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Havdalah Spice Boxes 

BY HANNAH SROUR

Though Shabbat in Montreal will continue to end early for the next while, nightfall is gradually getting later week by week, and so is the recitation of Havdalah. Among Shaar Hashomayim’s impressive museum items are a collection of silver besamim boxes (Havdalah spice boxes). These were mostly designed in the 19th century (like the two presented below), when besamim boxes in the form of towers were especially popular. 

 

 

The spice box to the right, standing at approximately 13 cm in height, is in form of leaves on a vine, and originates from Russia. It was gifted to the Shaar by Ethel Gallaman, this was a family heirloom of her mother, Mrs. Joseph Gallaman. 

 

The spice tower to the left originates from Italy. The centre of the tower, which holds the spices, is in the shape of a casket adorned with a pomegranate on the lid. The casket’s intricate filigree design is a mark of fine Italian craftmanship.

 

 

An up close view of the intricate filigree design.

 

 

The spice tower to the left, though of unknown origin, was likely created circa 1800. Four flags surround the box, with an additional one on the top. When using this spice tower, however, one would best be very careful—those flags are quite sharp! This was gifted to the Shaar in 1979 by Mrs. Esther Goldenberg Heller, in memory of her husband, Dr. Benjamin P. Heller.

 

The besamim box to the right, also of unknown origin, interestingly places the box at the base rather than in the middle of the tower structure (you may be able to spot a tiny handle to open the slot). Six flags ornament the top of the tower (one flag is missing). This tower is also adorned with a number of small bells around the sides and one larger bell in the centre, all shaped like pomegranates, reminiscent of the rimonim that adorn Torah scrolls. One can imagine the sounds that this would make when being passed around during Havdalah! Inscribed around centre of the tower is the following: “Gift to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim by Mr. and Mrs. A. Fleming on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of their son, Stephan Cecil, May 17, 1952 (5712)”.

Friday, May 20, 2022 19 Iyyar 5782