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Torah crown symbol meaning

The Scrolls of the Law that contain the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch) are a central part of the Jewish faith and the synagogue.  In fact, these holy scrolls, handwritten on parchment according to centuries old traditions and laws are the kingpin of Jewish worship, and as such, are considered Holy and revered.

Did you know?  The Torah Crown is the oldest recorded Torah ornament, first mentioned by medieval Jewish theologian, rabbi and scholar Rabbi Hai Sherira (HaGaon) in the 11th century CE.

It is thought that the original Torah crowns derived from the ancient custom of crowning the individual who was called up to read the final portion of the Torah cycle during the Simchat Torah festival.

Then, as now, they were used to decorate the poles used to carry the Torah parchment.  The original decorations are thought to have been objects taken from the community’s environment to decorate the poles.  It was later on in the 12th century that we first hear of Torah crowns made from silver and gold and specifically decorating the scrolls in a document found in the Cairo genizah describing the religious practices of the Aleppo Jewish community

The first pictorial depiction a Torah crowns come to us from Sarajevo Haggadah which, despite its name, originates in 14th-century Spain.  

The Torah Crown in Judaism

The Hebrew work for crown, Keter, appears in many medieval Jewish texts.  From the 16th century CE, it also began to take on importance as a religious symbol depicted in many areas of Jewish ceremonial art and ornamentation and especially as the top or crowning ornament of the Torah scrolls. Usually taking on the form of a European king’s crown is often shown as being carried by lions (the Lion of Judah perhaps).  Similar decorations are often found on the upper portions of the embroidered curtains in front of the synagogues Ark which contains copies of the Torah.

The ornate Torah crown is designed to crown the Torah bath physically as well as spiritually and to emphasize and accentuate its supremacy.  The designs traditionally incorporate a series of symollocally significant elements that reflex and relate to the values attributed to the Torah.  These symbols are often arranged in a manner that flows upwards, thus focusing the viewer’s gaze from the more solid structures at the base of the crown and drawing it upwards to more airy, ephemeral elements at the top.  Thus the viewer’s awareness is directed from the world of everyday reality, to the spiritual world.

golden Torah crown pendant

The Torah Crown in Jewish writing and the Kabbalah

Just as the Shabbat is the Bride so the Torah is the king, the system of beliefs, ethics and morality that is supreme and above all other things.  Thus the use of crown symbolism refers not just to the “topo” of the Torah scrolls but also to Gods supremacy, the very word of God.  As such, the crown symbol appears in many early Jewish manuscripts attesting to God’s power.  One examples is the Pesikta Rabbati, a collection of sermons on the lessons of the Bible compiled sometime around 845 CE: "When the crown arrives, all of the soldiers above shudder and roar like a lion Pesikta Rabbati, Part 1, Verse 20.

One of the most potent symbols of the Kabbalah is the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life consists of 10 symbols (known as Sephirot – see our article on the Tree of Life here) that represent the 10 attributes of God’s power and the Creation.  The symbols are arranged in a diagram from the most important at the top with those of lesser importance below.  The uppermost symbol, and therefore the most significant is the Keter, the crown – which represents God’s unseen core and all that which is beyond our comprehension.

Other interpretations of the crown Sephira see it as representing the Eternal God: "That which was, is and will be."

In the Kabbalah as taught by Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (Ha'ARI –1534 -1572), the crown is seen as representing the “holy spark” that is an integral part of God’s creation and as God created all things, so everything has the holy spark.

Over time, and since the first graphic depictions of the Tree of Life and the 10 Sephirot in the 16th. Century CE, they have become an increasingly important and central aspect of popular modern practical Kabbalah.  In popular representations of the Tree of Life, its roots are depicted as being planted in the Crown which suggests its proximity to God and all that is divine.

 

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