Sukkot, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1867
This picture by the German-Jewish painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim depicts a Jewish family celebrating the festival of Sukkot in Frankfurt. The family is seated inside the Sukkah, while outside, two blonde children (possibly non-Jews) with satchels on their backs are peering in curiously. Also pictured outside of the Sukkah is a maid bringing the family a tureen of food.
The Sukkah is made of wood and is elaborately decorated with lanterns, floral wreaths, and even curtains. Of special note are the Christmas ornaments hanging from the roof of the Sukkah.
According to the Torah, the festival of Sukkot 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 festivalDuring 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.
Moritz Daniel Oppenheim was born in Hanau, Germany in 1800. He was one of the first recognised modern Jewish artists. He lived in the era of the Emancipation when many Jewish families were rapidly assimilating. Oppenheim, nonetheless, painted a number of portraits of traditional Jewish families performing various religious ceremonies. He also painted middle-class Germans.
Jewish Studies teachers could use the picture as an introduction to the festival of Sukkot. It could also be used to study the commandments and the different customs regarding building a Sukkah.
Jewish History teachers could use the picture to teach about the Emancipation and Jewish life in nineteenth-century Germany. In Art lessons the decorations, clothing, spaces, and people’s expressions could be analysed and students asked to think about how they would represent their own Sukkot.
Describe what you see in the picture.
Who are the people and what are they doing?
Describe the objects in the photograph (for example, the clothing, decorations, etc.).
Describe the people’s facial expressions.
Reading Between the Lines
What time of year does this picture represent?
Is this picture representative of German Jewry at the time? If so, in what way?
Can you see people from different class backgrounds in the painting? Explain.
Does your family build a Sukkah? If not, is there a communal Sukkah in your synagogue?
In what ways is your (or your synagogue’s) Sukkah similar or different?
What message do you think the artist wanted to convey in this painting?
Draw or build a model of a Sukkah that represents your city or country.
Relate to outside factors such as buildings, society, and the general population.
Write a letter to one of the children peeking into the Sukkah in this painting.
Explain to him what he is seeing.