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Amulet, Slovakia, Nitra, 1832, Gross Family coll., (027.011.030)

Category: Ritual object

 

 

Name/Title: Shmirah
Object: Amulet
Artist/Maker: Mordechai the scribe
Date: 1832
Period: Royal Hungary
Origin: Slovakia, Nitra
Community: Unknown
Collection: Gross Family collection (027.011.030)
Location: Gross Family collection (027.011.030)
Site: Not relevant
School/Style: Eastern Europe
 

 

Subject
Lilith
Angels                                                                     Go to Subject Document
Star of David                                                  
Rite de passage (Rite of passage)

Ornamentation
Not relevant

Custom
The serious risks associated with childbirth and the dangers related to the first days of a newborn child and his birthmother, were the ambiance in which the folk belief in demons, who kill or steal babies developed. One of the leading demons considered to be the most dangerous creature for the mother and child, was Lilith – the first woman created with Adam (see: Subject document). In order to protect the birthing mother and the baby, various kinds of amulets were created. Our amulet printing plate is a typical example of the incantations against the evil creature and her group of demons, following the East European tradition. The amulet was placed near the mother's bed or around the walls.
The legend including Lilith as the former Eve and her flight from Adam is first mentioned in the Alphabet of Ben Sira, composed in Babylonia  in the end of the ninth to the beginning of the tenth centuries. The story in Ben Sira also includes the three angels who excommunicated her after she refused to return to Adam. It seems that the legend appears in Ben Sira to explain the custom of writing amulets against Lilith, which most probably already existed then and was widespread.  
The second version of the story, which includes Elijah and appears on our amulet, probably is derived from a different literary source and reflects another tradition. According to Prof. Gaster, a similar narrative of a Holy man, who meets a female demon that kills babies and excommunicates her, is mentioned in the Manichean literary tradition. The story of Elijah and Lilith is included in the second edition of David's Lida's book Sod ha Shem (Berlin 1710, p. 20a). A female demon with a thousand names,active at night, harming newborn babies and their mothers, is also mentioned in the Testament of Solomon, a Greek work of the third century. In this composition, she is named Obizoth, similar to one of the names in our amulet (Gershom Shalom, Lilith, in Encyclopedia Judaica, Jerusalem, 11, p. 246).  

Material & Technique
Copper
Structure: cast
Decoration: etching
Inscription: etching
Bonding: not relevant

Measurements
Height: 183 mm
Width: 125 mm

Hallmark
Not relevant

Decoration Program
Amuletic formulas adorned by two winged putti.

Description
The amulet is dedicated to a birthing mother and her newborn infant. On the top of the plate are two winged angels (putti) flanking a central inscribed shield. In one hand they are holding a valance surmounted by the blessing "mazal  tov " (blessing for a good omen) and mounted above the shield, while in the other hand they point to the inscribed Psalm 20 (fig. 1)

.
Fig. 1. Amulet, Nitra, 1832, Psalm 20

The name of Abraham, the patriarch of the nation is inscribed below the shield. His name is followed by other names of patriarchs and matriarchs of the nation, inscribed in two side columns, within an interlaced geometric frame. Beginning on the right, read from top to bottom: "Isaac, Adam, Moses, Aaron, David and Shlomo (shlm)," which appears on the second column (the name of Jacob is missing). It continues with the matriarchs on the left, read from bottom to top: "Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah." The names allude to the
"mi she'annah" prayer ("The One who replied to Abraham… He will respond to my prayer…"  Mishnah, Mo'ed, Ta'anit, 2:4).
The names of Adam and Eve are below the angels, topping the amuletic formula (fig 2):

"אדם וחוה/ חוץ לילית חוה ראשונה/ סיניו וסינסניו וסמנגלוף"

 "Let Lilith, the first Eve, out (of this territory), (in the name of) Sinoy (Sanoy), Sinsnoy (Sansenoy), and Smangaluf."


Fig. 2. Amulet, Nitra, 1832, Lilith and the three angels

This formula is based on several midrashic legends (Ozar Hamidrashim, p. 35), and is followed by a story that only appears on amulets, and its literary sources are still obscure (fig. 3):

"בשם ה' אלוהי ישראל יושב הכרובים אליהו הז"ל (הזכור לטוב) היה הלך בדרך/ ונגע בלילית הרשעה ובכל כיתה. אמר להם אן אתם/ הולכים ויענו ואמרו אנו הולכים לבית פ' ב' פ' (פלונית בת פלונית)להזיק אותה/ ואת הילד הנולד לה והחרים להם אליהו בחרם ואמרו לו/ למען השם תתרוני ועתה אשבענו לך באלוהי ישראל/ כשמזכירין אתם את שמותינו אין לנו שום כח להכנס/ לבית היולדת ומש' (ומשפחתה) להזיק ואלו שמותינו: לילית אביטו אביזו אמזרפו הקש/ אורם איקפודו איילו טטרוטה קליכט/ אבמקטה שטרעה זה תילתוי פירטשי"

"In the name of the Lord, God of Israel, who dwells between the cherubim: While Elijah, of blessed memory, was on his way, he met evil Lilith and all her group (of demons). He asked them: where are you going? And they answered: we are going to the house of so-and-so (female) to harm her and her newborn child. Then, Elijah excommunicated them and they pleaded with him and asked him to release them. Thus, (Elijah) made them swear in the name of God of Israel, that whenever the following names (would be mentioned) – not one of them would have the power to enter the house of the birthing mother, and to harm her or any of her family members. And these are the names (of Lilith): Lilith, Abitu, Obizo, Amzarpho Hakesh, Oram, Ikphudo, Ayelu, Tatruta, Klicht, Av'maktah, Shetra'kh, Za, Tiltui, Fitashi."


Fig. 3. Amulet, Nitra, 1832, contract between Elijah and Lilith

The different names of Lilith are set in bold and large letters below the legend.
The plate concludes with Psalm 121 set in two columns flanking a six-pointed amuletic star (known as the Star of David) formed of the verse: "The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads, and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (Gen. 48:16) enclosing Lord's name "Shaddai, God almighty."
Two rectangles are at the bottom of the plate, inscribed with an additional amuletic formula, in three different modes:

"מכשפה לא תחיה/ לא תחיה מכשפה/ תחיה מכשפה לא"

"The witch shall not live."
The name of the scribe, the date and place of origin appear in the central bottom (fig 4), accompanied by his signature in Latin characters, signed in the outer borders (fig 5):

"מרדכי/ סופר סת"ם בק"ק (בקהל קדוש) נייטרא תקצ"ב"   

"Mordechai, a scribe of books, Tefillin and Mezuzot (in Hebrew initials SETAM), (who was active) in the Holy congregation of Nitra, (the year) (5)592 (1832)."



Fig. 4. Amulet, Nitra, 1832, Mordechai, the scribe


Fig. 5. Amulet, Nitra, 1832, Signature of Mordechai, the scribe

History/Provenance
The plate was found in the synagogue of Ranizowiz a small city near Rzeszow, in Poland. It was purchased by the Museum from Mr. Rabinowiz in 1938.

Condition
Intact

Remarks

  1. The plate is a combination of various traditions that all are dedicated to the protection of the birthmother and her newborn child. As mentioned previously, two versions of Lilith legends appear side by side, combining two literal traditions. Psalms 20 and 121 were also considered as protective hymns chanted around the mother's bed. The names of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are alluding to the "mi she'annah" prayer (The One who replied), which was recited during the delivery (Mishnah, Mo'ed, Ta'anit, 2:4). Nonetheless the appearance of this blessing as part of the amulet may imply a custom, in which the prayer was also recited during the first days after the baby was born.  
  2. For the original printing plate see: National Museum Krakow 230 (mnk-IV-m-2116)

Bibliography

 

Type: Original  
Photographer: Date: Negative no.:
Zev Radovan 09.90 none
 
Copyright
 
Object: Photograph:  
Gross Family collection Gross Family collection  
 
Registrar
 
Function: Name: Date:
Documenter William Gross ??
Researcher Ariella Amar 12.92
Section Head Ariella Amar 06.07
Editor Judith Cardozo 06.07
IJA No.: Not relevant  

 

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