also include observing the laws of Niddah separating men from women during their menstrual periods, and that of Challah, or burning a piece of dough when making bread.
The first time I saw a Jewish woman’s tombstone bearing a representation of candles was in 1978, when for the first time I visited Radauti, the small town in the far north of Romania near where my father’s parents were born. The tombstone in question was that of my great-grandmother, Ettel Gruber, who died in 1946 and in whose honor I received my middle name. Her gravestone is a very simple slab, with a five-branched menorah topping an epitaph.
Since then, and particularly over the past 20 years, I have visited scores if not hundreds of Jewish cemeteries in East-Central Europe, documenting them, photographing them, and writing about them in books and articles.
Carvings on Jewish tombstones include a wide range of symbols representing names, professions, personal attributes, or family lineage — as well as folk decoration. In northern Romania and parts of Poland and Ukraine in particular, cemeteries include a variety of wonderfully vivid motifs, and some stones still retain traces of the brightly colored painted decoration that once adorned them.
Candlesticks on women’s tombs are more or less a constant: sometimes they are very simple renditions, yet they can be extraordinarily vivid bas-relief sculptures. In some instances, broken candles represent death. And in some cemeteries, the carving is so distinctive that you can discern the hand of individual, if long forgotten, artists.
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August 26, 2012 | 8:04 am
Posted by Ruth Ellen Gruber
The elegant and informative riowang blog runs a very nice, and poetic, post—with lots of photos—about the Jewish cemetery in Tekovo/Tekehaza in Ukrainian Transcarpathia.
I have linked in the past to the very detailed and richly illustrated riowang posts about the Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Lesko, Poland - and since the author gave me permission to use his photos, I am including a photo from Tekovo/Tekehaza here.
The riowang post comments in particular on the large number and variety of gravestones marked by candlesticks.
Riowang noted that in Tekovo/Tekehaza
it is worth noting a special gravestone motif, which almost has its own school in the cemetery of Tekeháza: the large and diverse number of geometric candelabra. The presence of candelabra – as we have already seen in the cemetery of Lesko – is not unique in itself. We meet with them almost only on women’s graves, praising the Friday night candle-lighting and, beyond that, the light and warmth of the family home as well as the virtuous woman maintaining it. What is interesting in Tekeháza, however, is the large number and many variations of stylized, geometric candelabra.
The many photographs on the post show candlesticks that are geometric and braided at the same time, as well as some that look like plants:
Once speaking about the candelabra, it’s worth to point out a special local form of this motif. About these gravestone decorations it is difficult to decide whether they are three-branch candelabra or stylized three-leaved plants.
For the stone pictured here, it notes:
On the top, two doves with their heads turned back surround a richly decorated seven-branch candelaber of an intertwined stem. The dove is a symbol of piety, while the candelabra of Friday evening and of the family home. At the bottom of the gravestone a snake is waving. The snake is a relatively rare motif on Jewish graves. In the Jewish cemetery of Warsaw we find an example of the snake biting its own tail, a symbol of eternity, while in the likewise Polish Jewish cemetery of Żabno, the snake attacking the lion on one of the stones represents the death. It is likely that the snake in Tekeháza is somehow related to this latter one.
This post (with other pictures) also appears on my Jewish Heritage Travel blog.