Artist: Ellen Holtzblatt, USA
Parashat Tazria begins by detailing laws of impurity after childbirth, length of impurity, depending on the gender of the child, and offerings that are to be made at the Temple at the end of this period. Sacrifices were made as burnt offerings of a lamb and sin offerings of doves and pigeons. In the event the woman did not have the means to acquire a lamb, she could substitute birds for the burnt offering.
In my visual midrash of Tazria, I connect to my impoverished, peasant ancestry from Minsk and Galicia, and make an offering of pigeons and doves. The woodcut depicts seven doves and pigeons, mirroring the days of creation. In religious text, birds herald hope, as well as serve as offerings for worship. As archetype, they possess significance, in that they inhabit earth, sea and sky, evoking humanity’s deepest aspirations and fears. Birds assume the persona of angel: messenger, guide, harbinger of life and death.
The infant in the woodcut, lying in amniotic fluid following her birth, is my first-born daughter. Hence, the midrash is both a universal retelling of human conception reflecting divine creation, and my personal journey of becoming a mother. Childbirth is a recurring theme in the Bible, often only possible because of heavenly intervention, such as with Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Hana. As a woman who bore two daughters and miscarried in between, conception and birth have at times seemed mysterious and tenuous. Conception, gestation and birth are physical processes that echo the divine act of creation. Man and woman, we all begin here; birth, like death, is an essential facet of the cycle.
Ellen Holtzblatt is a Chicago-based artist whose paintings explore the connection between the physical and the spiritual. Holtzblatt has exhibited her work at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York, Inselgalerie in Berlin, Josef Glimer Gallery in Chicago and Yeshiva University Museum in New York. Holtzblatt earned her degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. www.ellenholtzblatt.com
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