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Library Research Guides

Jewish Heritage Collection

Information about artwork, books, printed ephemera, and objects of everyday and religious significance

Selections in the JHC about Jewish art

A glimpse into the digital archive

Art, Symbols, & Souvenirs

 Jewish art comes in a variety of forms ranging from two-dimensional images in books to life-size statuary.  There is no one artistic genre or style that represents all of Jewish art.  Some imagery commonly found in Jewish art and souvenirs are Temple implements including the menorah and aron ha-kodesh, items from Jewish ritual such as the shofar and lulav, animals including deer, lions, and eagles, representations of Jewish faith such as the two tablets of the Law, Torah scrolls, and the tree of life.  In more recent times, the Mogen David or Star of David, has been used as the central symbol of Judaism, Zionism, and the State of Israel.  

The Jewish Heritage Collection has a substantial art collection by internationally-known artists such as Hermann Struck and Arthur Szyk as well as lesser-known and folk artists.  In addition, the collection has auction catalogs, exhibit-related publications, and texts on Jewish art.  

More about Jewish art

Throughout the course of Jewish history, there have been divergent views expressed by the rabbis regarding art.  Most rabbis supported the idea that any depiction of G-d was forbidden and some rabbis prohibited the depiction "attendants" of G-d (ex. angels, dragons, the sun, the moon, etc.) because they were thought to tempt viewers to worship them in a manner bordering on idolatry.  Others prohibited the depiction of the human figure or the human face for similar reasons.  In addition to general disagreement regarding what could be depicted, there was also disagreement regarding the formats in which artwork could be created.  For instance, there was a rift between rabbis regarding the acceptability of three-dimensional art (as opposed to two-dimensional art).  In many cases, synagogue and ritual art was allowed to depict images that otherwise were disallowed.  Despite this, some rabbinical authorities (especially in the Medieval era) argued against the creation of highly decorated prayer books as they could possibly distract worshippers. In most cases, despite the ruling of rabbinical authorities, Jews created art similar to the art created by others in their host country.  Today most lean toward a liberal interpretation of the laws regarding art and therefore are permissive of most depictions and art forms.