Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

According to the Talmud, Tractate Brachot 33a, the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah (“the men of the Great Assembly”) instituted the “blessings and prayer sanctifications and havdalot for Israel” (approximately in the fourth century BCE), but some authorities maintain that the obligation to recite havdalah is a Torah commandment. Making distinctions and separations is an intrinsic part of halacha, starting with the Genesis account of creation, where G-d distinguished between light and darkness, earth and water, etc. Havdalah and Kiddush are therefore flip sides of the same coin; the essence of Kiddush is to distinguish between the mundane (weekdays) and the holy (Shabbat), and the essence of havdalah is to differentiate between Shabbat and weekdays.

There are, however, important differences, not the least of which are the different blessings recited for Kiddush and Havdalah. In this somewhat amusing August 7, 1962, correspondence on her Foreign Ministry letterhead, Golda Meir writes to Rav Menachem Porush:

Golda Meir’s letter: Does Israel’s Ambassador know the difference between Havdalah and Kiddish?

I am returning to your complaint that you raised from the podium of the Knesset regarding the representative of Israel in Mexico, whom you allege was invited to a Jewish home to make Kiddush, but instead made Havdalah. Later, you let me know that it was about the Israeli counsel to Mexico, Mr. Yosef Kisari.

Although Mr. Kesari left the Foreign Ministry more than five years ago, I consulted with him to clarify your complaint. He assured me that “the story is ridiculous and without basis.” I would like to add that the other two heads of the Israeli delegation who served after Mr. Kisari in that place, General David Shaltiel and Mr. Mordechai Schneerson, advise me that they never heard about this incident.

It is possible, as mentioned above, that you will wish to consider repairing this matter; and, if for some reason you don’t want to do that, I will have to reveal the results of my inquiry to the media because of my responsibility to guard the good name of the Service and also the good name of all those who served and are serving in Mexico.

I await your decision.


Rav Porush (1916-2010) was an Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Agudat Yisrael and its alliances from 1959-75 and 1977-1994. As chairman of the Agudat Yisrael Center (1955), he founded Children’s Town to promote Jewish education and combat missionary influence. He also served as deputy head of the Jerusalem city council (1969-74), served for a time as Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, and established Kiryat HaYeled, a Children’s Village for Jewish orphans, in 1973.

David Shaltiel (1903-1969) was an Israeli military and intelligence officer best known for serving as district commander of the Haganah in Jerusalem during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Earlier he had worked for the Haganah buying arms in Europe before being captured by the Gestapo (1936) and spending three years in Dachau and Buchenwald. Returning to Eretz Yisrael, he served as commander of the Counterintelligence Service (the “Ran”) and of the Intelligence Service, and he later coordinated several missions with the Irgun and Lehi, including the attack at Deir Yassin.

After the War of Independence, Shaltiel founded and commanded the Border Corps of the Israeli army and later served as Israel’s plenipotentiary minister in Brazil and Venezuela (1952-56); then in Mexico (1956-1959), which Golda discusses in our letter; and as ambassador to the Netherlands (1963-1966).

Before serving as Israeli Ambassador to Mexico, Mordechai Schneerson was the first secretary of the Israeli Embassy in Paris and in the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.



The three well-recognized symbols of havdalah are the candle, the wine cup and the spice box. The lit candle, which symbolizes the departing light of Shabbat, is usually braided, with the strands representing the many types of Jews in the world as a single unified people. The drinking of wine is always a symbol of joy, and the kiddush cup with wine represents a final thanks for the gift of Shabbat and a farewell “until we meet again” next week. Finally, the aromatic spices are designed to uplift our spirits and to encourage us to persevere through the week until the “added soul” of Shabbat once again infuses our souls.

Various minhagim are associated with the havdalah ceremony, including filling the havdalah cup until it overflows its rim, symbolic of the overflowing cup of blessings we wish for in the upcoming week; examining one’s fingernails by the light of the candle; and singing Eliyahu HaNavi to herald the coming of the Messianic Age, when the entire world will be Kulo Shabbat (an everlasting Sabbath).

These symbols and minhagim readily lend themselves to artistic expression, and I feature here some of my favorite havdalah-themed artwork from my collection.



Jacob Steinhardt

Displayed here is Jacob Steinhardt’s famous woodcut Havdalah (“Taking Leave from Sabbath”), originally signed by the artist. Etched in his classic style, it depicts a father holding a glistening braided candle, which seems to provide all the illumination in the image. Standing next to him is his pensive wife, whose contemplative eyes are not particularly focused on anything, and his two children, who gaze out at the darkness. The table holds a narrow wine cup; a classic-styled spice box in the form of a miniature tower capped with a tin flag, a design favored by Ashkenazi Jews; and, to the right, a wine bottle illuminated by the light of the candle.

One of the 20th century’s preeminent artists, Steinhardt (1887-1968) was a German Expressionist whose graphic works, especially woodcuts and etchings, are masterpieces of the medium. Recognized today as one of the most prominent woodcut artists using a neo-Gothic or biblical style, he is credited with refining the technique of block printing. As a teacher of graphics and later director of the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem, he influenced a whole generation of Israeli artists.

The revival of the woodcut as a graphic medium began in the late 19th century, when artists like Gauguin and Munch transformed the woodcut from a narrative illustration into a tool to express individual ideas, and graphic works also had a solid tradition in the history of Jewish art. An early disciple of German Expressionism, Steinhardt’s early subject matter was almost exclusively religious and social; he made engravings and lithographs and, later in Jerusalem, he devoted himself almost exclusively to woodcuts. He initially depicted Jerusalem scenes and inhabitants before turning to biblical subjects from the Book of Jonah (1952), the Book of Ruth (1955), landscapes, and imaginary themes. While his woodcuts in the 1930s are characterized by sharp black-and-white contrast, as in our example, his later work emphasized rhythm and the use of color. He visited Eretz Yisrael briefly in 1925, made aliyah in 1933, and settled in Jerusalem, where he was appointed head of the graphics department of the famed Bezalel School of Art (1949) and where he later served as director (1953-1957).



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Exhibited here are two classic etchings by Hermann Struck of a bearded man examining his fingernails by the light of a Havdalah candle. The drawing on the left is more of an impressionistic outline, while the drawing on the right is more flushed out, showing a man wearing a large kippa illuminated by the flickering light of the candle.

Struck (1876-1944) is considered one of the most important print artists of Germany and Eretz Yisrael in the first half of the 20th century. His favorite artistic technique was copper etching and its related processes, though he also was a master of the lithograph, and his artistic legacy originates from his love of the print medium, as well as from his landscape and portrait drawings. In Die Kunst des Radierens (“The Art of Etching,” 1908), which became a seminal work on etching, he presented his broad knowledge of etching techniques, which he passed on to his students, including Marc Chagall, and (after moving to Eretz Yisrael) Anna Ticho and Nahum Gutman. Though he will always remain renowned for his etching, Struck later turned to the use of color to represent the stark beauty of the Middle East and to better reflect the ever-changing nuances of light in the landscapes of Eretz Yisrael.

Struck, who was born into an Orthodox Berlin family and remained an observant Jew his entire life, often signed his early works with his Hebrew name, Chaim Aaron ben David, accompanied by a Star of David. After completing his studies at the Berlin Academy (1899), he was banned from teaching there because he was Jewish. After joining the Zionist movement at an early age, he visited Eretz Yisrael (1903) and, upon his return to Germany, he stopped in Vienna and had a fateful meeting with Theodor Herzl, a meeting that inspired his now-famous etching portrait of the Zionist leader, which quickly became the most popular, and most copied, image of Herzl. Struck became a fervent Zionist, Jewish activist, and founder of the Mizrachi Religious Zionist party. As the artistic soul of the early Zionist movement, he attended several Zionist Congresses, including a display of his art at the Fifth Congress. After making aliyah and settling in Haifa in 1923, Struck taught at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, participated in a number of important exhibits, and became a founder of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.



Boris Schatz

Exhibited here is a postcard depicting a silver engraving by Boris Schatz depicting a bearded man with his eyes closed holding a wine cup; the caption underneath reads (in Hebrew) “Havdalah.”

Schatz (1866-1932), “the Father of Israeli Art,” is best known as the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Arts, named after Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur, the legendary biblical artist and creator of the Mishkan. He is credited with reviving a Jewish aesthetic consciousness and planting the seeds for artistic culture in Israel, and his vision of arts as a necessary component of Zionism played an important role in Israel’s singular commitment to the arts.

Schatz’s own work, which was heavily influenced by his traditional training in Europe, reflects romanticized, sublime and sentimental visions of Jewish personalities, religious practices and sites in Eretz Yisrael. Jewish art at the time was essentially related to the art of the Diasporan communities where the Jews happened to live, and Schatz changed that by establishing a distinctively Jewish art that employed Jewish themes and designs. Believing that a facility in Jerusalem would serve as a center for his novel Jewish art that would gather talented Jewish art students from around the world, he founded Bezalel to develop and promote an indigenous artistic tradition for Eretz Yisrael.

Schatz sought to express the national ethos through depictions of simple Jews at work and at prayer. Bezalel artists and craftsmen under his tutelage celebrated farmers, road builders and factory workers, and the Bezalel artists became noted for combining their deep feelings for Jewish themes and nationalism with remarkable skill and craftsmanship. He planted the seeds of artistic culture in Israel, and Israel’s extraordinary commitment to the arts is in no small part due to his vision of arts as a necessary component of Zionism.



Joseph Budko

Exhibited here is a classic miniature by Joseph Budko of a lone havdalah candle standing against a night sky. As is his wont, the work is characterized by the extreme contrast between light and darkness, making his central theme all the more prominent.

Budko (1888-1940), who leaned first toward art nouveau and later toward expressionism, created a whole new Jewish iconography ranging from Zionist symbols to representations of the world of the shtetl of his youth. Developing a unique style that synthesized Jewish tradition with a modern artistic approach, he was among an influential group of graphic Jewish artists who embraced the revival of the woodcut, a medium that lent itself perfectly to expressing the views of Israel and Jewish culture in various lands.

Like his teacher and mentor, Hermann Struck, he used the expressive form of the printing methods – etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs – to revive the use of graphic and book illustration in the Jewish art world. Developing a unique fusion of line and form, rhythm and harmony, Budko’s work reflected, and was influenced by, the emergence of early 20th-century Expressionism, which utilized the sharp contrast of black and white and hard, dramatic cuts to express their souls and to turn a small format into a monumental image. He is credited with reviving the spirit of Jewish book illustration, elevating it to modern design.



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Exhibited here is Sabbath-Ausgang (“The Conclusion of the Sabbath”), a classic and characteristic work by Daniel Moritz Oppenheim featuring his magnificent illumination, a hallmark of his work. It depicts a multigenerational family and their guest, a Talmud student, performing the havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat and the return to work; the artist subtly depicts unopened letters on the desk as reminders of the workweek that must wait until the conclusion of Shabbat. The central figures are the father, who is filling the wine cup, and his young son, who is holding high the lit candle, which is the only source of light in the room. The candle beautifully illuminates his mother, who stands with hands clasped together, and his sister, who holds on to her as both look on. Less well-lit are his elderly grandmother sitting to the left and the Talmud student standing next to the mother.

Also exhibited here is a postcard and a Tomor label featuring the same scene. Oppenheimer’s popular work was frequently used on Jewish greeting cards and other materials at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Tomor is a kosher dairy-free margarine made in Germany, and the “Sana-Gessellschaft” (Sana Company) of Kleve Kosher Tomor margarine issued collector promotional labels (circa 1904) illustrating various Jewish scenes with German subtitles. Sana’s parent company was the Van den Bergh Margarine Works, founded by Simon Van der Bergh (1819-1907), a Dutch industrialist and an Orthodox Jew.

Oppenheim (1800-1882), a German painter and printmaker and the first Jewish artist to gain acceptance in non-Jewish artistic circles, remained an observant and committed Jew his entire life and was publicly outspoken about his strong Jewish identity and refusal to convert to Christianity. The focus of much of his Jewish-themed work, which employed tender depictions of Jewish culture, traditions and religious faith, was an exploration of the confrontation between Jewish tradition and the contemporary world as experienced by European Jewry post-emancipation. To preserve and vitalize Jewish identity and to challenge the false impressions of Judaism by his gentile audiences, he emphasized the love and beauty inherent in Jewish life and culture, including portrayals of Jewish ghettos as not only warm places inhabited by kindhearted and mutually supportive Jewish communities but also as pleasant refuges of civility and sanctity.

Oppenheim was always very careful to choose which aspects of Jewish life to focus upon and to portray them to show Jews in a positive light for German audiences. For example, many of his paintings depict the Jewish family surrounded by books and immersed in learning in an effort to combat the common stereotype that Jews were uncultured, and – as in our classic example exhibited here – he often portrays Jewish families as consistent with the German zeitgeist regarding strong family life and morality.



Zvi Malnovitzer (copy).

Exhibited here is Havdalah, by Zvi Malnovitzer. The central focus of the painting is a table lit by the havdalah candles and around which the Rebbe, boldly illuminated to the left, his young son, and three of his chassidim sit. A black-bearded disciple stands behind the Rebbe, and the scene is completed by a group of other chassidim (including one on the left who is singing, perhaps Eliyahu HaNavi) who circle the table.

Malnovitzer (b. 1945) was born to a Bnei Brak family of Gur chassidim, most of whom were murdered during the Holocaust. Much as the central character in Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, he was raised in a society isolated from the modern world where he was dedicated to intensive and uninterrupted Talmudic study from a young age but decided to become an artist. In the process, he became Modern Orthodox in his practice while retaining deep spiritual ties to his charedi community, which is reflected in his art. His expressionist style is inspired by the dark tonalities and fluid brush strokes of de Goya and by the monumental portraiture of Rembrandt, but he uniquely combines European Expressionism with traditional and religious themes, and his hallmark, as evidenced in our exhibit, is close-up paintings of people who bear seemingly simple facial expressions that communicate a dramatic life narrative and emotional depth.



Arieh Allweil

Exhibited here is Havdalah (circa 1920s), an oil-on-panel painting by Arieh Allweil in which he depicts a throng of bearded Jews seemingly stretching back to infinity. They appear to be almost uniformly elderly, with the three central figures at the front, including the man holding the havdalah cup, leaning on canes.

Born in Galicia, Allweil (1901-1967) studied at the art academy in Vienna, where he joined the followers of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. He made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1926, where he became one of the founders of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, the HaMidrasha Art Teachers College, and the Israel Painters and Sculptors Association, and he self-published his books in Hillel, the publishing house he founded.

Original etching of the havdalah ceremony from a late 19th-century Jews in New York newspaper series.

During his first years in Eretz Yisrael, he struggled to adjust to the local light but, over time, he developed his own unique style of landscape painting, working mostly in the soft morning light. His richly colored, pictorial landscape paintings reflect his deep emotional ties to Eretz Yisrael, and his compositions are lyrical tapestries woven of muted earth tonalities that evoke a dreamlike vision of a land rich with biblical references. He also published a series of linoleum cuts of Israeli and biblical subjects, an illustrated Haggadah, and large-scale Holocaust murals. He was awarded the Dizengoff Prize for Painting and Sculpture in 1938.



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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].