The Jerusalem Windows were originally conceived and executed in 1962 for the synagogue attached to the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, the first hospital in the state of Israel. The commission was Chagall's inaugural essay in the medium of stained glass, and he took to it with remarkable facility. The designs were later translated into the present set of lithographs in 1964, by Charles Sorlier at Atelier Mourlot.
The Windows depict a decisive moment in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 49, when Jacob, founder of the Jewish nation, blesses each of his twelve sons as individual tribes and unites them as Israel. Jacob provides each with a blessing in accordance with their character. One by one his sons are shown a vision of their descendants and the future contributions they will make to the nation of Israel, the integration of each son's gift being presented as a foundation for a nation of diversity and might. Levi's tribe will be priests; Judah's the Kings; Gad's will be warriors; Zebulan's people of the sea; Dan's the judges; and so forth.
While emblems of each tribe - such as a crown for Judah or scale of Justice for Dan - differentiate the images, Chagall's overall rendering of Jacob's blessings moves beyond the literal. Each maquette is populated by fluid free-floating forms. As Julian Cain notes in his introductory essay to the plates, weightlessly 'suspended between heaven and earth' are the fish, cows, bouquets of flowers, and religious symbols that characterize Chagall's oeuvre. With his signature vibrant colour combinations and painterly effects, an idyllic notion of the necessary elements of the new state of Israel is formed. For Chagall the Bible was 'very much alive...at one moment [it is] history, or it's a novel, or sometimes pure poetry.' (Gauss pp. 32)