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TIOH Art Tour: Baal Shem Tov Chanukiah 

  • Ukraine, c. 1812 
  • Silver filigree 
  • Gift of the Briskin Family 

The Baal Shem Tov, also known as Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, was the founder of Hasidism, a Jewish spiritual movement that emphasizes joy, love, and devotion to God. He was born in 1698 in Podolia, Ukraine, and died in 1760 in Miedzyboz, Poland. 

According to the story told in The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, by Yizhak Buxbaum, when the Hebrew month of Kislev arrived, the Baal Shem Tov would gather the children of his community together and tell them the story of Chanukah. Together they would construct a chanukiah, a Chanukah menorah, to fulfill the mitzvah, the commandment, to light the Chanukah lights. The particular style of menorah that they would create, with a flat base, eight small cups to hold oil, and an extending hollow finger for the shamash, the candle used for lighting the others, came to be known as a Baal Shem Tov Chanukiah. The Baal Shem Tov would teach Torah before lighting the ritual lights and, following their kindling, members of the community would sing and dance. 

The Baal Shem Tov taught, “The power of the branches is in their all having one foundation and base, which unites them and brings them to the level of holiness.  Although each wick burns in its own cup—yet because they all have a common base, it’s as if they’re all a single branch, and that’s why we make only one blessing over the candle lighting” (The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov).  He went on to explain that the shamash was in some ways even holier than the other candles, for its light could be used for other purposes, while Jewish law forbids anyone of using the light of the other eight for purposes other than enjoyment. 

This particular Baal Shem Tov chanukiah is made of silver filigree and is adorned with birds, a common symbol found on chanukiot. The piece is most likely missing its original silver backing.  

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