Personal and Family Rituals

Objects documenting the sphere of personal and family rituals in the global Jewish diaspora constitute a prominent aspect of the museum holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. These objects, which are often small and portable were created in different locations around the world, were carried by migrant individuals for generations. While some were donated to the Judah L. Magnes Museum by individual families, the majority were added to the collection through a selective acquisition process. The Strauss Collection, for example, was purchased by The Magnes in 1967.

Personal and family ritual objects unite several aspects of Jewish life. These aspects include the observance of Jewish customs – kasherut, or dietary laws, and the laws of "family purity" (taharat ha-mishpachah) governing marital relationships – the celebration of the Life Cycle – marked by the ritual circumcision of male children and the celebration of the religious adulthood of youth of both sexes (bar and bat mitzvah), by engagement and marriage ceremonies, and by death and burial – and the celebration of the yearly cycle – Sabbath and holidays which mark the Jewish calendar – by individuals and Jewish households.



The thousands of ritual objects in the collection originate from the entire Global Jewish Diaspora, including Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, and present a unique opportunity to study the dynamics of Jewish life from a variety of perspectives. When considering  the social and historical contexts that presided over their making, ritual objects provide new understanding of everyday life, social structures, gender and generational roles, beliefs, practices, Jewish relationships to normative religions, aesthetic currents, and the interactions between the makers of these objects and the individuals and families that commissioned them.

Personal and family rituals are represented in the collection by a wide spectrum of item types including objects relating to the sphere of personal prayer, to life cycle events, to magic beliefs, to the Jewish home, and to the celebration of the Sabbath and other holidays,

While typology is generally uniform across the Diaspora, ritual objects also are different depending on the different personal and family lifestyles across the Diaspora. They thus provide detailed insight into the specific characteristics of the many cultures of the Jews. The dynamic set of behaviors governing the performance of ritual by individuals and entire families within the Jewish home  introduce scholars to the most intimate realms of the Jewish experience across time and space.

An expanding item list (with approximate item counts) includes:

Personal Prayer

  • Head coverings: 50
  • Prayer shawls: 40
  • Tefillin sets: 10
  • Ornamented bags for prayer shawls and tefillin: 200

Life Cycle Events

  • Circumcision sets: 30
  • Wimpel (Torah Binders made from circumcision cloths): 120
  • Wedding clothing (dresses, shoes, head coverings, jewelry): 50
  • Ketubbot: 200
  • Burial and memorial items: 20

Personal and Jewish Home Objects

  • Amulets: 150
  • Mezuzot (doorposts): 100
  • Mizrach plaques: 50
  • Home furnishings: 350

Yearly Cycle

  • Kiddush cups: 50
  • Lamps for the Sabbath and Holidays: 350
  • Hallah covers,table coverings for the Sabbath and Passover Matzah covers: 70
  • Havdallah sets and spice boxes: 60
  • Passover Haggadot: 600
  • Knives (for cutting the Sabbath bread, or hallah): 10
  • Plates for the Passover Seder and other holidays: 100
  • Sukkah decorations: n/a

In-depth descriptions of individual items and item are available in the pages listed below. 

Amulet for newborn children depicting Lilith, inscribed with biblical quotations and kabbalistic formulas listing the letters of the “name of god”Iran, 18th centurySilverJudah L. Magnes Museum ...

Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn childrenCollected in India (before 1976)  Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew square scriptInk on vellum, pasted on stitched ...

The collection, which was donated to The Magnes in 2011, includes objects collected and photographs taken in Djerba, Tunisia by Keren T. Friedman. After training as an ...

Painted manuscript of the Book of Esther, rolled for use on the holiday of Purim. The Hebrew text, in Ashkenazi squared Hebrew script (without Masoretic punctuation), is set in 15-line sections ...

The Haggadah (Heb. הגדה, "narrative;" pl. haggadot) is a Jewish text performed at the Passover Seder, a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Festival of Passover (Heb. פסח). The Seder ...

Passover textiles include specially designed covers for the matzah (Heb. מצה; Yiddish matsoh), the unleavened bread eaten during the Passover Seder, and pillow cases used to cover pillows on ...

The detailed description of Jewish ceremonial customs by Kirchner, a Jewish convert to Christianity, first published in 1717, was re-edited by the Christian Hebraist, Sebastian Jugendres ...

  Knives of different size and shape (and their cases) are used for ritual purposes,such as cutting bread (challah) at festive meals, ritual slaughtering (shechitah) of animals ...

A "Torah binder" is a Jewish ceremonial textile used to keep a Torah (Hebrew Bible) scroll closed tightly when it is not being used for synagogue reading. In some Jewish communities in ...