On cherubs and nose rings

This unusual model of the biblical Ark of the Covenant is based on details from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Could the real thing perhaps have looked like this?

A few years ago we visited Highclere Castle, famous as location of Downton Abbey, and I admit that Downton was our reason for visiting. We were only vaguely aware that the 5th Earl of Carnaervon, forbear of the current owner, had been the discoverer of Tutankhamen’s famous treasures.

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A model menorah gifted by Ben Ish Hai

The seven-branched menorah (candlestick) that stood in the holy temple, was made of solid gold. Although it’s various cups, flowers and “knops” are described in some detail in Exodus 25, we remain in the dark as to several other essential details. For example, scholars have speculated as to whether we can rely on the curved branches shown on the Arch of Titus in Rome, or whether the straight lines hand-drawn by Maimonides himself were intended literally.

The menorah shown here cannot resolve this question conclusively, but its provenance, as a gift to the son of a wealthy patron from the illustrious Rabbi Yosef Hayim of Baghdad certainly makes it compelling.

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Demystifying the mezuzah

In our times the Mezuzah, which we are commanded in the Torah to fix on the doorpost of our home, has come to be thought of by many as a protective charm, placed on the door to shield those inside from harm.

It has even become popular to ascribe personal tragedies to a typo in the Mezuzah that caused it to be ineffective. People are advised to check their Mezuzah because something bad happened, even though there is no indication in the Torah injunction, of this (or any) supernatural function to this object. There are even people who keep a Mezuzah in their car, or hang one in a locket around their neck, believing this affords some supernatural protection, despite the fact that the Torah prescribes the Mezuzah for the doorposts of one’s house.

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Breathtaking Restoration of Victorian Italianate Indian Synagogue

Knesset Eliyahu Bombay frontOn February 7th 2019 the beautifully refurbished 150-year-old Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai was ceremoniously reopened.

The magnificent synagogues of the Baghdadi (or more accurately the Syrian-Baghdadi) community of India (in Kolkota, Mumbai, Puna and elsewhere) are little known beyond the circle of their descendants, so this week’s opening of the magnificently refurbished Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue in Mumbai went largely unnoticed in the wider Jewish world.

Which is a pity since the building is an absolutely superb historic, architectural, and Jewish treasure. Fortunately it was rescued by an Indian charitable foundation, in recognition of its value as a building of national importance.

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The Pillar: A historical gem in Hendon

1A visit to London is always a historical and architectural adventure for me, but little did I know that the small hotel in Hendon where our daughter and son-in-law, who recently relocated nearby, found us a disabled-friendly room, would be so fascinating.

I was immediately taken with its Tudor-style architecture; architecture that went way beyond the three exposed gable beams so common in pre-war London suburbs like Hendon. This was a full scale Tudor-style manor or, as it turned out, alms-house for fallen women, complete with Tudor arches and chimneys, a cloistered quadrangle and a bijou chapel.

The gate lodge, visible from the road, hints at the magnificence within, but only when you’ve passed through the gateway and turned left down the drive do you start to see what a treasure this is. Continue reading

The golliwog and the Blackamoor brooch

golliwog badge(Or: Princess Michael of Kent and me)

By a perverse coincidence the Robertson’s Jam golliwog badge (fellow Brits remember them?) that I bought on Ebay last month arrived on Friday, just as Princess Michael of Kent was getting hauled across the coals in the media for having worn a Blackamoor brooch to an event at which she knew at least one mixed race guest would be present.

‘Apparently wearing slavery-inspired brooches is the ultimate royal holiday tradition,’ said one outraged Twitter user.

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