views updated May 09 2018


The significance of Jewish medals is both historical and artistic; they illustrate the history of the Jews in the widest sense of the word. (See Table: Jewish Medals). Opinions widely differ on the classification of Jewish medals. Bruno Kisch (see bibliography) gives the following classification:

1. Symbolic representation, biblical personages and scenes, imitation shekels, and biblical medals. (This group should really not be included among Jewish medals, since in most cases they were made neither by, nor for Jews.)

2. Medals referring to political events in connection with Jews, such as the granting of religious freedom, Zionistica, etc.

3. Medals referring to Jewish communities, inaugurations and jubilees of synagogues, or institutions, schools, etc.

4. Medals of Jewish personalities, such as rabbis, physicians, philanthropists, etc.

5. Marriage and anniversary medals, tokens, amulets.

Though no medals exist from talmudic or biblical times, the Talmud (bk 97b) speaks of portrait coins bearing the likeness of biblical personages. Probably the oldest Jewish medal extant (1497 or 1503) is one associated with the name of Benjamin b. Elijah Be'er the physician, with a long and enigmatic Hebrew inscription with a text also in Greek and Latin, surrounding what may be intended to represent a Roman emperor. In the 16th century, during the Renaissance, portrait medals were made by or for rich Jewish families. The best known of these is that of Gracia *Nasi (1556), in all probability the younger of the two ladies known by that name. Dating roughly from the same period are the portrait medals of Elijah de Latas (or Lattes; 1552) and Abramo Emanuele Norsa (1557). Mention may be made also of the medals struck for Marranos in Antwerp, such as Luis Perez (1597) and Ursula Lopez, widow of Martin Perez (1580).

At the end of the 17th century, the so-called "Korn Jude" medals are found, a typical example of antisemitica. These medals, made of silver, copper, and tin, all show more or less the same picture: on the front a bearded man wearing a Jew's hat, a stick in his hand, and carrying a sack of grain on his back, on which sits the devil who rips the sack open. Around this picture is the inscription "Du Korn Jude" and under it a date with the word Theurezeit. On the reverse side is a corn measure and the verse (Prov. 11:26): Wer Korn inhaelt, dem fluchen die Leuthe. Aber Seegen kommt ueber den, der es verkauft, Sprueche ("He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him; but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it," Proverbs). Other examples of antisemitic medals are the "Federjude" medals of the same period. The figure represented is a Jew in a feather hat, carrying a large sack on his back and a money bag in his hand. Similarly anti-Jewish feeling in Germany is expressed by the medals struck on the occasion of the execution of Jew "Suess" *Oppenheimer in 1738. The medals are in silver, lead, and bronze. In the 18th and 19th centuries baptism was for many Jews a way out of the difficult circumstances in which they lived, and this led to the striking of baptismal medals. Among such is a satiric medal in silver, circa 1700. On the front is a clergyman holding a Bible, who pours water on the head of a kneeling Jew carrying a millstone around his neck. On the reverse side is an antisemitic text, and on the rim Wenn die Maus die Katze frisst, dan wird ein Jud ein wahrer Christ ("When the mouse eats the cat, then a Jew becomes a true Christian"). Political accusations against the Jews were also known. When in 1686 the city of Ofen (the old German name for Buda, see *Budapest) was captured from the Turks by Leopold i of Austria, the Jewish community was massacred. As a memento of the event a satiric medal was struck showing a Turk and Jew melting metal in a furnace, the Turk holding the tongs and the Jew the bellows, while ingots appear at the bottom. "Who mints money for peace now that the Turk and Jew are tired of war?" is the ironic inscription.

Two medals were struck on the occasion of the fire in the Judengasse at Frankfurt on the Main in 1711, one in three variants. That with the variants by Christian Wermuth is one of the most vicious antisemitic pieces extant. In 1735 a medal

1. Renaissance Medals
1503 (or 1497)Benjamin ben Elijah Be'er (medallion)
1552Elijah de Latas (De Lattes) and his mother, Rica de Latas
1556Gracia Nasi
1557Abramo Emanuele Norsa (Norcia)
2. Jewish Emancipation Medals
1745Repeal of Edict of Maria Theresa expelling Jews from Prague and Bohemia
1781Edict of Toleration of Emperor Joseph II
1782idem, issued by Dutch Jews after Emperor visited the Netherlands (four variants)
1790Homage to Landgrave Ludwig X of Hesse and Darmstadt
1790Homage to Landgravine Louise Caroline Henriette of Hesse and Darmstadt (two variants)
1796Emancipation of Jews in Batavian Republic (i.e. Holland)
1805Alexander I of Russia frees Jews from a special tax
1806Sanhedrin of Napoleon
1808Enfranchisement of the Jews of Westphalia (by Abraham Abramson)
1836Homage to Gabriel Riesser (for role in German Jewish emancipation)
1840Montefiore and Crémieux at Cairo on behalf of Jews held in accusation of ritual murder (The Damascus Affair)
1846Jubilee of emancipation of Jews in The Netherlands
1848Emancipation of Jews in the Kingdom of Sardinia (Dedication to Count Roberto d'Azeglio)
1848Commemoration of the German Revolution (a plank listed on medal is "Emancipation of the Jews")
1854–55Presentation by Italian Jews to Albert Cohen, 15th Sivan 5614, on his receiving assurances from Sultan Abdal-Mejid that the
Jews in Palestine would receive equal rights with Christians
1860Proclamation of Right for Jews in Galicia, Bukovina, and Cracow to buy real estate (for Franz Joseph I)
1864Intercession in Morocco of Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore
1881100th Anniversary of Joseph II's Edict of Toleration
3. Commemorative Medals (Including a few antisemitic because of their importance)
1670300th Anniversary of the alleged desecration of the Host at Brussels. This medal was reissued in 1820, on the 450th anniversary
and then again in 1870, the last being philosemitic
1686Participation of the Jews in the defense of Ofen (Buda) against Austria (two variants)
1696Satire on the followers of Shabbetai Ẓevi (Christian in origin)
1700The Useless Baptism of Jews
1711Fire in Frankfurt on the Main Ghetto (three variants by C. Wermuth; separate one by Johann Linck)
1721Fires in the Frankfurt Ghetto
1738Hanging of Jew Suess (five variants); also portrait
1791Wilhelm (Jewish) School in Breslau, Jewish
1800Inauguration of the Adat Jeshurun (Reform) Synagogue in Amsterdam
1810Building of the Bordeaux Synagogue
1826Dedication of the New Synagogue in Munich, by I. W. Loewenbach, Jewish medalist
1841Hamburg Jewish Hospital (Solomon Heine on obverse as benefactor)
1841Opening of the Jewish Home for Aged at the Hague; by J. Weiner, Jewish medalist
1841Opening of the New Maastricht Synagogue
184125th Anniversary of the Jewish Loan Institute at Hamburg
1843Laying of the Foundation Stone of the Hebrew National School at Birmingham
1843First Jewish Girl's Confirmation at Warsaw; by Eichel, Jewish medalist
1848Destruction of the Rothschild Chateau at Surenne
4. Important Early Tokens
1671 and 1714Burial Pass permits for the Amsterdam Ḥevra Kaddisha
1679–1812English "Jew Brokers" Medals
c. 1780Moses Benjamin Foa
1780–1793Lord George Gordon as a Jew (nine variants)
1790Daniel Mendoza (five variants)
1791Mendoza and Ward
5. Important Portrait Medals Before 1850
1735Eleazar b. Samuel Shmelka, welcomed as rabbi by Ashkenazi community of Amsterdam (by Joel, Jewish medalist)
c. 1774Moses Mendelssohn (by Jacob Abraham and son, Abraham Abramson)
1793Daniel Itzig's 70th Birthday (by Abraham Abramson)
1794Homage to Marcus Herz (by Jacob Abraham and Abraham Abramson)
180373rd Birthday of Lipmann Meyer (by Anton Friedrich Koenig)
c. 1816Memorial to Gershom Mendes Seixas (by Moritz Furst)
1836Memorial to Nathan Mayer Rothschild (pub. by Hyam Hyams)
1837Memorial to Ludwig Boerne (by H. Oppenheim)
1837Elias Henschel (Breslau): 50th Anniversary of graduation as doctor (by Lesser – possibly a Jew)
1939Johann Stieglitz
1842Memorial to Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschel (pub. by Hyam Hyams)
184470th Birthday of Solomon Mayer Rothschild
1846"Rachel," Elisa-Rachel Felix
1847Giacomo Meyerbeer
1847Jubilee of Ḥakham Isaac Bernays of Hamburg

was struck in Amsterdam – by Joel Levi – with a Hebrew text to mark the arrival there of Eleazar of Brody, who had been invited to become rabbi of the Ashkenazi congregation. A portrait of Moses *Mendelssohn, one of the forerunners of the Emancipation in Germany, was made about 1774 jointly by the Jewish medalist Jacob Abraham (1723–1800) and his son, Abraham Abramson (1754–1811). The Emancipation of the Jews was the occasion of commemorations and frequently led to the striking of medals. (The most important medals in this group are listed in Section 2 of the appended list.) The Emancipation of the Jews caused a revival of Jewish communities especially in Western Europe, and an extensive development of Jewish intellectual life. In Germany and Austria, in particular, hundreds of medals were struck on the occasion of various events.

Large numbers of Jewish medalists and sculptors were engaged in the making of medals. Besides the German and Dutch medals there are also a number of French, Italian, and English medals, many American and a few Polish, Scandinavian, and Russian ones.

[Arthur Polak]

In Israel

The first commemorative medals and coins were issued in Israel in 1958 on the tenth anniversary of the state, as part of the activities of the Anniversary Committee set up by the Prime Minister's Office. In 1961 a special Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation was set up, whose charter provides for a board of directors on which a number of ministries are represented and which appoints a director general. State medals are struck for the following purpose: to commemorate events of national or international significance in the field of culture, science, history, and the various stages of Israel's development and achievement. In keeping with Jewish tradition, living personalities are not commemorated. Commemorative coins are issued by the Bank of Israel and are legal tender, while official state medals are the monopoly of the Coins and Medals Corporation. Apart from the purposes mentioned, these coins and medals have a great publicity value both among Diaspora Jews and in official circles of other states. They earn revenue and foreign currency for the Israel treasury; the income is earmarked for the restoration and preservation of historical sites in Israel.

The first medal issued in 1958 was the Liberation Medal showing the Roman "Judaea Capta" coin on the obverse and "Israel Liberata" on the reverse. This was followed by the Valor medal of 1959, with the symbol of the Israel Defense Forces on the obverse and the Trumpeldor Memorial on the reverse. A medal of the same year commemorated the jubilee year of the founding of Tel Aviv, while a Bar Kokhba medal was struck in 1960, after the Bar Kokhba letters were found in the Dead Sea Caves. More than 100 subjects had been commemorated by 1970, among them the Warsaw Ghetto Rising (1963), Masada (1964), the Rothschild family (on the opening of the new Knesset, 1966), the Sinai Campaign (1966), the Jewish Legion, the Balfour Declaration (1967), and El Al Airlines (1969). There is also a very popular bar mitzvah medal (1961).

Commemorative coins are issued every year on the occasion of Israel Independence Day (1958– ). A series of Ḥanukkah coins was struck (1958–63), as well as special gold coins to mark the Herzl centenary (1960), the Six-Day War of 1967, and the reunification of Jerusalem (1968). Half-shekels (1961, 1962) to be donated to charity on Purim, and Redemption of the Firstborn shekels (1969) for the Pidyon ha-Ben ceremony have been struck for religious use.

Each medal and coin is accompanied by an illustrated prospectus, in various languages, telling the story behind the medal, as well as numismatic technical details such as mintage figures, metal, weight, diameter, name of the artist, and the place of striking. In order to distinguish state medals from privately issued medals, official medals carry on their edge the emblem of the state and the words "State of Israel" in Hebrew and in English and are engraved with serial numbers. After minting the designated number of medals, the dies from which they were struck are destroyed in the presence of official witnesses. Official catalogs are issued periodically by the corporation and are also published in the Israel Numismatic Bulletin.


D.M. Friedenberg (ed.), Great Jewish Portraits in Metal (1963); idem, in: The Numismatist (July 1969), 891–918; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959); L.A. Mayer, Bibliography of Jewish Art (1967), index; M. Stern, Aus dem Berliner juedischen Museum (1937); T. Hoffmann, Jacob Abraham und Abraham Abramson55 Jahre Medaillenkust (17551810) (1927); A. Polak, Joodse penningen in de Nederlanden (1958); Kisch, in: hj, 7 (1945), 135–66 (8 plates); Nahon, in: rmi, 28 (1962), 377–88 (4 plates); B. Kirschner, Deutsche Spottmedaillen auf Juden, ed. by A. Kindler (1968); S. Haffner, History of Modern Israel's Money, 1917 to 1967 (1967), incl. bibl.; F. Bertram and R. Weber, Israel's 20-year Catalog of Coins and Currency… (1968).

[Yitzhak Avni and

Israel Sedaka]


views updated May 14 2018


MEDALS. During the nine years of the War for Independence, Congress voted to award eight medals to officers of the Continental army in recognition of significant accomplishments on the battlefield. The first was given to George Washington to commemorate the taking of Boston in March 1776. The next went to Horatio Gates for the capture of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga in October 1777. Four were awarded in 1779 for victories that were not of the same significance as Boston or Saratoga. Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, Colonel Walter Stewart, and Lieutenant Colonel François Teissedre de Fleury received medals for the capture of Stony Point on 16 July 1779, and Major Henry Lee received a medal for the raid on Paulus Hook on 19 August 1779. The last two congressional medals were awarded to Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and Colonel John Eager Howard for the victory at Cowpens on 17 January 1781, a success that provided a significant fillip to the morale of American troops in the South.

SEE ALSO Howard, John Eager; Lee, Henry ("Light-Horse Harry"); Morgan, Daniel; Stewart, Walter; Teissedre de Fleury, François Louis; Wayne, Anthony.

                             revised by Harold E. Selesky


views updated May 23 2018

med·al / ˈmedl/ • n. a metal disk with an inscription or design, made to commemorate an event or awarded as a distinction to someone such as a soldier, athlete, or scholar.• v. (med·aled, med·al·ing; also chiefly Brit. med·alled, med·al·ling) [intr.] earn a medal, esp. in an athletic contest: Norwegian athletes medaled in 12 of the 14 events | [as adj.] the most medaled swimmer in Olympics history. DERIVATIVES: me·dal·lic / məˈdalik/ adj.


views updated May 21 2018

medal † metal disk used as a charm, etc. XVI; coin-shaped piece of metal with an inscription, effigy, etc. XVII. — F. médaille — It. medaglia :- Rom. *medallia :- popL. *metallea (n. pl.), f. L. metallum METAL.
So medallion XVII. — F. médaillon — It. medaglione, augm. of medaglia.


views updated May 18 2018