• Issue: August 1973
  • Designer: Mark Chagall
  • Plate no.: 384
  • 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.

Dan, Bilhah's elder son, has a blue window, lightened by shades of amethyst, ruby and emerald. Across the top curves the passage from Genesis 49:16, foretelling that "Dan shall judge his people," and a centrally placed double candelabrum might well represent the scales of justice.

Gad the warrior was Zilpah's son. His dark green window, alive with grotesque winged creatures and the horrific aftermath of war, has blood-red stains spattered diagonally across it from the left-hand lower corner to the sphere ringed with the words, "Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at the last." (Genesis 49:19).

Asher's name in Hebrew spells contentment and wealth. His tribal lands included the rich olive groves of Galilee, and his cheerful, multicolored window shows the traditional seven-branched Menorah of the Temple; doves of peace, one holding an olive sprig in its beak; lush foliage, and pitchers of olive oil, bearing out Jacob's blessing to Asher in Genesis 49:20 that "His bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties."

Naphtali, Dan's full brother, was the swift runner who brought his father the good news that Joseph was alive and well. A crouching deer takes pride of place in the yellow window, illustrating Genesis 49:21, that "Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words."

Joseph's shining window is set above the Holy Ark, opposite the synagogue entrance. In it can be seen many aspects of Joseph's life - his coat of many colors, a gift from his father which aroused the envy of his brothers; the baker's basket and the seven fat and seven thin kine of Pharaoh's dream which he interpreted. Son of his beloved Rachel and Jacob's favorite, Deuteronomy 33:16 says of him "Let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph."

Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, the baby of the family, whose rainbow-hued window confirms Moses' blessing in Deuteronomy 33:12, that "The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety." A galaxy of planets spin around the center; flowering trees appear; a bright-eyed wolf cub stares balefully out of the picture, and in the lower left-hand corner, bathed in sunshine, glow the roofs and domes of golden Jerusalem - the Holy City.

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Chagall Windows II