Shiviti From Damascus, Syria

Shiviti from the Jobar Synagogue in Damascus

The Sephardic Heritage Museum houses thousands of artifacts relating to Jewish life in Syria and its surrounding areas. The artifact displayed here is a shiviti that hung in the Synagogue of Jobar, known in Arabic as K’nees Jobar.

Shivitis are posters or plaques that are common in Sephardic synagogues and many are highly artistic. The word shiviti comes from the Scriptural verse that states “shiviti Hashem lenegdi tamid,” meaning “I have set G-d in front of me always [Psalms 16:8].” Each shiviti has G-d’s name written in big letters, since visualizing G-d’s name in its written form, inspires awe in the worshipers and reminds them to maintain concentration and proper decorum during the prayers. 

Most shivitis include Psalm 67, which begins with the words “Lamnaseah Binginot,” inscribed in the shape of a seven branched menorah (candelabra). This is in accordance with Kabbalistic teaching. They may also contain other Scriptural verses and Kabbalistic inscriptions and amulets. This particular shiviti had an amulet inscribed on it to protect a pregnant woman.

As mentioned above, this shiviti comes from the Jobar synagogue. Jobar is a village on the outskirts of Damascus, which contained one of the most ancient synagogues in the world. The synagogue was dedicated to Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet. According to communal tradition, the synagogue was built over a cave in which Eliyahu the Prophet hid from King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who were trying to kill him. The synagogue is also the site of where Eliyahu anointed Elisha the prophet as his successor. Because of these traditions, people travelled from all over Syria to the synagogue to pray in search of salvation.

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