Sabbath Hanging Lamp (Judenstern)

Star-shaped hanging lamps like this one were traditionally used in Jewish homes on Sabbath eve.

Unknown Maker

During the Middle Ages many rooms in houses and castles all over Europe were illuminated by star-shaped hanging oil lamps. These lamps consisted of a shaft from which was suspended a star-shaped container for oil and wicks. A catch basin for overflow fuel was usually hanging from the lamp. Similar hanging lamps with the star-shaped container replaced by a simpler round basin could be found throughout Europe's many churches. The star-shaped lamps were used in both Gentile and Jewish homes during the Middle Ages. The form of these lamps was based on the forms of Roman oil lamps. In Jewish communities the lamps were used ritually, for Sabbaths and Havdalahs.

After the 15th century the star-shaped lamps that had been very popular in so many homes were only being used in Jewish homes. This is partly the result of changes in fashion and the development of wax candles that were easier to use than oil lamps, and partly a result of a difference in hanging on to traditions between Gentile and Jewish communities. Because of the strong sense of tradition that dominates Jewish life the star-shaped hanging lamps became more and more associated with Jewish homes. The lamps were used well into the modern era and they became so strongly associated with Jewish life that they received the name Judenstern (Jewish Star) at some point during the 16th century. In most homes the hanging lamp was only used on Sabbath eve when it would be lowered over the table (by means of a saw-like attachment) where the family would gather to have their Friday night meal. "When the lamp is lowered all sorrows are fled" or "Lamp' herunter, Sorg' hinauf." (The lamp is lit, and sorrows flit.)

One master craftsman who is known to have designed several hanging Sabbath lamps in the late seventeenth century was Valentin Schueler of Frankfurt-am-Main. One magnificent Judenstern was fashioned by him in the late 17th century in the form of a fountain. Between the columns of the fountain there are figures holding objects that are associated with the Sabbath and the Festivals. Most Jews had hanging lamps made of brass. During the last two hundred years candles have become the Sabbath lights and the hanging lamps have gradually disappeared from Jewish homes.

Name: Sabbath Hanging Lamp (Judenstern)
Artist: Unknown Maker
Origin: Germany, 19th Century
Medium: Brass
Dimensions: 15 3/8 in.x 9 13/16 in.
Credit: Museum Purchase, Special Gift of Mrs. Kate Kaplan
Catalog Number: 76.62 a-d