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Solid Maple, oil & stain    6' 9" x 11"    2002

Every two years the Spertus Museum (of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, Illinois) selects a different type of Judaica as the theme for its prestigious Philip & Sylvia Spertus Judaica Prize Competition. The mezuzah was selected as the theme of the 2002 contest, and the Institute announced on October 13, 2002 that the monumental entry created by Sandi Knell Tamny, Inscribe Them On The Doorposts Of Your House, had been chosen as the First Prize Winner.    

In the Second Temple Era, the Sh'ma and the V'ahavta were first inscribed on the doorposts of Jewish homes to witness the Covenant. Since then, the mezuzah has evolved into a decorative ritual object containing the scripture, being construed by some as protective more than as an active affirmation.

With this mezuzah, I have returned to the original form of open affirmation by carving the entire Biblical text into the face of a doorpost form using Temple Era script. The process itself, carving each letter into the wood, became ritualistic for me as I could feel my spiritual connection strengthened with each stroke. While the full text is carved on the surface, a traditional kosher klaf has also been placed in a small compartment hollowed in the back of the doorpost.

Research into documented Temple Era stone carvings and artifacts, as well as into Jewish art and artifacts through modern times, has been the conceptual source for the decorative imagery surrounding the text, representing the continuity of the Covenant at the center of our history as a People. This imagery represents creation, continuity and growth through dedication to principle, the path of life, our Covenant with G-d and our wholeness.


The First Image (top image) is comprised of seven circles representing the six days of creation culminating in the center gold circle which is Shabbat. The central image of this section contains the word Shaddai, meaning Almighty, but also used as an abbreviation of the phrase "guardian of the doors of Israel". In the four corners are variations of G-d, based on an ancient amulet and representing the four corners of the Earth or the Cardinal Points - North, South, East and West, showing that G-d is omnipresent.

At the center of the Second Image (lower image) are two pomegranates serving as a symbol of fertility and continuing rebirth. The pomegranate is also said to have 613 seeds, and is representative of the 613 mitzvot. As a pair, surrounded by a gold circle defining a sacred space representing the Shekina - the female presence of G-d, they contain the seeds of enlightenment and attainment of higher consciousness. The two circles of text around the central image are the words of the Sh'ma, surrounded by wreaths of olive leaves symbolizing a wholeness of love and peace. The lotus flowers in the four corners of this section represent the four elemental powers - the earth in which the flower is rooted, the water surrounding the stalk and nourishing the plant, the air needed to sustain its existence, and the fire of the sun from which its life force is drawn.


The Third Image (above left) represents the path of life. The stylized pine cones representing the immortality of the Jewish Spirit are guardians on either side of the central image depicting the four seasons of life - birth, maturity, marriage and death, intertwined with a four-sided figure representing spirit, mind, body and soul, which are the four elements that comprise our presence during the earth life, all depicted in harmony and balance. At the center of this image is a Shin encased in a golden circle, representing the blessing of the Covenant as the center of our existence as a People.

The Star of David at the center of the Fourth Image (above right) is two interwoven triangles. The three-sided triangle symbolizes our Covenant with G-d. The number 1 represents G-d; the number 2 represents humanity; and the number 3 represents the joining of these two in the Covenant. The two triangles placed together are a six-sided figure pointing upward and downward, depicting the joining of Heaven and Earth. The resulting six is also the number of harmony, love and truth. The Star is entwined with three figures representing the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, attesting to continuity with our ancestors. In the center is a teth, which is the number nine - the number of universality, completion, tolerance and selfless service, representing the completion of the cycle, as well as the responsibility to respect our place in this world and our connection to our past. On either side of this section is a pot with an eight-sided flower. The number eight means "as above, so below", and holds within it power and strength.


The twelve golden spokes in the Fifth Image, representing the Twelve Tribes, radiate from a gold circle, the unit of one, which is G-d. The four concentric circles interwoven with the spokes represent the four Kabbalistic Worlds or Planes of Reality, Atziluth - the World of Origin which is the pure idea or G-dhead, Briah - the World of Creation which is the source of patterns of ethical and moral verity, Yetzirah - the World of Formation which is the plane of thought, imagination and design, and Assiah - the World of Expression which is the tangible manifestation of the higher planes. The six circles intertwined around the outside are tokens of love, family, compassion, service, healing and social responsibility, all attributes we strive to make a part of our lives. The four roses in the corners represent the Matriarchs Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah, and commemorate our eternal connection to their creative life force.

The physical piece is solid maple 6 feet 9 inches (206 centimeters) tall by 11 inches (28 centimeters) wide, carved and then finished with translucent oil and aniline dye stains to retain the organic integrity of the wood doorpost in keeping with the original religious instruction.

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