What are "Shivitis"?
Shiviti (sometimes pronounced “shivisi” in the Ashkenazic tradition) is a name given to a group of liturgical art incorporating a verse from Psalm 16:8. They are made as visual meditations and reminders of the constant presence of God. Its purpose is to inspire one to create an appropriate spiritual attitude (kavannah) when praying.
Most of the Shivitis are wall art, plaques, or textiles, but sometimes you can also find them as inserts in siddurim (praying books). The small ones are made in the same way other scribal ritual items are made – on parchment, by hand, using a feather. In the same way, the Torah Scroll or mezuzot inserts are made.
The Traditional Shivitis
The traditional ones have a menorah (candelabrum) created in the form of micrography (image created using words). The words used in it are from Psalm 67 and have deep spiritual meaning. It also helps that its sentence structure fits perfectly into the shape of the seven-branched menorah.
At the top of such piece of art there is always the first half of verse 16:8 from the Tehillim (Book of Psalms), with the name of God written in much bigger letters:
I am ever mindful of the LORD’s presence.
(Lit. “I put the LORD in front of me always”)
שִׁוִּיﬨִי יְﬣוָﬣ לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד:
Sometimes, you can find also tiny letters spelling “Adonai” written over the Tetragrammaton (the ineffable, four-letter divine name).
In most Shivitis you will find other inspiring verses. Sometimes it might be this verse:
“Know before whom you stand – before King of the Kings, the Holy One, may He be blessed.”
דע לפני מי אתה עומד
ליפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקבה
Above, you can see a Shiviti from the Askhenazi synagogue in Safed, Israel.
On the left, is the Shiviti from Oswiecim synagogue (the town is better known under its German name – Auschwitz).
You can very clearly see at the top the verse “Da lifney…” (“Know before…”) and the beautiful Shiviti verse with big and decorated four-letter name of God.
At the bottom is a memorial to a woman in whose name this Shiviti stone was offered to this synagogue. This is not an unlikely situation – quite often the decor in a synagogue was presented as a way to honor the deceased family members.
It means “Know in front of whom you stand: in front of the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He”. There are also some with the sentence “be’tzad zeh ru’ach chayim”, which might be divided into the four corners, which means “from this side comes the spirit of life”. Yet other designs have verses from Psalms or other Holy Scriptures.
Linking the age-old tradition with modern art
Over time, creating Shivitis became a separate branch of Jewish Art. It’s also hard to find a synagogue, which would not have such an image in front of the amud (prayer stand). In the past, they were made by local sopherim (scribes) and often embellished with beautiful floral illustrations, symbols, or mystical marks. Nowadays, they reflect modern styles and are often made using computer software or mixed media. In modern synagogues you will more likely find a much simplified version of Shiviti, often with just one verse.
I’ve become inspired by this beautiful tradition and have created my own Shivitis. I’ll feel tremendously proud if any of them find a place on the wall of your home or synagogue. There might be just the thing you were looking for to give as a gift for a wedding, bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, rabbinic ordination or many other occasions. Let me know if you would like any customization (the name of your family, synagogue or school, for example).
Joanna Maria's Shiviti contemporary designs:
Sample Shiviti products
Shivitis are either displayed on the eastern wall of a room (synagogue) or placed as an insert in siddurim (prayer books). As they show the full name of God, a special care needs to be taken to ensure the items are treated with respect. Because of it, I’ve created only wall art and similar home decor items that can help display the art.
If you like any of the designs, I invite you to visit the three stores where you can see all the available products and learn more about them. I suggest checking out all of them, as they differ in their offer.