Shiviti From Damascus, Syria

This Shiviti with menorah on glass is from the Asakalian Synagogue in Damascus

The Sephardic Heritage Museum houses thousands of artifacts that relate back to Jewish life in Syria and the surrounding areas. Until the founding of the state of Israel almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. At its highest point, more than 25,000 Jews lived in Syria.

This intricately handwritten shiviti inscription contains believed segulot and amulets for protection. The shiviti is painted in gold leaf and hung in the almost 3000 year old Jobar Synagogue in Damascus, Syria. SHM archivists have dated it to the back to 1850s. The shiviti comes from a passuk that says “shiviti Hashem lenegdi tamid,” meaning “I place Hashem in front of me always.” It has been a custom in synagogues throughout the world and for many hundreds of years to hang this passage up to remind a worshiper of this concept. It is sometimes designed together with a menorah shape, and a paragraph of Tehilim is usually inscribed around it.

The kabbalists observed that Psalm 67 has a sentence structure such that it may be said to figuratively represent a lamp-stand. The first verse is the title, and it stretches across the entire stand, marking out the burning lamps. Of the actual text which follows, the fourth, middle verse is the longest, and represents the middle trunk and the long supporting shaft. The first and seventh are the next longest, and represent the long outer branches. The remaining inner branches are of equal word length.

In the 18th and 19th centuries this tradition turned into a whole branch of Judaic art.