Skip to Main Content
In Judaism, the concept of hiddur mitzvah is about beautifying the commandments, making religious acts or rituals as beautiful as possible. Jewish customs dictate that certain objects—special Hanukkah menorahs, ceremonial Torah adornments, and the like, are kadosh, or holy, created and set aside for specific purposes.
“The idea behind all of this art is that you use it,” says Rabbi Debbie Pine, executive director of Hopkins Hillel.
Johns Hopkins is once again home to a stunning collection of such ceremonial pieces, many of them 19th-century silver and brass works of art, now on permanent display in the Smokler Center for Jewish Life in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building.
The objects, approximately 95 in all, were originally given to the university by Baltimore clothing magnate Henry Sonneborn, to be used for research and teaching. Over the years, though, the collection was inexplicably put into storage and eventually scattered among various locations, including the Sonneborns’ synagogue, Temple Oheb Shalom.
Today, with a burgeoning program in Jewish studies, another in Museums and Society, and a home for Hopkins Hillel, the time had come to bring the Sonneborn Collection back to its intended home at Johns Hopkins. Jackie O’Regan, curator of cultural properties, Museums and Society associate director Elizabeth Rodini, and Jewish Studies director Steven David worked to reacquire the objects, including the beautiful pieces pictured here.
More than 100 years since a beautiful collection of Jewish ceremonial pieces was given to the university, it is now on permanent display in the Smokler Center for Jewish Life. Among the items is this silver 19th-century Etrog box, made to resemble the yellow citron that is used during the week-long fall harvest holiday of Sukkot.