• Issue: March 1973
  • Designer: Mark Chagall
  • Plate no.: 378
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

Marc Chagall's 12 magnificent stained glass windows form the crown of the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center Synagogue in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem. Symbolizing the twelve sons of Jacob from whom stemmed the twelve Tribes of Israel, these brilliant, jewel-toned windows have become one of the highlights of a visit to Jerusalem.

Each glowing unit measures 11½ feet (3.5 m) in height and 8 feet (2.5 m) in width, and is crammed with biblical lore. Each window reveals not only another angle of the 3,700-year-old Bible story, but also the part played by every tribe in Israel's national life. Each one carries its name in Hebrew script, as well as a tiny farmhouse reminiscent of those in the Russian township of Vitebsk where Chagall was born in 1887 and where he spent his early years.

Requested by Hadassah - the Women's Zionist Organization of America - to create the stained glass windows for its new synagogue in the Judean Hills, Chagall readily accepted. Two years of hard work followed, and in February 1962, when the windows were ceremoniously installed, Chagall's creations were acclaimed as the masterpieces of his long and distinguished career.

Jacob's wife, Leah, was the mother of six of his sons - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun and Issachar. In former days, a man often took secondary wives from the household's upper servants. Jacob was no exception, and in addition to his kinswomen, Leah and Rachel who were also sisters, he married Zilpah, Leah's personal maid, and Bilhah, who attended Rachel, each of whom bore him two male children.

Genesis 49: 3-4 tells how Jacob on his deathbed blessed his sons, and to Reuben he said, "Thou art my first born ... unstable as water," from which derives the blue in Reuben's window. The quotation shines in the pale sun above, and birds skim the surface of the lake.

Blue is again dominant in Simeon's window, but it is a blue diluted by red, yellow and green. Simeon's name beams from an orange circle in the sky, while along the base runs a Hebrew phrase from Genesis 49:7 - "Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce ... and their wrath for it was cruel!" Jacob obviously could not forgive these two sons, Simeon and Levi, for taking the law into their own hands and avenging the abduction of their sister, Dinah.

Levi's golden window is perhaps the happiest. The name in Hebrew characters stands above a Shield of David, while lower down, flanked by elaborate candlesticks, are the Tablets of the Law. On them is inscribed Moses' blessing, that this tribe would "teach Jacob thy judgment and Israel thy law." (Deuteronomy 33:10).

Judah's influence on Jewish history was great. In Judah's territory are the Judean Hills with Ein Karem in their midst, and here, too was the Kingdom of Judah which lasted for centuries. Chagall marks Judah's royal destiny by the rich crimson of the background, by the hands raised in benediction, and by the script of Jacob's prophecy that "Thy father's children shall bow down before thee." (Genesis 49:8).

Zebulun, the seafaring tribe, is represented by a fish-filled sea reddened by a purple sunset. A boat with bright sails recalls Jacob's words in Genesis 49:13 that "Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea: and he shall be a haven of ships".

Issachar's green, peaceful window shows verdant pastures; abundant crops; trees, flowers and vines, and the promise of a plentiful harvest. Issachar's lands were in fertile Lower Galilee, where Jacob could truly say that "he saw the land that it was pleasant." (Genesis 49:15).

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Chagall Windows I