Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

Jewish Ceremonial Art, edited by Stephen S. Kayser

- Abstract

There has never been an intrinsically Jewish art—not even in antiquity, when the Jewish “style” was actually a combination of Middle Eastern, Greek, Roman, and other elements haphazardly blended to produce what individual kings, priests, and elders considered the most practical and most pleasing articles to be used in religious services. And in modern times the vast majority of Jewish ceremonial art objects executed in Western and Central Europe were not even the work of Jewish craftsmen. Whereas the church often forbade the practice of commissioning ecclesiastical art from talented non-Ohristians, the pre-emancipation Jew, lacking an aesthetic tradition of his own, necessarily relied on Gentile artists.

Stephen S. Kayser, the editor of Jewish Ceremonial Art (which was originally published as a soft-cover catalogue for the Tercentenary exhibition held last year at the Metropolitan Museum in New York) and his collaborator, Professor Guido Schoenberger (who compiled the ample notes for the two hundred items in the catalogue), are aware of the difficulties created by these historical circumstances. Their principle of classification is to consider Jewish anything made for a Jewish purpose, whoever the maker may have been (often he did not sign his work, though we know with certainty from the hallmarks, and with reasonable assurance from stylistic analysis, that he usually was a Gentile). It is a good principle, and along with the excellent photographs, it makes this book a useful introduction to the subject.

About the Author