Roses are red, or yellow, or blueish,
But did you know they can also be Jewish?
OK, that was kind of corny. And we all know roses come in a lot more colors, like white or pink or peach. But the rose’s status as a Jewish symbol is less well known.
A Symbol of God’s People
The rose’s main symbolic place in Judaism comes from the biblical Song of Songs:
Like a rose among thorns,
So is my darling among the maidens. (Song of Songs 2:2)
The Song of Songs, which reads as a love poem, is traditionally understood as an allegory of the relationship between God and God’s people.
Jewish mystics built on this verse to explore the nature of that relationship. Here from the introduction to The Zohar:
Who is a rose? Assembly of Israel. For there is a rose, and there is a rose! Just as a rose among thorns is colored red and white, so Assembly of Israel includes judgment and compassion. Just as a rose has thirteen petals, so Assembly of Israel has thirteen petals of compassion surrounding her on every side.
Jewish mystics explored the idea of a rose as a metaphor for creation, with its petals opening outward in layers, revealing the center. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz offers a contemporary exploration of these ideas in the modern classic The Thirteen Petalled Rose.
According to Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, roses are associated with the festival of Shavuot, which commemorates God giving the Torah to Moses, because the way rose petals open when they bloom suggests the process of revelation.
But the rose also seems to have been valued by Jewish designers simply for its beauty.
For example, on this marriage contract from the seventeenth century the roses are just one of a variety of flowers used to decorate the document. The valentine at the top confirms that this design is about beauty and love.
This torah mantle, also from The Jewish Museum, features roses as a main decorative motif. The mantle is made from silk, with roses and other objects embroidered using metallic thread. Do the roses in this design hold symbolic meaning, or are they here for their beauty?
On this Passover towel, perhaps used for hand washing during the Seder, roses contribute to the middle of a three-part design. The towel is cotton, and the designs are painted on.
This topic calls for a moment to stop and smell the roses. So enjoy a break in your day with this time lapse video of roses blooming:
After writing the corny opening lines to this post, I thought I’d better check if there actually are roses that are blueish. There are! They didn’t exist naturally, but geneticists have engineered a rose to produce blue pigmentation. The result isn’t true blue, but it is blueish:
[Images: Red Rose: Backlit Cary Grant Tea Rose Intrior sic (2006) by Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, USA via Wikipedia via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license | Red and White Rose: Red White Rose for my lady (2013) by Sheba_Also 43,000 photos via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license | Ketubah: Marriage Contract (1678) via The Jewish Museum, Maurice Herrmann Collection (Accession Number S 449), public domain | Torah Mantle (late 17th century) via The Jewish Museum, H. Ephraim and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection (Accession Number S 255), public domain | Passover Towel (1828/29 France) via The Jewish Museum, Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman (Accession Number F 5004), public domain | Video: Rose Growing Time lapse (2017) by The Entertainer 200 via YouTube | Blue Rose: English: Blue Rose “APPLAUSE” (2011) by Blue Rose Man via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]