Elijah's rod, Afghanistan, Herat, 1884, Sc.175
Category: Ritual object
Circumcision Go to Subject Document
According to the Jewish tradition, Elijah, the angel of the covenant (Mal. 3:1;
based on: 1 Kgs. 19: 14), is present in each and every circumcision ceremony
(Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (Horev ed.), ch. 28). In most communities his presence
in the ceremony is represented by a special chair, known as "Elijah's chair",
which is also mentioned during the benedictions.
In the Persian Jewish communities of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Caucasus,
the arrival of Elijah at the circumcision is also marked by a special staff, attributed
to the old messenger, named "Elijah's rod" (figs. 1-3). Jewish folktales of
Afghanistan describe Elijah the prophet as an old man worn out from the
many circumcisions he must attend. He therefore leans on his rod and sits
on his chair in order to rest a little. As the rod is believed to have healing powers,
associated with the revival stories of the prophet Elijah (1 Kgs. 17: 21-24) and his
disciple (2 Kgs. 4: 29), the rod is brought to the house of a birthing woman, in order
to protect her and the newborn (See: Noy, Afghanistan: Folklore; Kurt, Matehu; Hanegbi, The Circumcision; Amar, Ingathering, p. 97).
Apart from the custom, the staffs of the three communities share common artistic features. The rod is usually covered with silver sheets, and is surrounded with an inscribed band. However, the ornaments differ in style and shape and the decoration of the knob (see: Sc.238- 12; Sc.542- 423, and main photo).
Material & Technique
Wood, silver, silver-plated copper
Decoration: repoussé, chased, punched, engraved, set turquoise gems
Bonding: soldered, screwed
Height: 1350 mm
Diameter: 220 mm (overall), 60 mm (handle)
The cylindrical Elijah's rod is topped by a globular knob. The rod is divided into three units by a ring inlaid with turquoise triangles. Two units are covered in silver and are inscribed with a circumferential inscription alternating with a foliate strip. The lower section is plain wood.
The dedicatory inscription is inscribed in square, outlined Hebrew-Persian characters, and is read from top to bottom:
"זה מטה שהקדיש יעקב חיים בן מ' (מולא) מרדכי לביהכ''נ (לבית הכנסת) של הראד ש' (שנת)ויתברכו לפ''ק (לפרט קטן)"
"This is the rod that was dedicated by Jacob Haim, son of Mullah Mordechai, to the synagogue of Herat, the year (5)644 (1884)". The sum of the letters of the marked word "ויתברכו " (and will be blessed) indicates the year.
A knob-shaped handle, mounted over a concave cuff, is decorated with diagonal bands.
- The above described Elijah's rod is an additional link that connects the Afghanistan Jews to the Persian Jewish communities of Bukhara and Caucasus. Of the few rods documented among the Afghani Jews,this rod is another piece of evidence linking the communities. The origins of the use of the rod have not yet been established, and there are still some missing links as for the prototype of the object, as well as for the practice. See: Sc.542- 423; Sc. 238- 12.
- Amar, Ariella and Ruth Jacoby, eds. Ingathering of the Nations. Jerusalem: Center for Jewish Art, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1998. In English and Hebrew.
- Hanegbi, Zohar and Yaniv, Bracha. 34-35. Jerusalem: Center for Jewish Art, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1991. In English and Hebrew.
- Kurt, Zevulun. "Matehu shel Eliyahu Ha-Navi" (Elijah's Rod). Yeda Am. Vol. 7. No. 25. P. 64. 1962. In Hebrew.
- Noy, Dov. s.v. "Afghanistan: Folklore". Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed.
|Zev Radovan||11.87||291-6; 391-4,5|
|Researcher||Mira Smoli; Ariella Amar||11.87; 07.07|
|Section Head||Bracha Yaniv; Ariella Amar||11.87; 07.07|
|IJA No.:||Not relevant|