Judaica: How, What & WhyThe Concept of Hiddur Mitzvah By Karen Akst Schecter
Why Judaica as an art form?
Judaism, like many of the world’s religions, is intrinsically beautiful, and we want our relationship with the Almighty to be just as beautiful. Judaica – Jewish ceremonial art used for ritual purposes – embodies the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah: to beautify the Almighty’s commandments or mitzvot by performing them with especially beautiful objects (Exodus 15:2).
While observing ritual is of course a mitzvah, enhancing a mitzvah by making the effort to create or use the most beautiful ceremonial object in its performance is in turn a mitzvah in and of itself. Hiddur Mitzvah calls for the performance of a commandment in all its “glory” and “beauty,” or, put more simply, it embodies the principle of enhancing a mitzvah through aesthetics.
It is said that the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah derives from a verse from Exodus 15:2: “This is my God and I will glorify Him.” Rabbi Ishmael commented:
“Is it possible for a human being to add glory to his Creator? What this really means is: I shall glorify Him in the way I perform mitzvot. I shall prepare before Him a beautiful lulav, a beautiful sukkah, beautiful tsitsit (the fringes on a tallit), and beautiful tefilin.” [Midrash Mechilta, Shirata, chapter 3, ed. Lauterbach, p. 25.]
So why do we call ourselves “The Aesthetic Sense: Goods for the Soul”?
In the Torah, Bezalel, who was called upon to design the temple, is described as a person filled with the Spirit of God, “in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship.” (Shemot 35:31). He was chosen because of his unique combination of wisdom and aesthetic sense, because he possessed both the practical skills of a technician and the spiritual sense of an artist.
The Almighty gave Bezalel the aesthetic sense. And it is good for the soul.
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