by Olivia Stoll
I encountered this Kiddush cup as part of a larger display of historical cups at the Ackland. The intricate engravings on the surface suggest that ancient feasts likely valued the Kiddush cup as something sacred. The cup was created by Hieronymus Mittnacht, a German silversmith specializing in Jewish goods. Silver was analogous to wealth in the 18th century, so objects crafted out of silver have inherent value. We can’t know much about the family that owned this cup other than they were wealthy and Jewish. The engraved letters are Hebrew characters that connect the cup, as the title indicates, to Jewish ceremonies. We could imagine how this family might have incorporated the Kiddush cup into their lives using contemporary understandings of Kiddush.
In Judaism, Kiddush is a ritual performed (most often) to commence Shabbat meals. Like any good feast, the meal begins with everyone gathered around the table. Before people eat the food, they must complete Kiddush to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Then, a blessing is recited over wine (or grape juice) in the special Kiddush cup. The engravings on the Kiddush cup pictured above could contain some verses from Kiddush prayer; however, there is no standard design for Kiddush cup engravings. After the prayer, everyone takes a sip from the cup. Like most cultural/religious feasting rituals, Kiddush is communal. Sharing what is typically a personalized dish (such as a cup) is a less common practice. Because the cup is sacred and a centerpiece of prayer, the dish is crafted with extreme care. The materials are rich and the engravings are deliberate, enhancing the sanctity of the object.
Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. “Kiddush - Wine Before You Dine.” Chabad.org, 2011, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/610626/jewish/Kiddush.htm. Accessed 3 October 2023.