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11 Hallucination Depicted: God’s Name on Shiviti Plates

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Chapter Summary

The present article proposes a phenomenological analysis of shiviti plates bearing God’s name, set in front of the synagogue prayer leader. In the specimens exposed in modern Romanian synagogues, the Tetragrammaton dominates a hierarchic composition comprising texts (divine and angelic names, Kabbalistic sefirot, and didactic utterances) and images (the menorah, halo, heraldic devices, animals, and plants). The inscriptions act as ‘image-texts’ playing concurrent roles in both verbal and pictorial structures of the plates. The visual rendering of these shiviti evokes in the beholder a sense of meditative trance. They drove the worshipper’s communication with God’s presence along the path of mental visualisation of the letters of the divine name practiced by medieval Jewish esoteric scholars. In contrast to medieval Kabbalistic concentric diagrams that instruct the visionary’s meditation on God’s name and attributes, the shiviti images portray the products of visions. The phenomenon revealed sheds light on the unique role of visual art in establishing both the emotional mood and the intellectual modus of synagogue worship.



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