Wimpel (mappah)

Alsace or Germany, 1752

Linen embroidered with silk thread, traces of silver thread, 15.5 x 363.5 cm

On loan from the Fondation Pro mahJ, Marion Rotil Bequest

Wimpel (mappah) of Abraham Mordekhaï, son of Alexander Katz, Alsace or Germany, 1752, linen embroidered with silk thread, traces of silver thread, 15.5 x 363.5 cm, on loan from the Fondation Pro mahJ, Marion Rotil Bequest

Wimpel (mappah) of Abraham Mordekhaï, son of Alexander Katz, Alsace or Germany, 1752, linen embroidered with silk thread, traces of silver thread, 15.5 x 363.5 cm, on loan from the Fondation Pro mahJ, Marion Rotil Bequest

A mappah (pl. mappot) is a linen sash used to protect the Torah scroll. Although this type of textile is traditional in very diverse communities, the custom of making it from the cloth used to swaddle a baby boy during circumcision is characteristic of Rhenish Ashkenazi communities from Alsace-Lorraine to Bohemia, Germany and Switzerland.

The cloth is cut into four pieces, which are sewn end to end to form a long sash, in this case more than 360 cm.  The mappah is embroidered with a Hebrew inscription indicating the child’s name, date of birth and the blessing recited at the end of the ceremony: “May God raise him up to (a life of) Torah (study), a successful marriage (huppah) and good works, Amen. Selah.”

This mappah was made for Abraham Mordekhai, son of Alexander Katz (cohen tsadiq), born Thursday 1 Elul 512 (11 August 1752). Its distinctive feature is the exceptional quality of its embroideries, heightened here and there with silver thread. Although the fanciful decoration of the letters is in the medieval tradition, as was often the case in the mid-18th century it was adorned with numerous floral and animal motifs: rabbit, fox, squirrel, stag, stork, cockerel, butterflies and even a unicorn, probably inspired by an engraving. The text of the blessing is illustrated by Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law and a marriage dais. The hands making a sign of blessing beneath the father’s name designate a descendant of Aaron, and beneath the date there is the child’s sign of the zodiac.

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