Illustrated Ushpizin (guests) Plaque, Gross Family Collection, 1930
This is a plaque for hanging in a Sukkah. It depicts the seven ushpizin or guests who are traditionally invited into the Sukkah. These guests are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. The plague includes the names of these guests as well as illustrations of various Jewish symbols.
In the centre of the plaque is the Temple with the Western Wall depicted beneath the Holy of Holies. The main highlighted text at the top of the plaque reads: “I invite to my meal the illustrious guests,” and is followed by a verse from Psalm 113: “From the rising of the sun until its setting, the name of the Lord is praised.”
Above the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are illustrations of the animals they are compared to in the Mishnah and the actual quote from Pirkei Avot: Abraham is “as bold as a leopard,” Isaac “as light as an eagle,” Jacob “as fleeting as a deer,” and Joseph “as mighty as a lion.” Moses and Aaron are not given an illustration, while King David’s name is written above the picture of the Temple. Below the pictures of the lion and the eagle are two more illustrations: the first portrays the sacrifice of Isaac with the altar, knife, and ram; the second shows a set table under a tree and a house with an open door, possibly a depiction of Abraham’s hospitality. The texts along the base of the plaque are the prayers recited as each guest is invited into the Sukkah and when they leave.
According to the Torah, the festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) has two central commandments: the first is living in a temporary dwelling (Sukkah) for seven days (or eight days outside of Israel); and the second is waving the Four Species (Arba’at HaMinim) and making a blessing over them on each day of the festival. During the festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), Jews are commanded to leave their permanent homes and live in temporary dwellings (Sukkot) for seven days. The purpose of the Sukkah is to provide shade, and it must therefore, according to Jewish law, be constructed under the sky. The walls can be made of any material providing they are secure, and the roof covering (schach) must provide more shade than light during the day but with enough gaps to see the stars at night.
The tradition of ushpizin was started by the Kabbalists around the sixteenth century.
Teachers of Jewish Studies could use this plaque to teach about the tradition of ushpizin and the reasons for inviting these specific symbolic guests to the Sukkah. It could also be interesting to discuss the illustrations in the plaque and what they symbolize.
Art teachers could compare this plaque to others from different time periods and have students produce their own modern-day plaque.
What illustrations appear on the plaque?
Which well-known Jewish characters are mentioned on the plaque?
Reading Between the Lines
What is this plaque?
When would it have been used?
What does it signify?
Why do the names of these particular people appear on this plaque?
What is the significance of the illustrations on this plaque?
The plaque is traditionally hung in the Sukkah.
What else is hung in the Sukkah and why?
At what other times during the Jewish year is it traditional to invite guests?
Choose seven guests to invite to your Sukkah.
Who would they be and why would you choose them?
Create your own ushpizin plaque with the names of your own seven guests and your own illustrations.