Imagining A Shmita Bowl: 7 Explorations for Ritual Use

Emmett Leader

, Nili Simhai

About Emmett Leader

Emmett Leader is a ceramist who has been creating tzedakah boxes, wall panels, sculptural installations, and other Jewish ritual objects for thirty years. Many of his earliest and most profound experiences sprang from the rural Vermont landscape that he was born into. His work is also inspired by the wooden synagogues, Jewish gravestone carvings, ritual objects and papercuts of pre-WWII Eastern Europe. His commissions include art and ritual objects for the farm gates at Eden Village Camp, Adamah, and Abundance Farm and his exhibitions have been seen throughout the country and in Israel.Nili Simhai has been a leader in Jewish earth-based and environmental education for decades. She was the director of Teva from 1999 – 2013 and is now Director of Environmental and Agricultural Education at Abundance Farm in Northampton, MA. After years of teaching shmita in more abstract modalities such as text study, Nili is excited to see the the values and radical ideas of the shmita year manifest in such a practical, beautiful medium as a clay bowl.

About Imagining A Shmita Bowl: 7 Explorations for Ritual Use

A bowl is an invitation to conversation – an empty vessel to be filled .. or not… and with what? It’s the perfect ritual object to approach a year whose primary identity is to be empty of “business as usual” but full of possibility.When you approach other ritual objects used throughout the cycles of the Jewish calendar, there are clear parameters – to be kept or broken by the artist / practitioner. A chanukkia has a certain number of branches with rules about how they should be arranged. A lulav and etrog set are highly regulated by halacha (Jewish law). The lived experience of each person celebrating the holiday also informs our concepts of what the ritual object is. But most Jews have little to no lived experience of shmita. How do we approach a ritual for a holiday we’ve never really celebrated? Originally, the goal was to create a singular shmita bowl, made to sit on the table for the entire shmita year, and to be used ritually. Emmett and Nili, an artist and an educator, found themselves circling the same questions throughout their process – Do we figure out a ritual first and build a bowl that reflects it? Or imagine a bowl and ask what type of ritual it invites? They decided to invite the community in on the conversation. Eighteen people responded with ideas of a special bowl they imagined using for the shmita year. They discussed the responses and continued the conversations, with Nili sharing shmita Torah and Emmett making more bowls. The result was a series of 49 bowls, which were grouped into 7 major archetypes of ritual activation, outlined in the attached PDF. The completed bowls are reflections of our ongoing, unfinished conversations. They are also finished ritual objects available for sale/distribution and reproduction.