In biblical times, the Israelites believed that God spoke through the prophets and prophetesses. Who were greatly respected; however, the Israelites did not always listen or follow them. The prophets were not fortune tellers but wise people who knew the inevitable results of the nation’s wrongdoings and, most importantly, of religious and moral wrongs, thus guardians of Israel’s spiritual purity and piety. The prophet’s job was to warn the Israelites of danger and foretold God's Majestic and loving plan.
God handpicked the Hebrew prophetesses and prophets to receive the word of God and then required to do The Almighty’s bidding at all costs. They were to warn the Jews to stop backsliding and keep their hope no matter what was happening around them. They were responsible for telling the Jews Who (God) was giving orders, why God was doing it, How, when, and why to achieve these goals, even if not understood. Thus, in essence, they were the spokespeople of God.
And how it was done - by repeating and retelling their stories, a pattern of behavior that continues ongoing even today.
In the Jewish tradition, it is only the Jews who tell “the story over and over from the beginning to end every year, every moment on earth.” One way this is accomplished is by the never-ending weekly reading of the Torah. But in addition to each week’s Parsha or Torah readings, another reading, that of the Haftorah portion, is related to the weekly Torah reading. The Haftorah readings relate events of the Jews getting to the promised land, and importantly, they are mostly told through the prophet’s stories so that even today, we may hear their wise words.
The great heroines of the Hebrew Bible—Sarah Rivkah (Rebecca), Leah, and Rachel—were revered as mothers and wives and as women who carried out God’s will.
Starting with this concept Eliot Lefkovitz (Temple Sholom:125 Years of Living Judaism, 1867-1992, self-published by Temple Sholom) says, the stained-glass windows of Temple Sholom in Chicago narrate scenes of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people as well as their greatest king and greatest prophet. They inspired reverence for the qualities and virtues which these individuals personify. The stained-glass windows provide a visual link to moral and spiritual examples of the past for contemporary people. Their multicolor glow provides a tradition and accentuates Reform Judaism’s emphasis on connecting the present with the Jewish past. In addition, says Lefkovitz, the Temple Sholom windows help the congregation see the world through Jewish eyes.
Stained glass windows have been found in Christian churches dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries. They not only served an aesthetic purpose but also used to tell the stories of the Bible to a largely illiterate population, and as such, the pictures were the message.
Conservative and Reformed synagogues have used stained-glass windows not just to tell religious stories but to honor and give remembrance of those important figures in Jewish history to help convey their spiritual meaning to our lives. They are usually completed by master artisans. Through beauty, we learn the message.
The depictions of the four mothers of the Jewish people are the works of a celebrated female artist Miriam Shapiro. Shapiro developed a personalized technique of assembling glass that allowed for intricate patterns to emphasize unity and difference. For example, her figures are faceless to remind the viewer of their universality, while their brilliant coloring confirms their distinct individuality to form the distinguishing characteristics of each matriarch:
Sarah (Gen. XI-XIII) is a beautiful princess of Haran. Her garments are the most regal and elaborate. She is the wife of Abraham, the mother of Isaac, and the first mother in Judaism. Sarah and Abraham brought the worship of the one God into being, into reality, into daylight, thus, the rays behind her glow. Her striped dress represents the tent in which she and Abraham lived. Sarah was the first of the Four Matriarchs; her name is mentioned in the parental blessing of girls on Sabbaths and holidays.
Rivkah or Rebecca (Gen. XXIV) stands against the night because her life presents years of infertility followed by a difficult pregnancy, twin sons, Esau and Jacob, whose struggles in her womb continued as struggles after their birth. She was the wife of Isaac. The darkness also symbolizes the deceit she practiced upon Isaac. Her skirt opens like a curtain to show the drama of her life. The entwined snake represents her sons, and the birds express wandering. The palm leaves allude to the desert in which she lived.
Leah (Gen. XXIX) stands before a background of daylight, expressing (representing) fertility. She is the daughter of Laban and the first wife of Jacob. She was fertile and became the mother of many tribes, and so is shown here with a central, fecund womb. Her hair is palm leaves, recalling Rivkah, and the stripes of her garment are the stripes of a tent, recalling Sarah.
Rachel (Gen. XXIX) noted for her beauty, is a symbol of sorrow and night. Sorrow about the difficulty she had in conceiving, sorrow for the death of her children. The womb shape is unfilled in her garment. Rachel was the younger daughter of Laban and the wife of Jacob. There are seven stones in her headdress for the seven years Jacob worked to marry her. She eventually gave birth to Joseph and then died while giving birth to Benjamin. The flames in her garment are symbols of wisdom and illumination but can also be seen as the love between Rachel and Jacob. Her life has become a very popular and often retold story.
Rolf Achilles, co-author of The Stained Glass Windows At The Temple Sholom (2001), explains the meaning of using stain-glass windows at Temple Sholom in Chicago. Rolf Achilles is an independent art historian who lives near Temple Sholom. He curated the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, is an adjunct professor of Historic Preservation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently on the board of directors at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum and the Hegeler Carus Mansion.
The women of the Hebrew Bible are truly an amazing group. They are women who possess’ inspirational stories of strength, faith, and courage.
When was Temple Sholom built?
Temple Sholom, 3480 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, an octagonal limestone synagogue was completed in 1930 based on designs by Loebl, Schlossman & Demuth and Coolidge & Hodgdon.
Stained glass windows have been found in Christian churches dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries. They not only served for aesthetic purposes but, they were also used to tell the stories of the Bible to a largely illiterate population, a poor man’s Bible. How are stained glass windows created?
Surviving fragments of sheets of glass from the Romans dating from the 1st-3rd century of CE may have been first used in public buildings. The surviving glass fragments are lightly green glass. Glass is made of sand and almost all sand has traces of iron oxide in it. When the sand is heated to its molten state, the iron oxide tints the resulting glass a translucent light green. The more iron oxide in the sand, the darker the green. Other oxides tint the resulting glass in different colors. For example, cobalt-oxide makes blue-violet glass; cadmium sulfide makes yellow glass; gold chloride makes ruby red glass, selenium makes various shades of pink to red; antimony oxide makes white glass; sulfur makes yellow-amber glass.
Painting on glass was also done by Romans in Syria and then spread through the Empire. It may have been a cold process first, but the paint chipped off. Heating the pigment results in the enameling of color onto the glass so it sticks. Medieval glass with figures is permanently enameled.
The idea that the images were the Bible for the poor assumes the poor had superb eyesight better than we do today to see all those little figures acting out the biblical narrative. More likely is that the small figures were to show the skill of the artists and give the otherwise blank colored glass some action. The figures also helped break up the light that passed through the windows resulting in a dawn to dusk moving light experience inside the building. Often the Medieval capital sculpture also tells a Biblical narrative. In many churches, the narrative sculptures are much closer to the viewer than the windows.
Eliot Lefkovitz says that stained-glass windows provided aesthetic and spiritual enhancement to the temple and beautifully complimented an impressive collection of traditional stained-glass windows already in the temple. In 1980, the artist Archie Rand (who had designed windows for Anshe Emet Synagogue, Chicago) was commissioned to create a new set of stained-glass windows representing the Patriarchs. His windows reflect his deep respect and knowledge of Jewish tradition and he sought to convey in them the spiritual and meaningful lives of the fathers of the Jewish people. When did Temple Sholom become interested in commissioning stained-glass windows representing the Four Mothers of the Jewish people?
The Matriarch windows were commissioned in 1983. They are a collaboration of the artists Miriam Schapiro, designer, and Benoit Gilsoul, glass master. Each window is 81 inches tall by 28 inches wide. The windows are to be viewed from right to left, located in the Stratford corridor inside the building.
There are two ways to create stained glass: the first method uses only the color in the glass and brings the coloring in stained glass. This emphasizes the color in stained glass. The second is combining the color of the glass with the painting on the glass. How was the color of the paints selected? What ingredients were used in the process of making stained glass? How would the artist create a stained-glass window with multiple colors? What is a brief description of creating stained glass?
The colors are selected by the artist and are usually based on what is available from the distributor/warehouse that sells the glass or the company that makes the glass. I mention selected ingredients in my reply on Roman glass. The artist/craftsman combines colors as suits them and their aesthetics.
The process of making a window is rather simple. First, the proposal is usually a small watercolor of the window with its colors/subject. Then a large, one-to-one scaled drawing is made in charcoal showing the lead lines and subjects. The colors of the glass are written in this cartoon. Then the various shapes of the glass pieces on the cartoon are cut out in the thicker paper. This paper becomes the template for the glass cutting. Then all the glass pieces are cut and placed on the cartoon. The lead lines are fitted around the glass and soldered together. The support bracing is added, and the window is set in its frame ready for final installation. This process can take days, weeks, or months depending on size, artist, competency of the craftsmen, and studio.
Judaism and Catholicism have some significant historical and ideological differences, a lot of the stained glass iconography for temples and synagogues varies widely from what you would see in a Catholic church. However, the patterns, figures, and colors are just as beautiful, made more so by the uniqueness of the Jewish-influenced designs. The artist Miriam Shapiro has created a stunning and captivating way to tell the story of each matriarch.
Jewish stained glass art has long been the source of spiritual strength for Temple Sholom. Stained glass for a synagogue serves a symbolic as well as a practical role. The stained-glass acts as a focus for the faith of Jewish worshipers, blocking out the distractions of the outside world and serving as a reminder of eternal truths.
I understand that you helped found (with the Smith Family), and curated the Smith Museum of Stained-Glass Windows, as well as the Macy’s Pedway Collection of Windows. You are also an Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters Glass, London, England, and have been awarded the Freedom of the City of London. You are also an ambassador of the city of Hamburg, Germany for the city of Chicago. Is there any particular stained-glass window you can suggest visitors to see while in Chicago?
Yes, there are many important stained-glass windows in Chicago. The Marc Chagall designed windows in the Art Institute of Chicago are of exceptional importance.