2006-2007 Museum Exhibit
"The Morning Shema" from Passover Landscapes Haggadah by Rabbi Matthew L. Berkowitz (Opened April 2007)
Five images connected to the recitation of the Shema appear within a decorative frame. The first is based on a baraita which rules what we are permitted to begin reading only when "we see a fellow human being from a distance of four arms' lengths and recognize that individual" (Berakhot 9b). What is the import of that definition? Before we can read the Shema and declare our belief in and allegiance to God, we must recognize our relationship to our fellow humans. We affirm what Martin Buber calls an I-Thou encounter. Relationships between humans give us a glimpse of the Eternal and allow us to enter God's Presence. In the top left hand image, the silhouettes of two individuals face each other with "four amot" inscribed in Hebrew letters between them. This is the most compelling definition determining our obligation to recite the Shema. One may approach God only after having approached humanity. Encountering our fellow human, then meditating on God's presence, grounds us in this world, helping us realize the purpose of leading a God-inspired life: to better our own lives and lives of those around us, effect tikkun olam, the repair of a broken world.
The second image is that of a hilazon or field snail. Numbers 15:38 teaches the mitzvah of including a thread of blue in each group of the white tzitzit that hang from the four corners of a Tallit. The blue dye employed for the tzitzit is derived from a snail found on Israel's northern coast (Menahot 44a). According to the anonymous view of our Mishnah, once we are able to distinguish between this blue and the white of the other threads, we can recite the Shema. This definition affirms both the mitzvah of tzitzit and the purpose of the act, namely, to look upon the tzitzit and remember the mitzvot. To fulfill the mitzvot of tzitzit is to feel commandedness -to pray, to engage in a life of learning and good deeds, and to recognize distinctions and boundaries in the human and natural worlds.
In the third image, a band of green and blue hues represents Rabbi Eleazar's opinion. He calls for a recitation time that is later in the morning, since more light is required to distinguish between green and blue than between blue and white. There is greater subtlety in Rabbi Eleazar's definition. Not only does one require more patience in waiting for the appropriate time to say the Shema, but one must be more discerning and perceptive, more nuanced, to make the distinction that Rabbi Eleazar demands. His is a world requiring careful attention the detail.
Next, the lower left cartouche, composed of layers of blues (representing the sea, the sky, and the firmament) and a gold band (alluding to Divine sovereignty), reflects a rabbinic teaching:
Tekhelet (the blue dye of the snail) resembles the sea and the sea resembles the firmament and the firmament resembles thesapir stone and the sapir stone resembles the throne of glory (Menahot 43b).
Recitation of the Shema bridges the earthly and heavenly realms. Such movement is reflected both in this teaching as well as in the arrangement of the three biblical paragraphs that comprise the Shema -albeit in opposite directions. While the readings of the Shema journey from God to the land of the Individual, this midrash transitions from the .land to the throne of God, encouraging us to aspire heavenward.
Finally, four strands of colorful tzitziot dance playfully down the right panel. The strands are woven tightly together at the top and project outward at the base of the tzitzit. The tied parts are shorter than the free-flowing strands, echoing the Sinai page: commitment to the mitzvot is not only compatible with freedom, it defines freedom. The knots
(totaling six hundred thirteen by numerological calculations) remind us of the commandments.
"Kiseh Shel Eliyahu" - Elijah's Chair Exhibition (Opened March 23, 2007)
Does Elijah visit every Passover Seder?... Every Havdalah Ceremony?... Every Bris?... This exhibition is dedicated to the Prophet Elijah. As the eve of Passover approaches and the preparation for the Seder nights are in full swing; Elijah's Cup will be polished and placed on the Seder table.
Why Elijah’s Cup? Elijah was not part of the Israelites' redemption from Egypt. Elijah the Prophet was active in Israel during the 9th century BCE, was devoted to God, and launched a war against the believers of the"Baal " and other cults. According to his own words "I have been moved by the zeal for the Lord, the God of Hosts" (I Kings 19:10, 14). Elijah's success was temporary as the people of Israel didn't follow Elijah's advice. According to II Kings 2:11, Elijah did not die, but rather he was carried up to the heavens on a blazing chariot of fire pulled by two fiery horses. The legends tell us that he will return, as the forerunner of the Messiah, at the time of the redemption. Hence, we associate the celebration of the Festival of the Redemption from Egypt (Passover), to our future redemption, when Elijah will herald the coming of the Messiah. During the later part of the Seder we open the door to Elijah; he is "expected" to visit every household, sip from his cup, and announce the arrival of the Redeemer. Elijah’s Cup is used once a year on Passover.
Why Elijah is present in every Havdalah? Havdalah is the ceremony preformed every week at the conclusion of the Shabbat Day. The ceremony marks the separation between the ending of Shabbat and the beginning of the weekdays. At the conclusion of Havdalah, Jews includes Elijah in their song. "Eliyahu hanavi, Eliyahu haTishbi - Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite. Let him come quickly, in our day with messiah, the son of David." Weekly, Elijah is heralded as Israel’s redeemer, but since the song is chanted at the beginning of a new week, it also stresses his role as a provider and a protector for the upcoming week.
Why is Elijah is present in every Bris? A Bris is the ceremony that marks the entry of a Jewish child into the covenant of Abraham. The Midrash explains that Elijah complained to God that "The Children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant" (I Kings 19: 14) meaning the covenant of Abraham. To that God replied "Because of excessive zeal for Me you have brought charges against Israel that they have forsaken My covenant: Therefore you shall have to be present in every circumcision Ceremony. (Pirkei de R" Eliezer 29; Zohar I Gen.93a) This charges Elijah to be present at the "critical birth" period of every newborn Jewish child. To accommodate Elijah, "the Angel of the Covenant", an Elijah’s Chair is designated in every Bris. This special chair is placed to the right side of the sandak (godfather) during the circumcision ceremony and is left empty for Elijah. This is because Elijah, who saw himself as the last Jew, is going to bear constant witness to the eternity of Israel.
Elijah’s Chair "Zeh hakisei shel Eliyahu - This is the chair of Elijah, Blessed be his memory" is the opening prayer preceding every circumcision. The Shulchan Aruch prescribes this special seat or chair for Elijah. It is usually richly carved and ornately embroidered. Temple Beth Sholom Judaica Museum Committee began the process of acquiring an Elijah’s Chair at the Fall of 2006. Initially the committee determined the necessary specifications of an Elijah’s Chair that will suit our congregational needs, and launched The Elijah’s Chair Competition. At this time, with Passover knocking at our doors, we would like to share with you some of the results and some of the sample chairs that were offered to us by artists from Israel and the USA. No selection will be made at this point, the competition remains open. The Elijah’s Chair Exhibition will honor Elijah the Prophet; it will include objects that relate to Passover, Havdalah and Bris, all from TBS Judaica Museum collection. Happy Pesach!
This month, we are also pleased to display in our gallery the following collections:
- Rabbis: The Many Faces of Judaism; 100 Unexpected Photographs of Rabbis With Essays In Their Own Words by George Kalinsky. This exhibit presents portraits of rabbis in cowboy boots, rabbis in fatigues, rabbis on cell phones, rabbis who eat sushi. A Los Angeles rabbi's shirt reads "Grateful Yid," while another, from Rome, saddles-up on a motorcycle.
- The modern Israeli artist, Yaakov Agam, created illustrations for the Haggadah which are highly modernistic. Using vibrant colors, stick letters, and geometric shapes, he continues the great tradition of Haggadah illustration while adding a flare that is uniquely his own. To the right, we see his depiction of the Seder plate. The letters surrounding the circle make up the word plate in Hebrew. In the center of the circle is the word maror (bitter herbs). Images are from The Agam Haggadah.
"Esther" The Mystique Behind the Mask (Opened February 26, 2007.)
The story of Purim took place in Shushan, today’s Susa, Persia (Iran).
As the Scroll of Esther unfolds, Queen Esther’s true origin remains hidden to the king until the very end of the saga.
Esther’s name is rooted in the Hebrew word ES-TER which means hidden; even God’s name is hidden - it does not appear in the scroll at all.
The exhibition will feature Masks by Beckie Kravetz, Master theatrical mask maker. She received her training at the Yale School of Drama, as well as in Italy, Guatemala and Mexico. In 1988, she became the resident mask-maker for the Los Angeles Opera. Her work is not limited to operatic themes; she recently was inspired by the Scroll of Esther and created a series of masks representing the personalities of the Megilla. Ms. Kravetz works include the series Figures and Faces. Painted by Yakov Feldman, Mystical portrait artist who was born Vitebsk, Byelorussia, and immigrated to Israel 1990, his provocative mystical work gets its inspiration from the intriguing characters of the Megilla.
The exhibition includes intricate, magnificent Persian Judaica from the Museum and from private collections.