Parshat Shemot

Acrylic and oil paint images reproduced as glicée print on parchment, 2011

Artist: Judith Margolis,  Israel

I have often appropriated images from popular culture and news media, as a source for my art.   For this complexly plotted Parasha, I managed to integrate images and themes that have interested me and appeared in my work over many years.

For example, in the past I used triangles as a powerful central image for focus and meditation.  Here a Triangle represents both the dark mysteries of Egyptian culture, and Har Sinai, the place of Holy revelation. I understand Pharoah to be a descendant of Amalek, who rises up, it is said, in every generation to destroy the Jews. This image shows Pharoah as a bound Mummy, expressing notions of evil as depicted in “horror movies” of my mid-20th century childhood. He floats transparently across an image of a global world, which references the many places throughout time that evil tyranny oppressed and continues to threaten the vulnerable.

I painted Moses swaddled in Pharoah’s arms, as if cradled in his foundling’s basket. He is observed by and will be rescued by Pharoah’s daughter who is sometimes referred to as Batya. Her fortuitous presence in the water at dawn, is explained by midrash, not as random chance but because she was engaged in doing a mikveh, the ritual immersion associated with conversion. Presumably knowing that Moses was Jewish and willfully flouting her father’s decree that Jewish male infants be murdered, she proves herself to be an appropriate surrogate mother/guardian for him, by rescuing him to be raised in Pharoah’s household.

Batya is deliberately, even provocatively painted in an explicitly sensual form. This refers not only to Jewish artistic tradition — Pharoah’s daughter was depicted as early as 244 CE in the Dura Europos synagogue as bathing nude — but also brings her together in visual dialogue with the Triangle, a graphic visual symbol of Har Sinai. This reminds us of the dearly held belief that all the Jewish souls, the men and the women and children, were assembled for the revelation of God.

The Burning Bush has long appeared to me to be a powerful metaphor for the way artists relentlessly seek images to encourage them on their path and transform their lives, as it did Moshe’s.  In this painting, it serves as a prophetic foretelling of Moshe’s encounter with God, as well as an icon of never ending, enduring creative energy that inspires faith and life, with out ever being consumed.

About Judith

Artist/essayist Judith Margolis, is Art Editor of Nashim, Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues. Her work appears in ARTweek, Parabola, Sh’ma, Tikkun, Architectural Worlds, and CROSSCurrents, and resides in rare book collections including Yale, and the New York Public Library.  It is archived at




Collect this Art