Ancient Jewish art

Ancient Jewish art can be traced back centuries ago. Join me on a journey to discover were it all began and how it developed through the years

(I promise this is no boring history lesson…)

Zodiac Mosaic of Beth Alpha synagogue

<H2 >Let’s go back to where it all began…

Ancient Jewish art goes over centuries ago. In those times the prevalent opinion was that creating art by drawing and sculpting was a violation of the second commandment “graven images”. Despite this approach, Jewish people had a need to express their longing for beauty and art. Their solution was found by focusing on adornment of their ceremonial objects and producing less by using graphic arts.

<H3 >It can be traced back to the sources

You can find several historical reports documenting the creation of Jewish art throughout history. Take the Bible for example; it records the building of altars and later of a tabernacle that the Israelites carried through their desert wandering when led out of Egypt. These creations all accumulate to one historical figure, do you know who I’m talking about?

<H3 >The first creator ancient Jewish art

The first Jewish artist on record was named Bezalel. He was an architect, sculptor and designer of holy garments. Mostly he was known for making the Tabernacle that contained the Ark of the Covenant.Now let’s move to a matter that may be puzzling you right about now…


Mosaics of Beth Alpha synagogue

<H3 >With centuries of creating why do so few objects remain?

Unfortunately, because the Jews were exiled and persecuted over the years, many ancient Jewish art objects created prior to the sixteenth century did not survived. Among the items that have remained are the beautiful mosaics of Beth Alpha in Israel and segments of an ancient synagogue in Duro-Europos, Syria. But this is not all!

<H3 >Another reason for the rareness of these objects

After the Babylonian Captivity, Jewish cultural advancement slowed down, Jews became scattered throughout the globe, wandering and persecuted. Those living in Europe were not permitted to take part in the creation of art. This was because art was considered to be under the influence of the church.So how did this all change?

<H3 >The turning point…

This approach began fading towards the end of the eighteen century with the growing popularity of the spirit of emancipation and the emphasis on education. This change eventually opened the doors of art academies to Jews. Parallel to this development there grew an interest in and demand for Judaica.

<H3 >The most significant development

Around this time, the Zionist movement began to grow and the link to the land of Israel as the home of the Jewish nation became stronger. The Bezalel School of the Arts was founded in Jerusalem in 1906. And headed by its founder, Boris Schatz, it led the first modern movement to create a contemporary Jewish style of art.

<H3 >When contemporary and ancient come together

Jewish ceremonial art created today is influenced by the spirit of the Bezalel School but also takes the liberty to combine a variety of antique styles with modern materials such as glass, plastic and porcelain. These items are purchased all over the world, some bought by collectors, some to be used when worshiping God and others as valued gifts. But always, using Jewish art strengthens your belief in the continuity of Jewish history and cultural development.

Israeli art


Comments (1)
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    Susan R. Gesundheit Mar 10 2012 - 1:00 pm Reply

    Thank you for clarifying how Jewish Art developed in spite of the 2nd commandment.
    My book club is reading ” Jerusalem Maiden”, in which the protagonist grapples with this ,so I was curious.

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