While the word "crown"
figures prominently in medieval Jewish literature, it was not before
the late sixteenth century that it assumed an independent role as a
symbol in Jewish art. The crown that has become a central motif in Jewish
art during recent centuries is similar in form to the crowns of the
kings of Europe. It is extremely common on ceremonial objects related
to the Torah scroll and is often portrayed as being borne by lions or
hovering over them in the upper section of the embroidered curtains
for the holy ark, or of the symbolic compositions on breastplates and
holy arks in synagogues. The most common of all are the three-dimensional
Torah crowns, usually made of precious metals, sometimes decorated with
semi-precious and precious stones. Torah crowns of this type were used
primarily in Central and Eastern Europe beginning in the seventeenth
|Torah Crown, Poland 1695
Sir Isaac & Lady Wolfson Museum,
Heichal Shlomo, Jerusalem
crown, designed to draw attention to the loftiness of the Torah and
to crown it both physically and spiritually, includes a variety of formal
designs of special symbolic significance, related to the values of the
Torah itself. Many of these design compositions from the seventeenth
century were influenced by the baroque style. Some of these are arranged
in layers, with organic transitions from one shape to the next and strict
attention to the harmonious integrity of the whole. The structures merge
upwards into one another, giving the compositions a feeling of ascent
from heavier elements near the base, to light airier ones at the top.
The most common of the many formal and symbolic motifs in these layers
are the eagle, the lion, the zodiac and botanical motifs such as the
Tree of Life. The composition sometimes ends at the top with a bird
next to a stream of running water. The decorative composition on the
three-dimensional crowns also includes additional crowns which divide
the design into registers.
|Tree of Sefirot, illustration
from manuscript of Pardes Rimmonim ("Orchard
of Pomegranates") book of Kabbalah written by Rabbi
Cordovero, Italy, 16th century.
The use of these decorative
designs is undoubtedly based on more than merely aesthetic considerations
or the desire to glorify the Torah. The expression "crown of Torah, crown
of priesthood and crown of royalty," which sometimes appears alongside
the visually portrayed crowns, hints at the deeper and broader symbolism of
the crown motif. Rabbinic literature linked the crown to the Divine Presence.
The verse, "When the crown arrives, all of the soldiers above shudder
and roar like a lion,"[*]
evokes associations of Godly power.
In the Kabbalah,
the crown stands for the first sefirah (emanation of God's hidden essence).
Scholars of the Kabbalah disagree on the meaning of this sefirah. Some
believe sit headed the system of sefirot and approached infinity. Others
regard it as infinity itself, devoid of any element of activity. According
to this view, the first sefirah is the One, the Eternal, "which
was, is and will be." The system of mystical hit'nozezuyot (sparks
of light) mentioned in the Kabbalah sees wisdom as coming from the crown.
the sixteenth century, Kabbalistic literature has made extensive use
of the Tree of Sefirot, symbolizing divine activity, as a graphic
device. Graphic depictions of the Tree of Sefirot became one
of the fundamental components of practical and popular Kabbalism. Likened
to the Tree of the World and the Tree of Life, which generate the divine
powers needed by Creation, the roots of the Tree are planted in the
uppermost sefirah, which is the crown. It appears then that the
crown accrued heavy symbolism as a result of this status of proximity
to the divine, to that which cannot be figuratively portrayed in monotheistic
In summary, we may say that the diversity of the crown's symbolic associations
can be explained by ideas which were influenced by Jewish mysticism
and by its attempts to come to terms with the complex relationship between
God and His creations.