Progress at last (my personal bookcase)mahogany, paper, card, thread 60x60x10cm
My idea here relates to the exponential growth in women’s scholarship in recent decades. Jewish women throughout the last 2 millennia have not been notably learned- this area was overwhelmingly dominated by men. However, we are witnessing a real change with women achieving great prominence and knowledge: writing, teaching, leading higher education institutes for other women, and women rabbis in all denominations of Judaism. This is nothing short of a revolution, social and intellectual.
I chose to address this new excellence by creating a mini-bookcase (referencing the traditional ‘Jewish Bookcase’). I created 5 shelves, each covering 500 years from the beginning of the first millennium of the Common Era (AD). Each scholar who has inspired or influenced me, has her name on the spine of a tiny hand-made book, each 6.6 x 5.5 x 1.8cm.
The earlier shelves are either empty or sparsely filled, whereas the shelf from 2000 CE is overflowing with books, depicting the recent phenomenal multiplication of outstanding women now in the field of traditional Jewish learning.
Against the Evil Eyebronze, glass, metal, velvet 9x13x10cm
Aguna (chained woman)hand-built earthenware, painted and glazed 32x34x37cm
An aguna is a woman whose husband refuses to give her a get, which is a document of Jewish divorce. The get must be given willingly by the husband to the wife in order for the divorce to be valid according to Jewish law (halacha). Without a get, the woman may not remarry.
Unfortunately, there are men who deliberately withhold the get. The man and woman no longer live together, their relationship is over, but the man refuses to give a get knowing that this will stymie the woman’s life. There are men who choose to sit in prison rather than to give a get, and many who blackmail the woman. Others wait until her child-bearing years are over and then oblige. This really is an example of evil being a matter of choice; a violence committed against a dependent, helpless woman. There is an enormous amount of material on the topic and plenty of attempts at creative work-arounds, including latterly specific pre-nuptial agreements but the horror lingers.
My art work, hand-built earthenware, painted and glazed, consists of a woman’s neck with a heavy hand-built earthenware chain repeatedly wound around it. This represents the weighty, suffocating burden that an aguna carries the entire time, chained as she is to a cruel, vindictive man.
A Blessing on your Head20,000 sheets of paper, acrylic paint, gold leaf, wood 114x50x34cm
This is a work about blessing, the special personal prayer in Hebrew that fathers and mothers and often grandparents too, with their hands on the child’s head, give their sons and daughters or grandchildren, on Friday evening, after synagogue and before dinner.
The text reads, for sons:
ישמך אלוהים כאפרים וכמנשה
May the Lord bless you like Ephraim and Menashe
And for daughters:
ישמך אלוהים כשרה רבקה רחל ולאה
May the Lord bless you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah
Then follows the famous ברכת כהנים , the Priestly Blessing, taken from the Bible, Numbers 6: 24-26. This is also the oldest known Biblical text, found in an ancient grave from 7-6th century BCE in Katef Hinnom in Jerusalem, engraved in Hebrew on small silver scrolls, and now on display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem:
יְבָרֶכְךָ ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
יָאֵר ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
יִשָּׂא ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May the Lord lift His face unto you and give you peace.
Jewish parents (and grandparents) have been blessing their children (and grandchildren), including adult children, like this for many generations with a separate blessing each week, for each child. This prayer represents a parent’s best hopes for his child, that the child should follow in the path of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and should find favour with the Lord. It acts as a conduit for forgiveness and love.
My work consists of some 20,000+ pairs of paper hands, based on my own hands, representing generations of parental blessing and prayer. Each right hand represents the prayer for sons’ welfare, and each left hand is for daughters. The overall height is symbolic of a child’s height. Each paper hand was cut out by hand and piled up in a column. The perennial blessing appears at the top in gold leaf.
Welcome packagebread, salt 5x18x8cm
Bread is regarded as the most basic foodstuff. In the Talmud, a meal (requiring a blessing to be recited) is defined by the consumption of a piece of bread larger than an olive. There are several traditions that place bread and salt together:
1. It is an imitation of Temple ritual, where offerings were prepared with salt.
2. It refers to Genesis 3:19, which says “By the sweat of your brow, shall you get bread to eat”; salt is representative of the sweat.
3. Bread and salt are regarded as a natural pair because the Hebrew words lechem (bread) and melach (salt) are both spelled from the same three letters (לחם, מלח).
By bringing bread and salt to a new home, one is making it possible for newcomers to sustain themselves. There is a tradition that these are the first foods to enter a home, as a welcome. And dipping bread (or challah) into salt is an integral part of any Jewish festive meal.
For this work, I baked a round bowl out of bread and heaped it with salt.
Enter the Eruvglass, perspex, movement sensors, LEDs 14x110x92cm
An Eruv is a symbolic boundary in Jewish Law, defining the area within which there is no prohibition against carrying on the Jewish Sabbath. This allows the use of wheelchairs, pushchairs, walking sticks etc. and facilitates a rich family and communal life on Shabbat.
Where available, the boundary utilizes existing fences, embankments or contiguous property lines. Otherwise, wires are suspended from utility or special posts and in this manner, a predetermined area is notionally defined. Public and private spaces are symbolically ‘mixed’ and this ‘mixing’ is the actual meaning of the Hebrew word ‘Eruv’.
The concept of the Eruv is attributed to King Solomon and Eruvim have been used in Jewish communities throughout the world since his days. In modern times, there are some 150 Eruvim in N. America, very few in post WWII Europe, and until recently, there were none in the UK. Probably this reflects the diffidence traditionally felt by British Jews in asserting their communal rights. The emergence of multi-culturalism in society in general, together with incipient pro-active religious feminism in the Jewish community in particular, set the scene for change.
In 1987 the idea of establishing an Eruv in NW London was first proposed by our local Rabbi, Alan Kimche, of the Ner Yisrael Community in Hendon. My husband David Schreiber, together with a devoted team, undertook to manage and execute the project and an Eruv of approximately 11 miles in circumference was proposed. After 15 years of planning, religious and political battles, the NW London Eruv was finally inaugurated in March 2003. Since then, several other Eruvim have been set up in the UK.
My installation is a tribute to my husband’s tireless perseverance and ultimate success.
I have prepared a glass map of the NW London Eruv, set on a support which houses movement sensors and LED lights. When someone approaches within 2-3 metres of the installation, the lights go on for about 30 seconds, illuminating the map. For those who know and care about it, this represents the sanctified status of the Eruv.
Laid tableBone china, earthenware, silk thread, paper, ceramic, fabric 110x136x91cm
And spread Your canopy of peace over ussilk flowers, size variable
Mizvah Night (1)mixed media 37x35x50cm
“Marital relations are one of the pleasures of Shabbat. Therefore scholars should have marital relations with their wives on Friday night”. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim Chapter 280 Marital Relations on Shabbat)
שולחן ערוך אורח חיים רפ הלכות שבת תשמיש המטה בשבת
א תשמיש מתענוגי שבת הוא לפיכך עונת תלמידי חכמים הבריאים מליל שבת לליל שבת
This law is an integral, if private, side of Judaism. The term ‘scholars’ is interpreted to include all white-collar workers, as opposed to manual laborers for whom the halacha (Jewish law) is different.
Just as a woman readies herself for the Shabbat by preparing food, challot (special loaves of bread) and candles to light, so she must prepare herself, to the extent that she needs to do so and when she is not nidah (ritually unclean), for intimacy with her husband at the end of the day. After the meal is served and cleared, the guests leave and the children are asleep, then comes the time for the fulfillment of this mizvah (commandment).
In my work, I make overt reference to this hidden agenda of Friday nights. I have baked challot in the shape of breasts and put lipsticks in place of candles in the Shabbat candlesticks. Friday night really is often colloquially and half-jokingly called “mizvah night”.