Mizrach, Bukhara, late nineteenth century
This is a “Mizrach,” a poster often hung on the walls of Jewish homes and synagogues to indicate east, the direction of prayer facing Jerusalem. This Mizrach was made in Bukhara, a city in Uzbekistan.
The colourful poster includes many illustrations and texts. The central illustration of the sun features a verse from Psalms 113:3:
ממזרח שמש עד מבואו מהולל שם ה
From the rising of the sun until its setting, the name of the Lord is praised.
The poster shows an image of the Ten Commandments with the cherubim on both sides. Below this is a picture of the Kotel (Western Wall) with men and women praying next to it. On either side of the Kotel are two lions which may represent the symbol of the city of Jerusalem. On the left of the Kotel, there is a picture of Aaron, the High Priest, standing in his ritual clothing in front of the Menorah. Above the picture of Aaron is a biblical verse written in Hebrew and translated, perhaps into German. Above this is a depiction of the biblical scene of the Akedat Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac). To the right of the Kotel is Moses, standing with the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Behind him is a modern Torah scroll. Strangely, Moses is depicted with horns on his head. Above the picture of Moses is a biblical verse written in Hebrew and translated into German, and above this is a depiction of the biblical scene of Moses standing next to water flowing from a rock (most likely the episode at Mei-Merivah – the Waters of Strife – as described in the book of Numbers).
A banner above the image includes the traditional symbols of the twelve tribes. In the middle of these symbols there is a crown engraved with the Hebrew words כתר תורה – the crown of Torah.
Along the bottom of the poster are a number of biblical quotes and prayers (from left to right):
Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Your servants take delight in its stones and cherish its dust.(Psalms 102:15)
Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
The two quotes above Moses and Aaron seem to be translated, perhaps into Bukhori, a Jewish dialect spoken by Bukhari Jews.
The poster is ripped in a number of places and seems to be in bad condition. It is possible that this Mizrach once appeared in a book, as it seems to have been folded down the middle.
The custom of hanging Mizrach plaques in Ashkenazi homes originated in the eighteenth century. In some cases the "Mizrach" was combined with the "Shiviti", a picture which includes the verse that begins with the word Shiviti – "I have set the Lord always before me." They are hung to show the direction of prayer. Despite living far away, the focus of Jewish prayer was on Jerusalem, the Holy City in the East. Sometimes Mizrach plagues would also be used as decoration for the walls of the Sukkah. These decorative images became an art form.
The Jewish community in Bukhara, central Asia, is a very old community, in fact, one of the oldest ethno-religious groups of Central Asia. The Bukharan Jews are said to have settled in Bukhara as early as King Cyrus’s reign. Over the years they developed their own distinct culture, although they were also influenced by Jews from other Eastern countries such as Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Morocco who also migrated into the area (usually via the Silk Road).
During the eighteenth century, Bukharan Jews faced considerable discrimination and persecution. The Jews were forced to convert, and the Bukharan Jewish population decreased to the point of near extinction.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, remaining Bukharan Jews began to move to the Land of Israel. The area where they settled in Jerusalem was named the Bukharan Quarter, and it still exists today. There is also a large community of Bukharan Jews in America.
This artwork can be used in Jewish History lessons when learning about the rich history of Bukharan Jewry or the connection between Diaspora Jews and Jerusalem.
Art teachers can use this in lessons on Jewish art and Judaica and religious art in general.
In Bible lessons, the resource can be used to refer to the various biblical verses and images.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this resource when teaching about prayer.
What is this?
What language is it written in?
What is its purpose?
When do you think it was created?
Where would you find this?
What images or characters can you see on it?
Reading Between the Lines
What is the purpose of Mizrach plaques?
How are Mizrach plaques usually designed?
Where are these plaques placed?
Look carefully at how Moses is depicted. What seems strange? Why do you think he is depicted in this way?
Notice the condition of the Mizrach poster. Why do you think it is like this?
Why do you think the illustrator chose to put these particular images on the plaque?
Is this Mizrach poster representative of Bukharan Jewish culture? Why, or why not?
Have you ever seen a Mizrach plaque before? If so, describe the ones you have seen. Are they similar or different to this one?
Compare this Mizrach to another Mizrach from Poland. What is similar or different?
Design a Mizrach sign for the Bukharan community in either Israel or America. Draw your design and explain why you chose the design.