The Hidden Synagogue

Notes:

  1. As reader bklyngalinla has pointed out in the comments below, this piece is a contemporary work of art, rather than being from the inquisition or holocaust periods. However, it is based on older pieces, and is in itself still a phenomenal piece of artwork. Here is a link to another blog that gives more information. I, also, am guilty of not doing any research on my own to verify the facts as stated by the original poster. This, however, has not seemed to dampen reader response to this post, which has been overwhelming – I thank everyone who has come by, simply because I chose to share something I found beautiful and faith-affirming.
  2. The title “hidden synagogue” is not mine, but those of the original poster at Reddit. A number of readers have rightly pointed out that this device would have been used in a home and not a shul; that said, I think the idea is that during such times, attendance at temple would be difficult if not impossible, and the teapot would serve as a way of keeping Torah and Commandments alive in the hearts of the faithful until times were better.

    Why We Tell Stories

    When the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov, saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

    Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished.

    Still later, Rabbi Moshe‑leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient, and the miracle was accomplished.

    Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.”

    And it was sufficient.

    -from Wiesel, Elie, Souls on Fire

    This teapot strikes me in much the same way. It is almost saying, “We cannot worship in the synagogue, but we can worship at home, and it must be sufficient. And for many, it was sufficient. Hence to my way of thinking, calling it a “hidden synagogue” is not totally amiss.

  3. Regarding the use of menorah vs. chanukia, see the footnote at the end, and then jump in and join the noisy debate in the commentary if you feel so inclined. Just play nice. -O.W.

———————-

Found at Reddit, these are photos of a mind-bending piece of artwork.

The original photos are at Imgur. I cannot adequately express in words how beautiful this is.

01

The complete teapot

04

Remove the top…

03

 Its’ a hidden dreidel

02

Remove the next layer

05

A perfume/spice holder. 

06

Opened

09

The Hebrew word on the bottom says בשמים (basmim), “spices or perfumes”

08

The next layer is…

07

The eternal flame.

11

The Front View – The inscription reads, “The light of god is man’s soul.”

12

But there’s another secret:

10

A complete megilla (the scroll containing the biblical narrative of the Book of Esther, traditionally read in synagogues to celebrate the festival of Purim.)

13

The main body is designed to hold an etrog, the yellow citron or Citrus medica used by Jews on the week-long holiday of Sukkot.

15

The words say “pri etz hadar” (the fruit of the majestic tree), a biblical reference to the etrog.

14

Inside

16

Candlesticks for Shabbos

21

Closeup of candlesticks

18

Remove the flowered tray, and under the candlesticks is…

17

A Seder plate.

19

Complete

20

But there’s one more thing.

22

A menorah.[1]

23

With the shammash (“servant”), the 9th light of the menorah used to light the other 8 candles.

24

Reassembled

The Old Wolf is in awe.


[1] With regards to the lamp, Wikipedia has this to say:

The Hanukkah menorah (Hebrew: מנורת חנוכה m’noraht khanukkah, pl. menorot) (also Hebrew: חַנֻכִּיָּה‎ hanukiah, or chanukkiyah, pl. hanukiyot/chanukkiyot, or Yiddish: חנוכּה לאמפּ khanike lomp, lit.: Hanukkah lamp) is, strictly speaking, a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, as opposed to the seven-branched menorah used in the ancient Temple or as a symbol. The ninth holder, called the shamash (“helper” or “servant”), is for a candle used to light all other candles and/or to be used as an extra light. The menorah is among the most widely produced articles of Jewish ceremonial art. The seven-branched menorah is a traditional symbol of Judaism, along with the Star of David.

In the English-speaking diaspora, the lamp is most commonly called a “Hanukkah menorah,” or simply “menorah” for short, whereas in Modern Hebrew it is exclusively called a chanukkiyah, and the Hebrew word menorah simply means “lamp”. The term chanukkiyah was coined at the end of the nineteenth century in Jerusalem by the wife of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the reviver of the Hebrew language.

Since I am an English speaker, and since the vast majority of Americans are familiar only with the 9-branched “מנורת חנוכה” seen at Chanukkah, I’m sticking with “menorah.” Those who wish to call it a “חַנֻכִּיָּה‎” are correct in doing so.

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145 responses to “The Hidden Synagogue

  1. What a treasure! And how wonderful that it came from such a horrible time! It reminds me again of the verse that has been in my head since the Boston Marathon: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    God bless the Jews, our big siblings in faith!

    • No wonder it is written that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ !! Whoever designed this awesome piece, surely put his heart and soul into this masterpiece.

    • It is written, that salvation is of the Jews, and no wonder. Whoever designed this masterpiece put his heart and soul into the design and functionality of this piece.
      ABSOULUTELY MAGNIFICENT ~~

  2. Absolutely amazing! This is an ingenious item. A real treasure, indeed! It shows how Jews can retain their Yiddishkeit even in times (especially in times) of great adversity. Yasher koach for sharing this precious piece of our history!

  3. Reblogged this on Vampyre Fangs and commented:
    Found at Reddit, these are photos of a mind-bending piece of artwork. The contributor described it thusly:

    “I got this from grandfather before he died. First used by hidden Jews during the inquisition, it is shaped like a teapot, but contains many secret Judaica pieces. The Hidden Synagogue.”

    The original photos are at Imgur. I cannot adequately express in words how beautiful this is.

  4. Absolutely mag ,the love of Hashem is always in the heart of Jew,no matter what the siuation a Jew find a way to serve G-D with love.may we be always able to do so ,I am proud to be a Jew.

  5. An extreme masterpiece, sacred and brilliant. Pricelss not only in it’s craftsmanship – I can’t think of how long it took to plan the design, gather the materials and create such a gorgeous, purposeful treasure- but pricelss in it’s history. If only it could talk, the stories it could tell!

    • How true!!!! How many happy and sad stories could it tale us What a beutiful art work how much love and prayer in this Hidden Synagogue

  6. What a masterpiece! I marvel at the ingenuity and passion required to craft something so stunning and clever. I am continuously impressed at the lengths we will go to hold fast to our ancient traditions. Truly this is a Tree of Life.

    • I WAS AND STILL AM IN AWE! THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING OUR PEOPLE CAN DO OR COME UP WITH!! THIS IS AN INCREDABLE PIECE OF BRAIN WORK AND I AM PROUD OF BEING A FULL PART OF THIS EDUCATION!! G-D BLESS. I AM OVERWHELMED AND WILL PRINT IT AND HAVE IT FRAMED AND IT SHALL HANG IN MY HOME WITH PRIDE!!! THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH FOR SHARING.!

  7. It’s an interesting piece. Inquisition era? Look at the lettering. Looks awfully modern to me. “Judaizing”, doing anything after the manner of Jews (even to refraining from lighting fires on a hot Shabbat), was a serious crime 1492-Franco. Why would anyone commission an artwork bearing evidence that would put him in Torquemada’s dungeon, his goods escheat to the crown, the church, and whoever had a grudge and squealed?

    • I would have to agree with you. The piece is phenomenal, but I had questions about the backstory that came with it. Still, all I could do was pass on the text that I found on the original post. My gut told me it’s probably closer to the periods between WWI and WWII.

  8. As a jeweller, I too am amazed on the dexterity just in the making of this “piece of art”. A “Yasher Koyach” to the crafts-people who thought of it and fabricated this wonderful item!..Gerry Lewy, from Toronto, Canada!

  9. Incredibly beautiful! How could so many hidden treasures be found in such a small item. No words can adequately describe its beauty. I feel honored that my friend shared this with me.

  10. Amazing and exquisite. A testimony as to how Judaism managed to survive through ages of pogroms, crusades, etc.
    Harvey Wolinetz

    • As the link notes, this piece is still awesome! And it can provide ideas should the Jews (or any similar group) be persecuted again. Oh, some of you think it can’t happen again? I certainly hope not, but evil has a way of creeping in. Still, something like this can really raise one’s spirits to the original Inspiration!

  11. When we treasures like this, craftsmanship at its best, imagination and golden hands of the artist, I say Thank heavens for beauty and the joy that it is recognized and appreciated by so many people Love and light Rona

  12. Ancient? Modern? I leave that to the experts. What I see here is the hands of a genious who created such a masterpiece.

      • Thanks for your response…………..Going around in circles, also googled Swed, the artist…. no success. Regardless of whether this is an old or new piece, it is absolutely gorgeous and I would love to have one for myself and also makes a wonderful gift.

    • I too think this is the most beautiful and amazing piece of Religious artefact. I would dearly love to own one. I have always had to pay the price for being Jewish. My ancestors the Casutos were Rabbonim in Spain left during the inquisition travelling through Italy,Turkey evacuated to Egypt in 1918 then we were expelled in 1956 and came to UK.

  13. This is beyond words.
    A small correction the 8 candle Candelabra is a CHANUKIA , please look for the shamash candle as a ninth piece. ( not a Menorah)

    • A menorah is a candle holder that has holders for multiple candles. Therefore, a chanukiah is one type of menorah. All chanukiot (pl) are menorahs, but not all menorahs are chanukiot. Using the generic word “menorah” for a specific “chanukiah” is not incorrect.

    • From your correction it sounds like you either live in Israel or as in the spoken word of Eastern European Jews it is STILL referred to as Menorah-just as G-d called the one they used in the temple as Menorah, as written numerous time in the Bible. Until I heard Hebrew speakers assert their “corrections” I never heard of the word Chanukia. In Israel they decided to invent a word, and conjugated Chanuka into Chanukia. More importantly than asserting such “corrections” is the truth of so many comments about this piece of work.

  14. The Teapot has a Hannukiah.

    A Menorah has Seven Candles. It was a symbol in both the Traveling Tabernacle an in both Temples in Jerusalem. It is the emblem now of Israel.

    A Hannukiah is nine branched and used to celebrate Hannukah.

      • Code of Jewish Law calls it a Menorah. An easy reference is the Kitzur, 139, Laws of Chanuka. It is called Menorah. The word Chanukia is not found in classic texts, nor any others till the 20th century.

  15. Really beautiful, wonderful, and marvelous! Is it all REAL gold and silver?
    Also, seems to be inscription on the Chanukah Menorah, too.
    Looks like it says, “HaNeros Haluhloo Kodesh Haym.” (These lights are Holy.)

  16. A beautiful example of how our Jewish people have maintained our link to our heritage from the past. And how we have preserved it to pass on to our future generations.

  17. A truly wondrous piece. However, the title ‘A Synagogue Hidden in a Teapot’ betrays a deep misunderstanding of Judaism & its rituals. Most of Jewish life plays out in the home, not in the synagogue. This is one of the ways that Judaism stands out from the other ‘religions’. Indeed, of the items concealed in the teapot, most would be used primarily in the home.

      • The commentary left here is echoing in my mind as a passionate debate among various parties at a yeshiva. It is, in all honesty, delightful. For what it’s worth, the term “hidden synagogue” was taken directly from the Imgur post by the original poster over at Reddit – I cannot speak to his or her knowledge of Judaica. Clearly, however, the title of the blog post caught the attention of the public; with close to 25,000 views, this post is by several orders of magnitude more popular than any other. I’m grateful that I was able to share it.

  18. Yes there are other examples, as I have one that is not as elaborate and supposedly from the “Inquisitiion Period” made from silver. It was purchase in Tel Aviv by my father and given to me. The one pictured here is far more elaborate and covers many more of our holidays, but I have treasured mine since receiving it forty years ago.

  19. I happen to own this piece that is silver plated with brass highlights. It is called the “Secret Pitcher” and is made in limited editions by Swed Masters Workshop. They can be reached in NY and Jerusalem.
    It is presently in my office and not at home because my wife finds it ugly. However, these pictures are truly very professional and do show great workmanship.

  20. THE Menorah in the Temple had 7 ( not 9) oil wells -this is why the distinction is important. ( See also the Menorah outside the Knesset.)

  21. So compact….necessary because we had to be always ready to move on quickly.
    A clue to our survival. Muir

  22. I am a formerPOW of WWII-One of the reasons we fought,was that ,beautiful people and spectacular pieces, such as this “Secret Synagogue” would survive.
    I was thrilled to view this article.

  23. This piece of Jewish art is truly stunning, it should be found in every Jewish household. I am an artist myself and It is rare that I come across things that I like as much as this. I congratulate you on this intricate beautiful piece of artwork. When people see this art they don’t know how painstakingly you worked on each detail but I do and I want to say thank you . After I saw this u felt different. Your art has affected me

  24. A beautiful piece like this is certainly rare. Being an artist myself I can see the intricate detail and hard work you put into this art. It should be a Jewish household item. Thank you for sharing your originality and making the world a better place. Your art affects me when I saw this piece I thought differently and I acted differently.

  25. This beautiful item comes at the right moment to share with all of us who are strongly committed to the Jewish People and the State of Israel,yet concerned & dismayed by the slew of anti -Jewish rhetoric/acts , all over the world..
    It;s a symbol of how we manage to thrive and survive……persistence , ingenuity , hope and the intuitive knowledge that one day , the Promise that the world will come to honour our basic philosophy of how to live the good life will actually happen .

  26. This very beautiful and multi-purpose work of art, reminds us of Exodus 30:31 “God spoke to Moses: See I have singled out by name Bezael son of Uri son of Hur”, ” I have endowed him with a divine spirt of skill, in every craft.” “to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper.” “I have assigned to hil Oholiab son of Ahisamach, etc.

  27. I love seeing this incredibly exquisite work of art-Judaica. And it makes me laugh. Because we are here. We live and create and remember Bless us and all humanity. Hana Bigen

  28. Pingback: The Etz Hayyim (Tree of Life) Shtender | Playing in the World Game

  29. Jewish art is breathtakingly beautiful…under the circumstances of our sad and often tragic history, Jewish artists have crafted works of art that enhance our sense of the aesthetic… A mitzva comes into its own by the concept of “hiddur Mitzvah” making the mitzvah shine beyond itself…

  30. I have the privilege of owning one of these pieces. I purchased mine from Yossi Swed more than 20 years ago. It is the work of his brother, Dudik Swed. They refer to it as “The Secret Synagogue”.

    Bruce S.

  31. What a breathtakingly beautiful work of art this is. It’s beauty is enhanced by its provenance and the wonder that it survived for centuries. Than you for sharing these photographs.

  32. Of the mind, from the soul, to the hands, and through our hearts.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Shalom.

    Gentle as you go.

  33. The light of schechina shines through the ingenuity and beauty of this innovative design for a tea pot. This tea pot exemplifies the beauty and enduring qualities of our Judaism and Jewishness. Thank you for sharing this post. And, pot! for tea.

  34. This is amazing and ingenious – what incredible people Jews have been.
    Incidentally, I vote for the word “hanukiyah” as the word “Menora” refers
    to the 7 branch candlestick that is Isael’s emblem

  35. Fantastic – not merely the conception and execution, but its gracefulness is genuine and its usage, mind boggling. Kinda’ like a Jewish Jenga.

  36. It is refreshing to receive an email of this phenominal piece of art. I hope I can obtain one. I will be searching the internet.. thanks for sharing.

  37. I am awe struck…What a Magnificent peice of “ART”, encompasing ALL of
    our religious celebrations…

  38. Pingback: The Hidden Synagogue | Mounttolmie

  39. What a solid testament to the incredible faith and determination that the Jewish people display time and again.

  40. I am so overwhelmed with the beauty and intricacies of this magnificent work of art. I am very proud to be Jewish and a part of our heritage. I would love to e mail this to all my 155 e mail friends but I am new to my I pad. I do not know how. I will thank my friend by phone to thank her for this beautiful gift. I wish I could print it and save it. Is that possible?

  41. I would like to thank the Old Wolf for bringing the memory to life of a time in our history as Jews that necessitated such ingenuity for the survival of our faith. I think it would be most deserving that the comments of this post be forwarded on to the artist, Dudik Swed. It is Dudik Swed who has actually continued to kindle the story of our past by creating this wonderful artistic reproduction of actual artifacts from a very sad period for Jews. As Dudik Swed used his art to preserve the memory and story of our ancestors so has the Old Wolf by his recognition of the need to pass this story on to us. I believe each of us who has read this email now has the opportunity and responsibility of continuing to keep this part of our history alive by passing it on to our family and friends. Thanks again Old Wolf and for the Mitzvah of passing on such a bitter sweet piece of our ancestry.

    G-d Bless you.

  42. It is really beautifully made and covers many Yom-Tov celebrations
    from Shabbos to Purim, Chanuka, Pesach etc.I would love to own it.

  43. What words can be used to describe this amazing and oh so meaningful work of art – breathtaking? extraordinary? fabulous? None of them do it justice. Think how fortunate we that, in this day and age, we can exhibit many works of art with which to celebrate each Jewish holiday.

  44. gilda hochbaum says: Such creative genius is really awe-inspiring! What a
    meaningful testimony to the indestructibility of the traditions of Am Yisroel
    this “Hidden Synagogue” represents. Thank you for sharing this unique
    treasure with the Jewish world at large.

  45. It is a lovely work of craftsmanship, but is important only if the human brain can translate its features by the stories that are represented. And our brains can only do that through the education/story-telling our brain receives.

    • “Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.”

      And it was sufficient.

    • When I first met Dudik Swed in 1991, I spent hours in his store gaining History Stories of the hidden stories. His Master pieces are created be a Ture genesis. Each piece takes hour and years to complete. The historical store captured my mind, and I returned to USA to study even more about the exile of the Jews People. Dudik is Brilliant in his workmanship and Fine Detail. I visited Dudik 2008 to Celebeate Israel @60…which I also turned 60 years you. Being a Professional Photographer, I would like to edited my 3,000 photos down to 100 best & Publish a Book for my Grand-Children.I prayer this is the year I can Focus and Complete my Book!
      Shalom.
      Arleene “Simcha” Spring
      Residing in Palm Springs, CA

  46. Pingback: Spanish Inquisition | jewish history

  47. Hi there, all! Does anybody have any idea regarding value on the 925 version of this piece? My husband and I have a resale business and recently purchased a woman’s estate and came across this along with 2 other pieces made by yossi swen. Any info would be so very appreciated!

    • Whoa. How fortunate for you to have one in your hands, even if for a while. I personally have no clue as to how to value treasure like this; perhaps someone else stopping by might know. If I have any other thoughts I’ll let you know, or I may see if I can get your question a bit more exposure.

      • We would be so appreciative! And, as it seems, it’s a Dudik Swed piece???…looks like Yossi was involved as well, but Dudik was maker? Not too certain–very difficult to obtain information on such a rare piece! We did speak with Swed Master’s Workshop and it seems to be valued at a pretty high number…its just finding a buyer for it that will be a bit tricky… 🙂

  48. The first sentence in the post is: “As reader bklyngalinla has pointed out in the comments below, this piece is a contemporary work of art, rather than being from the inquisition or holocaust periods. However, it is based on older pieces, and is in itself still a phenomenal piece of artwork. Here is a link to another blog that gives more information.” The link mentioned leads to the popchassid page. What is the point of your comment?

    • YOU know it and I know it … but most people believe it to be an antique. My point? How does it feel to be snarky about my post. What is YOUR point!

      • > “Most people believe it to be an antique”

        Not if they actually take the time to read my post from the beginning, which includes a mea culpa for not clarifying things from the very start. As for the last, this is my blog, so I get to be snarky if it serves me. Count yourself fortunate that your comment was approved at all.

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