Observance of the Sabbath includes respect and honor for the sanctity of the day, as well as its enjoyment. Sabbath observance is one of the central commandments of the Jewish way of life: "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8)"; "And call the Sabbath a delight and the holy of the Lord honorable (Isaiah 58:13)."
"How does one sanctify the Sabbath? By food, drink, and clean clothing." Rabbi Yohanan said that this teaches us that a person should have two sets of clothing, one for weekdays and one for the Sabbath (Pesikta Rabbati 23). The observance of the Sabbath, therefore, is bound up with special traditions regarding food and drink, fine utensils, and clothing of appropriate quality.
On Friday evening before sundown, Jewish women light Sabbath candles. Sabbath lights take many forms: hanging lamps, candlesticks for wax candles (cat. no. 48), and sconces attached with oil fonts or candle holders (cat. nos. 49-50, 239). Some of these resemble Hanukkah lamps, and there are also special lamps intended for dual use on the Sabbath or Hanukkah (cat. nos. 148, 150-154, 156-157).
The Kiddush ("sanctification") precedes the Friday night meal and is recited over a cup of wine. Kiddush cups are usually made of silver, sometimes inscribed with words in honor of the Sabbath or a dedicatory inscription (cat. nos. 51-59).
The end of the Sabbath is marked by the Havdalah (separation) ceremony, with its blessings over wine, candle and fragrant spices or herbs. Various forms of plants are used for the blessing over spices. Among them is the hadas – Hebrew for myrtle branch and also the spice box.
Spice boxes have assumed a great variety of forms, and many of these are included in the collection (cat. nos. 60-100). The most popular of these is the tower-form. The Havdalah ceremony and the spice box are also known from illustrated texts. These are often found in Passover Haggadot alongside the blessing pronounced at the Havdalah ceremony, when the conclusion of the Sabbath coincides with Passover Eve. Only a handful of the earliest tower-form spice boxes are extant today. One example is a wooden havdalah candle holder from the13th or 14th century, which has tower-shaped arms and a container in the form of a drawer with compartments. Legal records from 16th-century Frankfurt am Mein, Germany, document the lawsuit filed by a Jewish customer against a silversmith who made a spice box which failed to conform to the particular tower-form model which the customer had ordered.
Some tower-form spice boxes exhibit details of urban life and architecture, with waving flags on their spires, clocks, and guards, as in an early example from the 16th century, which was lost in the Holocaust.
A number of theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the tower-form: that it derives from medieval towers in which precious spices from the East were stored, that it is an adaptation of the church vessel, or a form deriving from a verse in the Song of Songs. One spice box in the collection (cat. no. 68) is adorned with a Hebrew inscription, signifying that the tower represents the Temple and Jerusalem.
In general, tower-form spice boxes are fairly uniform in their proportional structure and in their division into three distinct parts. These parts are the foot and pedestal, the container, and the spire. The largest and most prominent part is the container. Usually round or square in shape, its inner section is connected to the outer by means of windows, doors or pierced ornamentation. The elongated pedestal and pointed spire give the entire object an upward sweep. At times other elements inserted among the three main parts create a more gradual rhythm of upward movement.
Intended for use in the home, the tower-form spice box (like the kiddush cup or candlestick), was created to stand on or within a piece of furniture. The attachment of a foot to this architectural structure is artificial, and for centuries no attempt was made to achieve an organic integration of the parts. This is also evident from the different decorative motifs in the two parts (cat. nos. 64, 70, 72, 76).
Due to the nature of the technique and the material in which scaffolding or a skeletal structure serves as the framework for interwoven parts, filigree towers are more harmoniously composed. The foot of filigree towers exhibits a similar structure (cat. no. 71). In some cases, an attempt has been made to create an integrated whole in which the transitions between the parts are gradual, or to emphasize a unifying feature among the different parts of the object (cat. nos. 68-69).
Although the same silversmiths generally fashioned both havdalah spice boxes and church vessels, such as monstrances, the foot of the latter is a more integral part of the structure. This may be because the monstrance was a ceremonial object used in public prayer, while the spice box was a domestic object; or it may reflect a deliberate intent to emphasize the distinction between Jewish and Christian tower-form utensils.
Many tower-form spice boxes are decorated with foliate pattern (cat. nos. 64, 68-70, 76, 86-89, 100). In addition, a wide variety of shapes and designs are used (cat. nos. 60, 62, 66, 74-75, 77-85, 90-99). Whatever the origins and evolution of its design, the tower-shaped spice box in all its variations is a distinctively Jewish object for the storage of spices used during the havdalah ceremony.