Posts Tagged ‘commandments’

The Timeless Theatre of Passover

April 17, 2011

While it serves as a seasonal religious cornerstone with its complex preparations and formalized recitations, the Passover Seder is, at heart, a metaphor of remembrance. Though the interpretations and translations have varied with social and political considerations in each generation since the original event described in the Book of Exodus, I find it interesting that the Hebrew text remains the same. There are some things you just don’t mess with. But when it comes to pictures, the Haggadah is one of the few texts in the Jewish tradition that permit, even encourage vivid visual accompaniments. So when it came to illustrating Parashat Bo in Exodus, I chose to portray the seder as set elements in a stage play surrounding two matzo bakers whose story is timeless theatre brought to life each year.

Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) may be purchased here: http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html or here: Amazon: http://bit.ly/gRhg0g

Passover: Thought For Food?

April 12, 2011

As an illustrator, the ramifications of the Old Testament’s Second Commandment invariably gives me pause for thought; particularly in this week leading up to the Passover holiday. While I enjoy revisiting traditional illustrated Haggadot like the pedestrian Maxwell House edition and its lux cousin, the Syzk Haggadah with it’s lush, detailed imagery, I am also interested in seeing the versions present at various family sedarim that include feminist and gender-free haggadot, the Moss Haggadah, Leonard Baskin’s illustrated Haggadah as well as various  reproductions of antique Haggadot.

Of course, new interpretations crop up each year and while each of these have their merit, I have yet to see one that dares to depart in a satisfying way from the traditional format and text in both the narrative and accompanying visuals. It is a challenge that I would like to tackle provided I am offered the opportunity to do so by a foundation or private collector who is willing to refrain from oppressive art direction. I can only offer one guarantee; that it will be beautiful, thought-provoking and like no other. Meanwhile, here is some imagery to think about…

(above) Between Heaven & Earth (2001) from the exhibition:Encountering The Second Commandment/Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

In this visual interpretation of the second commandment, two angels appear in the upper and lower waters of creation separated only by a narrow, fiery horizon. the angel of the upper waters reaches towards the commandment written in Hebrew, representing its heavenly origin. The angel within the lower waters of earth containing the English translation of the commandment is a distinct reflection of the one above, in the sense that we were created in god’s image. While reaching for its’ feather, fallen in the transition or translation to the mundane world below, it grasps the upper angel’s hand, attempting to retain the tenets of holiness. I created this image as a metaphor to explain the struggle of artists through the ages who have attempted to balance their need for self-expression with their needs for community and religious observance. (The title of this work would also become part of the title of my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009).

Cover Illustration: Passover issue for The Baltimore Jewish Times (2001)


The interior illustrations for this issue were b/w line & halftone like these:

Cover illustration & calligraphy for The Haggadah: Translated & Transliterated (Judaica Press, 2002) The interior illustrations were B/W halftone details pulled from the cover illustration.

Of Plagues & Promises: Detail from illustration for Parashat Bo from Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). Although Parashat Acharey Mot will be read this year on the Sabbath before Passover, the imagery for Parashat Bo will be more readily associated with the story of the exodus in the Haggadah.


Of all the plagues brought on Egypt by God, the 10th and last, Death of the Firstborn, is the most horrific. In this illustration I have presented the Angel of Death, which the Talmud places in the category of destructive angels called Malach Ha-Movet. Why the Angel of Death, when in Exodus, God makes it clear that He, and not an Angel will implement the 10th plague? Are we to understand that all angels are aspects of our Creator? And were all the events in Exodus designed to help us understand the evil inclination as an inextricable element of our natures? In the Babylonian Talmud it states that, “If God created the evil inclination, He also created the Torah as its antidote.” Perhaps that is all the answer we need…?
Wishing you a thoughtful Pesach…

Sanction & Censure

March 26, 2011

Kashrut is one of the central concepts in observant Judaism. Characterized by its complex laws and associated rituals, it requires extraordinary vigilance in and out of our homes regarding choices of food and its preparation as well as the separation of meat and dairy products. Underlying these laws is the basic understanding of the concepts of sacred and profane in relation to our spiritual development. Parashah Shemini, read this past Shabbos categorizes all animals known to us as either kosher or unkosher (trayf) so that we may choose the components of our diet with care and prepare them for consumption accordingly. As I began to illustrate this parashah, I was as delighted as a child at the extraordinary artistic challenge of depicting the diverse array of life forms on our planet. Digging further into the laws of keeping kosher however, I found the restrictions way too complex to be arbitrary. I wondered about their true meaning for us beyond straightforward obedience. Though I understand and observe the basic tenets of kashrut, my imagination is attracted to the esoteric. So if the animals I have drawn seem, upon closer examination, to have unique personalities, they do, indeed. Their ‘personalities’ were suggested by the Hasidic idea that each creature deemed kosher contains ‘nitzotz’ or sparks of holiness and that, when properly blessed and eaten, those sparks are released, inviting the Divine Presence into our material world. The creatures that appear fully colored underscore this idea. Those bearing an amethyst tint are considered inappropriate for the performance of blessings and commandments. As an ironic postscript to this entry, I should add that for reasons of health and social consciousness such as the prevalence of heart disease and animal rights issues, vegetarianism is experiencing growth among Jews. Perhaps that was the Plan after all, hmm?

Illustration from: Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html

Amazon: http://bit.ly/gRhg0g

The Seductive Shine of Fool’s Gold…

February 18, 2011

The episode of the golden calf in Ki Thissa, this week’s Torah portion has to be the mother of all morality tales. In a nutshell, while waiting impatiently under harsh desert conditions for Moses to descend from Mt. Sinai with his message from God, the Israelites lose it and persuade Moses’ brother, the High Priest Aaron to sanction the creation of a golden idol that can serve as a focus for their passions, religious and otherwise. Kosher, this is not. And when Moses does finally show, he is not best pleased. In shock at this mass betrayal of his people and his brother, he drops the Tablets of the Law which shatter upon impact. According to a rabbinic legend in the Babylonian Talmud, when the tablets were broken, the letters of the Commandments flew back to Heaven. The Israelites were then plagued with a plague as a token of God’s displeasure. Moreover, they were condemned never to reach the Holy Land; only the next generation would do so. Which tells us that wisdom, even Divine, may be glimpsed, but until the designated recipient(s) are fully awake and aware, may not be completely received.

Every time I read this parashah, I wonder about the metaphoric presence of a golden calf in my own life; what values or ideals have I focused on that were not worthy of my humanity? Too many to list here. Yet at these times, I find my thoughts vacillating between understanding Moses’ profound anger and understanding why the people of that first generation of Israelites needed that infamous symbol of all they had left behind in Egypt. While Moses’ mission was to establish a monotheistic religion, his people were making it clear that old habits, particularly bad ones notoriously dog our best intentions for change, both in ourselves and by extension in our environment. Which made the recent events in modern day Egypt so astoundingly ironic. The Egyptian people living under a long-term dictatorial regime, didn’t need a golden calf to effect a change that will mark their place in history, only the united desire to be a free and democratic people. Indeed, they have come full circle and have overthrown their own Pharaoh.

Illustration from: Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009)

Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) may be purchased here: http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html or here: Amazon: http://bit.ly/gRhg0g