The following description was prepared by William Gross:
The Shiviti plaque takes its name from a phrase in the Psalms, "Shiviti Adonai Lenegdi Tamid". "I will always hold the Lord before me." During morning prayers, the 67th Psalm is read as a part of the liturgy. The making of such visual pages to augment the reading started almost 500 years ago. It began because of a particular story or legend. The custom relates that if one gazes on the form of the Menorah while reciting the Psalm, or reads the Psalm written in the form of a Menorah, the person is carried back to the Temple, standing before the golden Temple Menorah itself. To complete the illusion, some of the Temple implements were often illustrated. The mysticism of the idea is clear, and the Shiviti page is often filled with Kabbalistic abbreviations as well as the Menorah form. Sometimes, depending on the size and complexity of the image, other texts read during the time of prayer are also presented on the sheet.
Such pages appear as small sheets to be inserted into a prayer book and taken out when the psalm is recited or as large pages to be hung on the wall of the synagogue for the viewing by the whole congregation. The sheet was also used on the wall of a home or Sukkah. Later still, the Shiviti could be printed in the prayer book or painted on the wall of the synagogue. There are numerous examples of both the prayer book tradition and the wall plaque tradition in the Gross Family Collection.
Within the ranges of those Shivitis made for the wall there are both printed and manuscript version, of which this is one of the latter. many of this type are folkart pieces, as is this page. The naive way in which this signed, mid-ninetheenth century creation is formed gives a sense of the kind of Galician congregation for whom it was originally designed. The marvelous simplicity and charm of the four animals from the Pirkei Avot is central. An interesting aspect is that here the Menorah is depicted in the rather complicated and intertwined way often found in Galicia, but there is no presentation of the text of the 67th Psalm. In this rendition the symbol is sufficient along with the Shiviti verse at the top.
T | Tablets of the Law
M | Musical Instruments | Lyre
M | Menorah
C | Crown
A | Animals, the Four (Mishnah, Avot, 5:20) | Lion (of the Four Animals)
A | Animals, the Four (Mishnah, Avot, 5:20) | Deer (of the Four Animals)
A | Animals, the Four (Mishnah, Avot, 5:20) | Eagle (of the Four Animals)
A | Animals, the Four (Mishnah, Avot, 5:20) | Tiger (of the Four Animals)