The Guiding Hand
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The Guiding Hand

The Breman presents The Guiding Hand, an exhibition of Torah pointers,
ancient and contemporary instruments used during prayer that can be works of art, too.

– Known as a “yad” in Hebrew, these objects created by diverse makers suggest
how central Torah reading is to the Jewish faith –

See this beautiful exhibition before it leaves - December 31st

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We are pleased to present an important and intriguing exhibition of Torah pointers, objects central to Jewish prayer and ritual. Known by their Hebrew name, yads, these ceremonial yet practical instruments are used to keep one’s place in the Torah scroll when reading from its densely hand-lettered Hebrew text.

The Guiding Hand: The Barr Foundation Judaica Collection of Torah Pointers is on view in The Breman’s newly updated Discovery Gallery from October 11 through December 2023.

For hundreds of years, Jews used simple tapered wooden sticks to point the way through the text of the Torah without touching the fragile handwritten animal-skin parchment surface. These pointers are called yads (literally the Hebrew word for hand יד) because they represent and stand in for the human hand that are often featured on the tip of the pointer. The pointers also helped readers avoid damaging even a single letter, which would risk rendering the sacred, communally owned scroll incomplete and unusable. Instead of pages, the Torah is written on one long piece of paper or parchment. When someone reads it, they roll the scroll from one end to the other using two rollers. This way, they can read the entire text without flipping pages like in a regular book. Yads are personal, individualized objects and have developed into a unique art form with great variety since there are no rules governing their form. The yads carefully selected for the Barr Foundation’s collection range in size from a few small to large.

The Guiding Hand includes more than 130 yads from multiple countries; by artists and craftspeople from many backgrounds and religions; and created in a vast array of media. The exhibit showcases the creativity of artists and craftspeople ancient to contemporary.

In honor of her late husband Jay Barr, Virginia resident Clay Barr began collecting Torah pointers nearly three decades ago. In addition to acquiring pointers that represent the full range of elaborate historic forms, she commissioned creative new yads from contemporary artists such as Tobi Kahn, Wendell Castle and Albert Paley.  “I wanted to inspire artists and craftsmen to create new Judaica,” Clay Barr explains.

The Breman’s founding executive director Jane Leavey, who is serving as curator for the collection’s Atlanta showing, says that the exhibit “presents both an understanding of the Torah’s centrality in Judaism and the yad as an art form, both ancient and contemporary.”

“We are excited to host The Guiding Hand: The Barr Foundation Judaica Collection of Torah Pointers, for all that will teach Atlanta about this interesting aspect of Judaism,” Breman Executive Director Leslie Gordon said. “It is a perfect fit for The Breman, with our mission to share the richness of Jewish culture with guests of diverse backgrounds. It also extends our growing profile as a presenter of the visual and performing arts.”  

While yads can still be simple wooden pointers, they have evolved into objects of silver with gold, jewels or ivory ornamentation. Others are now shaped from materials as diverse and unconventional as lucite, paper, graphite, porcelain, or glass. The contemporary yads on view at The Breman express each artist’s own style and creativity, but they reflect all the inspiration and reverence of the spiritual connection to the holy text. These build on the Barr Foundation collection’s historic yads, which suggest the full breadth of the global Jewish community, from India and Russia to the United States.

The Barr collection has been exhibited in New York, Miami, the foundation’s home city of Norfolk, Virginia, and other locations.

The Breman’s Discovery Gallery displays rotating exhibitions dedicated to the illumination of various aspects of Jewish culture and practices, such as holidays, customs, ceremonial objects, life cycles and more.

The Guiding Hand is presented with the support of the Robert G. and Ellen S. Gutenstein Family Foundation.

More on the Torah

The word Torah in Hebrew can mean teaching, direction, guidance or law. Torah is often defined as a parchment scroll version of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is the body of wisdom and law in Judaism. A Torah is written with a quill and ink on many pieces of parchment that are sewn together.To make it possible to move the parchment to the portion of the Torah to be read on a particular day, the joined pieces of the parchment are attached to rollers, most often made of wood. One is prohibited from touching the lettering of the Torah by hand. Thus, the yad is used to point the way through the densely handwritten text. In synagogues throughout the world, Torah scrolls are housed in the holy ark on the wall of the sanctuary that faces Jerusalem. The Torah is often referred to as the Tree of Life, a metaphor found in the Book of Proverbs which uses the term three times. The most famous is, “Etz chaim hee l’machazikim bah” (“She is a tree of life to those who grasp her” Proverbs 3:18).




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