Dispatches from the Magnes Working Group on Modern Jewish Culture: An Inquisition Effigy Doll

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on Friday November 9 2012

The Working Group on Modern Jewish Culture is an exciting new initiative of The Magnes, supported by the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley. The Working Group meets monthly, and benefits from the participation of faculty, Magnes curators, and graduate students in Jewish Studies and other area studies. Its ongoing activities can be followed here.

In the course of the last meeting, students and faculty examined objects that included an Inquisition effigy doll from the island of Majorca (pictured above), Kabbalistic amulets from the Maghreb and Central Europe, and paper material related to Jewish communal affairs in colonial Pakistan.

Inquisition Effigy Doll, Spain (via Morocco), ca. 1401-1500 [71-40]

Inquisition Effigy Doll (Spain, via Morocco). Accession no. 71-40

The research group worked on establishing the provenance of the doll, the age of many of the amulets, or the exact origin of the Jewish communal document from Karachi, using extant Magnes acquisition records and conducting additional research to integrate them. This led our group to discuss methodological approaches to object analysis and, above all, to many exciting and unexpected insights.

Inquisition effigy dolls are discussed in the literature on the Spanish Inquisition in both Spain (Cecil Roth, 1964) and Mexico (Luis R. Corteguera, 2012).

The Magnes Collection also holds original documents from the Inquisition Tribunal in Majorca, as well as the research materials (and research library) of Baruch Braunstein. A small selection from the Braunstein Collection is currently on display, as part of the exhibition Case Study No. 2: The Inventory Project.

Documents about the Inquisition in Mexico are included in the holdings of The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-10-14

Posted by Administrator on Sunday October 14 2012

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-10-07

Posted by Administrator on Sunday October 7 2012

  • Fall Open House on UC Berkeley Homecoming Weekend: Two exciting days of free performances and Magnes exhibition… http://t.co/ZVfdseW3 #
  • Fall Open House on #UCBerkeley Homecoming Weekend: 2 days of free performances & Magnes exhibition tours (October 6-7) http://t.co/Hph99ZYn #
  • Join us TONIGHT for an exciting two part event:

    Lecture @5:30- Wartime Shanghai: A Microcosm of Eurasian Jewish… http://t.co/XkbrZgSb #

  • Happy Sukkot! Painted Manuscript Sukkah decoration (17th-18th cent.) http://t.co/u8ka97fe #
  • Manuscript [2012.7]: Painted Hebrew manuscript leaf for the Sukkah (17th-18th cent.) listing the ushpizin http://t.co/GuGwA5hS #
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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-30

Posted by Administrator on Sunday September 30 2012

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-23

Posted by Administrator on Sunday September 23 2012

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Spanish Work: Translating the Magnes Collection

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on Friday September 21 2012

As if on an “autopilot” of sorts, I have been continuously adapting (and at times, translating) collection information created over the decades at The Magnes from a German-dominated view of Jewish life to a more, how can I say, ecumenical one. (That is to say, one that reflects a more current state of Jewish studies worldwide).

Many items in The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life were in fact described with German, or German-inspired, terms, and at times this was reflected in their catalog records.

Some of the German-influenced descriptors go back to the role of German Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area community. A name in the “Lilienthal Wimpel,” for example, appears in the embroidered Hebrew text of this beautiful ritual textile as “leyb” (Leon, in Yiddish and Judeo-German), but in all catalog records, acquisition files, and in the Lilienthal Family Record itself, the person that the name refers to is called “Loeb”‘ (Leon, in German). This is a reflection of the adaptation of Jewish culture (and Jewish names) to German-speaking culture in Germany and beyond at the time of the Emancipation.

Here is the wimpel (a textile used to bind the Torah Scrolls, inscribed in honor of a newborn male child):

"Lilienthal" Wimpel (Torah Binder) (Germany, 1814) [80.83_11]

Many more catalog records bear instead the influence of Ruth Eis, the founding Judaica Curator of the Judah L. Magnes Museum. Born in Germany, and educated under the cultural stream of the Wissenschaft des Judentums (the 19th-century critical approach to the study of Judaism and Jewish life). Ruth Eis’ most recent gift to the collection includes three wonderfully preserved East-European prayer shawl neckbands (called in Yiddish ‘atores, from the Hebrew ‘atarot), described by the curator-donor as Spanier Arbeit (understood as “Spanish work”) to indicate the special technique of weaving gold and silver thread used to create these ritual garments. These German words made me a bit more conscious of the labor of translation I have been semi-consciously performing over the years. They also sent me on a little quest.

In 1996, The Magnes devoted an exhibition to “Spanier Arbeit” weavings (see here). A quick online search for these words will immediately show that this is a unique case.
However, in the context of the study of Jewish life, this designation is nothing but the Germanization of a similar Yiddish expression, shpanyer arbet, used to indicate the very same technique.

One can read about shpanyer arbet in the fabulous YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, under the entries on “Dress” and, more specifically, “Shpanyer Arbet“. The information in the encyclopedia is excellent, and includes detailed explanations of the technical aspects of weaving that characterize the neckbands, as well as interesting ideas on the etymology of this Yiddish expression (does it really mean “from Spain”?).

The online collections of the Israel Museum include a few fine examples of shpanyer arbet prayer shawl neckbands (which can be found by searching for “prayer shaw,” “atara,” or “shpanyer arbet” via the oh so wonderful IMAGE Search Engine). None are available via the online search tools of the Jewish Museum in New York.

The catalog records of The Magnes collection list seven prayer shawls with neckbands made in this technique (but I am sure that there are more in the collection that were not described at all). In these records, the German expression was at times modified to accommodate English readers. It thus became “spanier work.” ;-)

[83-24-2] Tallit (Germany 1785-1950)

By addressing these records and changing the descriptive text, the prayer shawls in our collection will certainly become more “findable” to future researchers.

As a partial disclaimer, I should probably add that this quest has nothing to do with my last name (which means “Spanish” in Italian), even though I guess that we could agree on calling all of the above Spanish work

Francesco Spagnolo
‘erev shabbat shuvah 5773

===

TRANSLATION NOTES

  1. The English “prayer shawl” refers to the Hebrew tallit (pl. talitot) and to the Yiddish tales (pl. talesim); in colloquial American English, Jews often say tallis, a derivation from the Yiddish word tales, to refer to a prayer shawl;
  2. The English “neckband” refers to the Hebrew ‘atarah (pl. ‘atarot) and to the Yiddish atore (pl. atores).
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Filed under: Collections andExhibitions andResearch
Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-16

Posted by Administrator on Sunday September 16 2012

  • Oldies but Goodies: Vintage Rosh Hashanah e-cards from The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. Enjoy and… http://t.co/gveweTud #
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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-09

Posted by Administrator on Sunday September 9 2012

  • SFJFF @ THE MAGNES | San Francisco Jewish Film Festival http://t.co/6NCoA8Wu #
  • We can hardly wait for our first monthly film screening with The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival ! Join us… http://t.co/aICmNT0L #
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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-09-02

Posted by Administrator on Sunday September 2 2012

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-08-26

Posted by Administrator on Sunday August 26 2012

  • Architects Peter Pfau and Natalie Kittner Talk About Designing the New Magnes Building http://t.co/54cit1tw #
  • Lauren Camp and Yosefa Raz share the First Prize of the 2012 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Awards for Poems on the… http://t.co/sVkdnua4 #
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