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Home > religion > Torah mantle wins $10,000 prize

Torah mantle wins $10,000 prize

Special to
September 21, 2000

Thomas A. Nowak/Spertus Museum
The winning Torah cover, by Temma Gentles and Dorothy Ross. The cover was made using a variety of fabrics, trim, beads, and Mylar.
CHICAGO—A baroque-inspired Torah mantle created by Temma Gentles and Dorothy Ross, both of Toronto, has been chosen as the winner of the Philip & Sylvia Spertus Judaica Prize Competition. The juried, biennial competition is conducted by Spertus Museum-which considers the competition the world's largest, on-going quest for the creation of contemporary Jewish ceremonial objects-and grants an award of $10,000 to the winner.

Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies will formally announce the winners in Chicago September 24 at its Annual Celebration of Jewish Learning and Culture. The winners and finalists will be featured in the related exhibition, Judging the Book by Its Cover: Torah Coverings from the Philip & Sylvia Spertus Judaica Prize Competition, opening at the Spertus Museum earlier in the day.

"It is clear that the participants looked to tradition as a foundation for their contemporary efforts," says Juror Dr. Grace Cohen Grossman, "and the concept of hiddur mitzvah [beautification of the mitzvah] was integral to both the artists' design sensibilities and fabrication techniques."

Gentles and Ross used a style and materials similar to those found in the Sephardi tradition. Using a variety of rich silk and velvet fabrics, embellished with opulent silk and metal thread embroidery, the piece harkens back to an ornate style of clothing worn by brides in 17th-century Italy.

"This Torah mantle is reminiscent of the baroque wedding finery of 17th-century Italy," Gentles and Ross said in their statement about the winning entry. "The sumptuous style connoted to us celebration and freedom of movement. The Torah is cloaked for modesty, yet a glimpse of the scroll is offered from behind the white dress."

Second prize winner Suzy Tanzer, also of Toronto, drew upon the custom of transforming personal objects, such as bridal gowns or bedspreads, into synagogue textiles. Tanzer's mantle is made of a collection of vintage linens used by her mother and her husband's grandmothers.

Third prize-winner Sylvia Kleine-Börger of Schwelm, Germany delivered a contemporary Torah mantle. Her entry used cotton, metal and wood to fashion a piece that honors the Jewish tradition of learning. It is crowned by a towering golden ring of the Hebrew letter lamed, also the linguistic root of the Hebrew word "learning."

The Torah covering or mantle, the object featured in this year's competition, is used to protect, beautify, and focus attention on the Torah, the precious centerpiece of the Jewish religion. As the Torah itself is considered sacred in Jewish life, so too are the objects used with the Torah afforded special attention.
Thomas A. Nowak/
Spertus Museum
The 2nd place Torah covering, by Suzy Tanzer. The entry uses silk, vintage linens, beads, and Plexiglass.

Torah coverings are part of a rich and diverse artistic heritage carried down throughout the ages. A Torah covering made of cloth has origins in the traditions of both the Ashkenazi (Jews of Central and Eastern European descent) and Sephardi (Jews of Spanish descent), while the hard Torah case, or tik, is used mostly in the Sephardi service. Examples of traditional themes as well as contemporary interpretations are represented in the exhibition.

A total of 115 entries were submitted to the 2000 Spertus Prize Competition, from the United States as well as eight foreign countries, including Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The second prize winner is awarded $3,000; the third prize winner is awarded $2,000.

Inaugurated in 1994, the Spertus Judaica Prize was established to recognize exemplary work in Jewish ceremonial art. It is designed to stimulate debate about the criteria determining quality ceremonial art and to foster greater appreciation for all Judaic art forms. Underwritten by Philip and Sylvia Spertus, and sponsored by the Spertus Museum of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, the competition is open to artists of all nationalities and religions.

"The strength of age-old traditions can be brought to life with contemporary interpretations," says Betsy Gomberg, Spertus Museum associate director. The annual contest invites such engagement and "challenges artists around the world to explore the themes and beauty of Jewish ceremonial art," she says.

The jury panel consisted of Dr. Grace Cohen Grossman, Senior Curator of Judaica, Skirball Museum and Cultural Center, Los Angeles; Designer Dakota Jackson, Director of Dakota Jackson Inc., New York; and Professor Susan Weininger, Art Historian and Director of the School of Liberal Studies, Roosevelt University, Chicago.

For information or to receive a prospectus about the 2002 Spertus Judaica Prize Competition, contact Spertus Museum, 618 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60605; or fax (312) 922-3934; or e-mail

©, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.

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