In 1754, a great fire destroyed the Jewish ghetto in Prague. Rebuilding their central square, the community leaders commissioned a Habsburg court clockmaker, Sebastian Landesberger, to make a timepiece worthy of the new Jewish City Hall. With a single movement he built two clocks, one atop the other. The higher one was conventional with gilded Roman numerals. The lower, however, was numbered with Hebrew letters, to which Landesberger gave a unique horological twist. Since Hebrew is read from right to left, he made the clock’s hands rotate in reverse.
The Hebrew Clock became legendary, celebrated by 20th-century poets including the French modernist Guillaume Apollinaire. “The hands of the ghetto clock run backward,” he wrote in one of his most influential poems. “You also creep slowly backward through life.” The surrealist Philippe Soupault dubbed Landesberger’s invention “the clock of memory,” and Blaise Cendrars made it a metaphor for the entire world, which “like the clock in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, desperately revolves backwards.” Each in their own way, the poets made explicit what many people experienced: The simple mechanical act of showing the hours running counterclockwise can induce nothing less than an altered perspective on life.
A similar transformation has recently been miniaturized by the Russian watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin, who further developed the concept with a calendar function in his Decalogue Luah Shana wristwatch. Like the time, the calendar indication turns counterclockwise, as if backing toward the future. Furthermore, the numerals run only to 29, corresponding to the 29 days in the lunar calendar that guide Jewish religious life. The explicit correlation of this calendar with the moon—and of the moon with the months—is reinforced by the moonphase window directly above the numbers. In the Decalogue Luah Shana, the moonphase and calendrical disc are one and the same. This watch of memory is also a reminder of where our sense of cyclical time began.
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