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Tempest About a Teapot

iiTDIn4hThere is an album of photos showing an amazing teapot on Reddit. Popchassid took the post from Reddit and turned it into a blog post. The teapot is pretty incredible. It has a bunch of compartments that hid several ritual items used in orthodox Judaism.

The owner of the teapot says this about the teapot: “I got this from grandfather before he died. First used by hidden Jews during the inquisition, it is shaped like a teapot, but contains many secret Judaica pieces. The Hidden Synagogue.

The problem is that there is no way this teapot dates back to the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was in 15th century Spain. One of the ritual items in the teapot is a dreidle. Many people are familiar with dreidle. They are a Jewish version of teetotums. Jews have played dreidle on Chanukah for at most a few hundred years. The word dreidle is Yiddish and it refers to the turning of the top.

Traditionally, teetotoums were played around Christmastime. That started in Eastern Europe a few centuries ago. We borrowed the game and made it work for Chanukah. No harm in that. But a tradition subsequently emerged that dreidle was played ever since the rabbis established the holiday of Chanukah. There is no evidence to support this claim.

The Inquisition targeted Sephardic Jews. I am sure many Sephardic Jews used clever ways to disguise their practice of Judaism. It is possible that they may have used teapots to disguise their rituals. However, there is no tradition of dreidle among Sephardic Jews. There is no word for dreidle in a language other than Yiddish. Ergo, it is entirely improbable that a dreidle is in a teapot that dates back to the Inquisition.

My great-uncle has a boat that also has all the rituals hidden inside it. I don’t think that he claims that the boat was a disguise from persecution, I think it was just a cool way of incorporating Judaism into art. In other words, it’s possible that this teapot was not actually made or ever used to hide Jewish practices. It was an art form and it was for the sake of art.

It’s an amazing piece of Jewish history, a true treasure. But let’s be careful to separate fact from fantasy.

Link: Reddit


19 Comments
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  • RRand

    Sevivon

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      That’s a new word. I should have been more precise.

    • MarkSoFla

      That’s modern Hebrew.

    • Boris Tuman

      That word was invented by Ben Yehuda’s son.

  • MarkSoFla

    Here is another example of an item that contains many Jewish ritual artifacts hidden inside it. This one contains pretty much all of them. For some reason they didn’t list the lulav holder (and a few other items that I may have forgotten), but I saw this one completely taken apart piece by piece a few months ago.

    http://davidmoss.com/projects/tree-of-life-shtender/

  • Shragi

    I would imagine it’s Russian. It’s a Jewish version of the Russian Egg

  • http://popchassid.com/ Elad Nehorai

    I don’t think he was implying that this particular item was from the Inquisition, but I think his wording made it a bit confusing, which is why in my original post about the subject I didn’t clarify that (which I later edited). After some commenters pointed it out, though, it became clear that it wasn’t from the Inquisition. Unfortunately, the myth is out to an extent. However, some folks have come forward with different theories as to its origin. I really hope we can figure it out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shalom.morris.7 Shalom Morris

    There are a series of candlesticks in the ‘Little Synagogue’ at Shearith Israel, the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue in NY (www.shearithisrael.org). The congregation dates back to colonial days, though the currently used synagogue building on 70th street was completed in 1897. Part of that construction included a small sanctuary for daily services which meant to recreate what the congregation’s first synagogue may have looked like when it was built in 1730 in the Wall St section of Manhattan. Several of the furnishings actually date back to the 1730 synagogue including the reader’s desk (tevah), benches, perpetual lamp (ner tamid), Omer counter and Ten Commandments. However, the items thought to be the earliest are the candlesticks which surround the Hazzan, likely predating the 1730 building. What is unique about them is that their design contains three ritual objects; a candle, a cup, and a small dish. The objects could serve the purpose of the havdalah ceremony at the conclusion of Shabbat (though are never actually used for that); the dish for the use of besamim (incense). The objects though are ‘hidden’ in plain sight as pieces of the larger candlesticks to reflect how Jews had to bury their identity while living as Catholics. That being said it is doubtful that these candles actually date back to post expulsion Spain or Portugal but are rather an artists creation to evoke memories of that painful period for the Portuguese descendant founders of America’s first congregation. Perhaps the same can be said of this tea cup; it is likely more artistic than authentic Converso design.

  • Naftoli Haryayin

    Great forensic analysis of this piece. But even if this particular teapot or your uncle’s boat were created for whimsy, they do raise an interesting question as to why objects of this kind were created in the first place. Personally, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me that a modular work like the teapot might have evolved from earlier attempts to conceal and preserve Judaica during times of persecution. Then again, I can imagine a few other possible origins. Perhaps these objects were a compact and convenient way to store religious objects during periods of extensive travel and migration? Or, perhaps they were pedagogical tools used to educate children and family about religious ritual? Whatever the answer, the teapot and your article are are catalysts for further thought about the functional utility of decorative arts (as opposed to fine arts).

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      It’s just art. The guy who makes them is still alive. There might be some latent portability complex, but that is not the intent.

  • myiuki

    Yup, this was created by yossi swed. Another teapot, made in silver not silver in bronze, can be found here: http://imgur.com/a/2bVY4

  • http://evolvingjew.wordpress.com/ Philo

    You’re absolutely right. But the point isn’t that the word “dreidel” is Yiddish. It’s that נ, ג, ה, and ש stand for yiddish words related to gambling (and not “nes gadol…”). In inquisitorial Spain, they would never have put that on a top, even if they did ascribe religious significance to that top.

    However, the teapot may still be old, and the added letters could have come later. But it seems unlikely that it was usused by crypto-Jews.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      It’s not old. It’s been completely debunked. See the new post on PopChassid.

  • Malki Zee

    One man makes a blog post you don’t like so you make one that someone else might not like. The world is a circle.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      I don’t know what you are talking a out or to whom you are talking. And no, the world is not a circle.

  • http://twitter.com/theburack theburack

    I cant believe no one commented on your point that it’s borrowed from teetotum….where is your chareidi readership!

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      By now they know it too…

  • JOE_THE_PROFESSOR

    The great historian of Spanish-Jewish history, Cecil Roth, once observed that there are factories turning out supposed ‘Maranno artifacts’ by the car-load. This inspired the following story:
    A wealthy Jewish couple was sight-seeing in Spain with the help of a guide. Seeing that that were Jewish, the guide saw an opportunity. “My ancestors were Jewish and practiced Judaism secretly for many generations. Our family had many treasured objects from this period, but, alas, during the terrible times of the Civil War we were forced to sell most of them to put bread on the table. We held on to one very special object, but now, my daughter is getting married so I am prepared to sell it.” He takes out a grogger. “This is just a Purim noise-maker; what’s so special?”
    “Try it”. The tourist spins it but it makes not a sound.”You see, they took out the teeth so the inquisition wouldn’t hear that they were Klapping Haman”.”