German Brass Hanging Lamp

Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show
Jonathan Greenstein

Dear Jonathan,

All we know about this brass hanging lamp is that it came from Germany, possibly Westphalia, in the 1840s. Can you tell us more? And have we ruined it by adapting it for electrical use?

Martha Ransohoff Adler, Member of Temple Micah, Washington, DC


Dear Martha,

Your lamp is called a judenstern (pronounced yooden stern), meaning "Jewish star" in German.

Our co-religionists in Germany and the Netherlands used star-shaped judensterns from the 15th century through the late 19th century to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting a Shabbat lamp. The judensterns were made of brass-essentially copper mixed with some zinc-a very hard metal that lasts for centuries if handled correctly.

In our time, two or more candles are generally lit for Shabbat, the two in accordance with the commandments sh'mor (observe) and zechor (remember). In many Orthodox households an additional candle is lit for each family member, and if a woman lighting the candles ever fails to do so on erevShabbat, she must add one candle thereafter for the rest of her life. The same traditions applied to the use of juden stern lamps. Yours appears to have six oil fonts.

Judensterns were most likely produced in the thousands, so they are relatively common. Ordinarily they sell for $400-500. Because yours has been electrified, I estimate a $100 loss in value.

Jonathan Greenstein, founder, J. Greenstein & Co., Inc. and star of a new Judaica series on The Jewish Channel

Reader inquiries:


Dear Jonathan,

We're so pleased to know more about the lamp we've used for decades. It's interesting that the value goes down when the utility of the piece increases.