Letter from the Editor

Stones appear to have a special character in Jewish tradition. In the Bible, the holy altar upon which the ancient Israelite brings an offering to God is, in fact, a simple pile of stones. Abraham binds his son upon a stone which legend associates with Even Hashtiyah, the foundation stone of the world. Jacob erects a monument of stones at the holy spot where he dreams his famous dreams.

The Decalogue is delivered on tablets of stone. Viewed by many Jews as the most sacred shrine in Judaism, the remaining wall of the Second Temple (the Kotel, known also as the Wailing Wall) is, too, no more than a pile of stones. Although it has become common practice in Israel today to place flower wreaths on graves, for many centuries stones were placed instead of flowers, suggesting permanence and stability in the face of death.

Most importantly, God Himself is referred to in the Torah and in the liturgy as our "rock and deliverer." Writes Prof. Nahum Sarna: "The adamantine quality of rock made it a symbol of firmness. Rocky heights gave a defender an advantage over a would-be assailant stationed below, and its clefts afforded shelter. For these reasons, a rock became a symbol of permanence, stability, defense and refuge; and hence an appropriate epithet of God when called upon to exercise those qualities."[*]

The author of Psalms, addresses God as his rock and deliverer, evoking God's strength and protection in the face of arrogant, dangerous men.

In this seventh edition of the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, Prof. James Kugel looks at interpretations regarding the rock which Moses smote to draw water for the Israelites. The midrash and a modern poet offer differing views of the victory of David over Goliath, achieved with a sling and a handful of pebbles. Archaeologist Prof. Rachel Hachlili looks at the changing attitudes towards synagogue art, focusing on mosaic floors in ancient synagogues.

We read a short selection from S.Y. Agnon's short story, On One Stone, in which a mystic gives up his writings to a rock. An unpublished 14th-century manuscript reveals the virtues of the 12 precious gems implanted in the ancient Israelite's priest hoshen mishpat (breastplate). And with great pleasure we read of the magical worm, the Shamir — barely the size of a grain of barley, who helped prepare the quarry stones for building the Temple.

[*] On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, Nahum M. Sarna. Schocken Books, 1993. [Back]



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