Escutcheon for a Sanctuary of the Jewish Imagination in the Land Beyond the River Sambatyon

A personal escutcheon derived from “Scheibler’sches Wappenbuch, älterer Teil” in Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod.icon. 312 (ca. 1450-1480) (Aharon Varady 2020, CC BY-SA)

Since founding the Open Siddur Project and its spin-off, Dimus Parrhesia Press, I’ve been keen to explore symbolism for expressing Jewish identity beyond the star/shield of David. For the Open Siddur Project, I adopted and adapted the “Farbkreis” (color wheel) of the Bauhaus artist, Johannes Itten, in order to suggestively reference both the diversity of Jewish liturgy, prayer literature, and ritual praxes, but also the angel Sandalfon, who constantly weaves the prayers offered by the world into a wreathe crown for the daily coronation of the blessed Holy One.

For Dimus Parrhesia Press, I chose to appropriate the yellow Judenhut imposed upon court Jews under medieval Christendom. In that context, the Judenhut became a signifier of the imagined power of a vast armed population of “Red Jews” who lived peaceably outside the bounds of Christendom in distant lands to the East beyond the river Sambatyon. While Daniel Boyarin identifies the Talmud as the mental territory of Jewish diaspora, I identify the landscape of the Jewish imagination with this land beyond the river Sambatyon, a sanctuary defined by a hermetic inaccessibility unreachable with any compass. This is the landscape and lore I like to explore through tabletop fantasy adventure roleplaying in Midbar Quest, where history, apocryphal literature, ethnographic details from the Talmud, midrash aggadah, and storytelling tropes from the Hellenistic, Arabic, and European worlds are all mixed together. So the Judenhut I think works well as a signifier for this imaginary land.

Today being the New Year for Animals, I thought to fulfill a wish I’ve long held for making an escutcheon to further embellish this very romantic project. The image source for this bit of nerdery is “Scheibler’sches Wappenbuch, älterer Teil” in Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod.icon. 312 (ca. 1450-1480). A little cleanup in photoshop, and my 11-year-old self is happy to claim this escutcheon on this Rosh Hashanah LaBehemah – ראש השנה לבהמה in the name of Queen Salomé Alexandra, God save the Queen!


About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes. He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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