Kurt J. Matzdorf's Torah Ornaments: Modern Interpretations of Traditional Symbols

From Our Holdings

Torah ornaments such as this Torah breastplate (Hebrew: tas), and the Torah finials (Hebrew: rimonim) express the great respect and honor given to the Torah scroll. A Torah scroll is only uncovered for the reading in the synagogue, and is otherwise clothed in an often elaborately embroidered mantle. Indeed, the Torah is the divine revelation to the nation of Israel and is considered the word of God.

Silver, Gold, and Acrylic

The creator of these works of art, Kurt J. Matzdorf, is an artist known for his modern interpretations. He broke new ground not only in form, but also in his choice of materials. Alongside the classic materials of silver and gold, he used colored acrylic for his Judaica. Notwithstanding this contemporary approach, Matzdorf frequently incorporates traditional symbols as he does here. The nation of Israel has twelve tribes, each with its own emblem, such as a basket for the tribe of Levi. Matzdorf also used the symbol of a stylized pomegranate. The pomegranate symbolizes life and fertility in Judaism and the Hebrew word for the Torah finials stems from the Hebrew for pomegranate, rimon.


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Twelve Tribes of Israel

According to the Hebrew Bible, the twelve tribes of Israel collectively comprise the People of Israel chosen by God.

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Title Torah Finials and Torah Shield
Artist Kurt J. Matzdorf
Collection Judaica
Location and year of origin New Paltz, New York 1981
Medium silver, acrylic
Dimensions 30 x 10 cm and 30 x 19.5 x 0.5 cm
Torah finials and Torah breastplate

Kurt J. Matzdorf: Torah Finials and Torah Shield; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Selected Objects (6) Judaica Collection Show all

Judaica Collection

Our collection of ceremonial objects ranges widely from a valuable eighteenth-century Torah curtain donated by Formet and Moses Mendelssohn to contemporary ritual items to small kitchen supplies for following Jewish dietary laws.

Torah Curtain Donated by the Mendelssohns

Moses and Fromet Mendelssohn commissioned a Torah curtain, probably using the fabric from Fromet's wedding dress, and donated it to a synagogue in Berlin in 1774–75.

Hanukkah Toys

Traditionally, the Jewish festival of lights doesn’t involve presents. But like Christmas, Hanukkah too is increasingly commercialized, and there is already color-coded gift wrap in the US.

Purim Costume

This costume of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, should have been a top seller for Purim. But then a tragic accident occurred.

Seder Plate by Harriete Estel Berman

What is unusual about this contemporary seder plate is its additional recess for an orange, marking a new custom which has found growing popularity among feminists in recent decades.

Scouring Pads

“No more kitchen confusion!” Three color-coded scrub brushes from the US make it easier to keep track of Jewish dietary rules.

Torah Ornaments by Kurt Matzdorf

The artist Kurt J. Matzdorf is known for his modern interpretations. Alongside the classic materials of silver and gold, he used colored acrylic for his Judaica.

Applied Arts

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Kurt J. Matzdorf (Artist)

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