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The crown on Jewish gravestones

Here a detailed absorption at a Jewish gravestone
The crown stands for fame, honour and joy

Here a detailed absorption at a Jewish gravestone
The crown stands for fame, honour and joy

In many Jewish cemeteries you can see crowns in the most different forms on gravestones. In many cases they are held up by two lions like a coat of arms. The crowns were already mentioned in the Bible, e.g., in Hiob 19.9 " ... and the crown of my head taken ... " or in psalm 103.4 " ... he crowns you with mercy and charity ... ". So the crown is one of the oldest symbols in general. In the metaphorical sense the crown means something which adorns and gives dignity. In the Bible the crown stands for fame, honour and joy.

(Praying) hands

Praying hands in the Jewish gravestone
Detailed view of the praying hands
They are in varied way

Praying hands in the Jewish gravestone
Detailed view of the praying hands
They are in varied way

On many gravestones two hands are to be seen which touch with the thumbs, the small finger and the ring finger of each hand held together and spread apart from the other fingers. This picture stands for the blessing hands of men of the Aaron dynasty. Aaron and his sons are ordained to be priests in 2nd book Mose, chapter 28 and 29. The 4th book Mose (Numeri), chapter 6, verse 24-27 tells how these hands should bless the people of Israel. " God shall bless you and protect you; god may shine his face upon you and be merciful to you; god shall lift his face upon you and shall give you peace." This blessing is recited in the daily morning service. On Fridays the priest's blessing is given by the present members of the Aaron dynasty, the Kohanim (= priests ). To do this they step onto the stage in front of the holy Torah shrine, have their hands washed by the Levites and together they say the blessing. In doing so , the Kohanim cover themselves completely with the Tallit in order not not to be distracted. From under the prayer coat the hands with spread fingers are held towards the community. The hands show that a Kohen, a descendant of the temple priests, is buried here.

Pitcher and bowl

A jewish gravestone with a pot

A jewish gravestone with a pot

You will often find a burette pictured on Jewish gravestones and sometimes a bowl in addition. According to time and the skills of the sculptor they come in different forms. The pitcher and the bowl are icons for the descendants of the tribe of Levi. The Levites are the temple servants and, among other things, they wash the rabbi's hands before the blessing. They cast water out of the pitcher onto the rabbi's hands in the bowl underneath. In the 2nd book of Mose, chapter 28 and 29, God declared Aaron and his descendants to be priests and he ordered the descendants of Levi to the temple service in the 4th book of Mose, chapter 3, verse 5. On the gravestones one can therefore see that the buried was a descendant of the Levi tribe.

Torch in Jewish gravestones

One can see one or two lowered torches in some gravestones. Torches as objects and symbols have a long tradition. If they stand quite in general as attributes for the dear goddess Venus and Cupid in the antiquity, the lowered torch is always a sign and symbol for death. As tools of destruction one finds the torch in several places of the Bible, e.g., Judge 15.4, particularly as a tool of the destruction of camps and sites. Torches are pictures of great distress, death and destruction (Sach. 12.6; Dan. 10.6)

Knife (and clamp) in Jewish gravestones

On both cemeteries Bayreuth and Ermreuth one can see knives depicted on the gravestones. Very often you see two knives or one knife in connection with a book or a jug. These knives are not pointed, but round and have cutting edges on both sides. They are used for the circumcision of Jewish boys on the 8-th day after their birth. In the 1st book Mose, chapter 17, verse 9-12 and in different other places the circumcision (Brismilo) stands as a sign for God's covenant with the people of Israel and is committed as a ceremonious act. The circumcision is carried out by the Mohel (Beschneider), the day of the circumcision is also the day of the naming.

If just one knife has been carved out, this tells you that the person buried here was a butcher.

Clocks on Jewish gravestones

In the cemetery of Walsdorf one finds clocks on some gravestones. The hands of the clocks point at different times, they may show the time of the buried's death. This looks peculiar and strange at first. These are mechanical clocks with a clockface and hands and I have never seen mechanical clocks on Christian gravestones. But if you think of the old metaphor of the clock measuring time, especially measuring everybody's lifetime the sign agrees very well with a tomb. The clock symbolizes the inescapably ticking away of time and shows the transience of all earthly life. On different cemeteries you will also see hourglasses, once with two wings and in another place with two lowered torches added.

Shield of David, (Hexagon-Star, Magen David)

The Star of David is on gravestones which were placed after 1945, usually.

The Star of David is on gravestones which were placed after 1945, usually.

You can find the hexagon on almost all Jewish cemeteries. It is also known as Shield of David, Magen David, Salomon's great seal, Star of David. It did not appear on the quite old stones though, but only on stones after 1920 and especially often on stones after 1945. The hexagon is known as a sign in the world religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism and in the Middle Ages it served as a talisman in order to defend people against demons and evil powers in general. The hexagon star consists of two interwoven, equilateral triangles. As a very old symbol the triangle pointing to the top stands for the male potency, the triangle pointing down stands for the female part in the world, the bearing lap. According to a pure Jewish explanation the middle of the Shield of David symbolizes the Sabbath and the surrounding parts stand for the six working days. The Shield of David is a religious symbol of Judaism and has been the national emblem of the state of Israel since 1948.

The Magen David is not to be mistaken for the brewers' star. They both look alike, but the brewers' star has nothing to do with Judaism.

The shofar

The shofar on an jewish gravestone
It shows, that a shofar-blower is buried here
Detail view of a shofar

The shofar on an jewish gravestone
It shows, that a shofar-blower is buried here
Detail view of a shofar

The shofar, also spelled Schaufor, sophar or Schofar, is an instrument made from horn. Primarily the shofar is made from the horn of a ram or a kudu ( a kind of antelope), however, in principle it may be made from all animal horns, as long as the animal was kosher. An exception is the horn of cattle which is not used because of the symbolism of the golden calf. Originally, kudus and rams were also resident in Canaan, but today they can be found in larger stocks only in South Africa.

According to the first great Jewish writer Gaon Saadja ( 892-942 ) the blowing of the shofar shall remind people of the creation of the world, the duty of atonement, the revelation in Sinai, the words of the prophets, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, Abraham's obedience, the sound of war trumpets, the Last Judgement in the days of the messiah, the redemption of Israel and the resurrection of the dead. By the blowing of the shofar people should also be roused from an unthinking life-style. Still today the blowing of the shofar has its definite place in the synagogue service in both Jewish New Year's Days and during the month leading to Elul. It serves as well as a memory of the beginning of the hall-year at the end of Jom Kippur, the day of reconciliation. If you see such a horn on a Jewish gravestone, you know that a blower of the shofar has been buried here.

Tree

On some gravestones you will find trees as symbols. The trunk with its roots and the tree top is mounting the slab of the stone. As a symbol the tree presents the tree of life which one finds in the mythologies of many peoples ( e.g. in northern mythology it is called Yggrasil). Its figure with the roots clinging to the ground and the crown reaching into the sky may be the sign of the connection between heaven and earth. The story of creation reports two trees: " and God Father, let shoot all kinds of trees from the earth, delightful to be looked at and good as food, the tree of life, however, stood in the middle of the garden and also the tree of discrimination between the good and the evil. " (Genesis 2.9)

According to legend the tree of life grew from Adam's grave. The tree of the original sin is to be depicted as a vine according to Jewish teaching, as a fig tree in the Greek church and in the Roman version as an apple-tree.

Olive Tree

In the Bible a pigeon brings a fork of an olive tree in its beak to the Noah's ark after the Flood as an indication that the ground may be inhabited again. The oil fork, especially in the beak of a pigeon, stands as a sign for peace and reconciliation. The Bible calls oil twigs symbols for a blessing, mercy, wisdom and for the trust in God.

Laurel

The laurel being an evergreen plant stands as a symbol for immortality, for victory, fame, honour and peace. As an evergreen tree it is also to be seen in picturing paradise.



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