Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
For more about the book and Andy Crouch, please visit

Posts tagged judaism

Lauren Winner, "The Art Patron," from W. David O. Taylor, ed., For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker, 2010), pp. 74–75

The Jewish communities of my childhood taught me, among other things, about art. Specifically, Judaism taught me the principle of hiddur mitzvah. This is the idea that one does not just do the commandments, one “beautifies” them. The roots of this commandment may be found in Exodus 15:2, which may be translated something like: “This is my God and I will beautify him with praises.” In a passage of the Talmud (Masechet Shabbat 133b), the rabbis muse over this verse: What exactly does it mean to “beautify” God? How does one “beautify God with praises”? The rabbis have an answer: “Adorn yourself before him by a truly elegant fulfillment of the religious duties, for example a beautiful tabernacle, a beautiful palm branch, a beautiful ram’s horn, beautiful show fringes, a beautiful scroll or the Torah, written in fine ink, with a fine reed, by a skilled penman, wrapped with beautiful silks.”

In other words, when you fulfill the commandment to blow a shofar, a ram’s horn, during the liturgies for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, don’t blow just any old ram’s horn—beautify the commandment by using a beautiful shofar. And when you build and take your meals in a sukkah, a hut, during the festival of Sukkot, do not just throw up a shack whose dimensions happen to meet your requirements, but build a beautiful tabernacle in which to take your holiday meals. . . . This is the theological sensibility that prompted those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century eastern European Jews to craft intricate marriage contracts, turning simple legal documents into objects of art. Those papercutters knew that a man pledging to treat his soon-to-be wife fairly and honorably was more than just the faithful discharging of a commandment. It was an opportunity to “adorn”—glorify—God.


I have often gone into B&H to purchase a specific product, only to be talked into something cheaper. For example, once I went in to buy a field video monitor to use for some interviews I was conducting. I expected to pay $600 until the salesperson said, “Why don’t you just get one of these cheap consumer portable DVD players? They have video inputs, they work just as well, and they’re under $100.” This was no accident. “The entire premise of our store is based upon your ability to come in, touch, feel, experiment, ask, and discuss your needs without sales pressure,” B&H’s website says.

But wait: The conveyer belts, the prices, the smart salespeople, the fact that they recommend cheaper products almost as a rule—none of these is actually the most amazing thing about B&H. Really, the most amazing thing is that because the owners of B&H are Orthodox Jews—Hasidim, in fact—the store closes every Friday afternoon for the Jewish Sabbath, and on Jewish holidays. Moreover, B&H’s website, which reportedly accounts for 70 percent of sales, shuts down, too. is, to my knowledge, the only major online retailer that closes for 25 hours every weekend.