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Women of the Book

Judith Margolis, USA/Israel

Parshat Shemot

Work in Progress
Parshat Shemot

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 descendent of Amalek, who rises up, it is said, in every generation to destroy the Jews. Here I explore notions of evil as depicted in "horror movies" of my mid-20th century childhood and show Pharoah as a bound Mummy. 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.

Moses is 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, by she rescuing him she proves herself to be an appropriate surrogate mother/guardian for him to be raised in Pharoah's household.

Batya's deliberately, and perhaps even provocatively, sensual form, 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 as 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, were assembled for the revelation of God.

The Burning Bush, has long appeared for me as powerful metaphor for the way that 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.


Judith MargolisIsrael-based American artist Judith draws on the spiritual when confronting the political. Through art and writing, Margolis explores tensions between social consciousness, feminism, and religious ritual tradition, especially, but not exclusively in Judaism. Margolis attended Cooper Union in New York, Lone Mountain College in San Francisco (BA) and received a Masters of Fine Arts degree from University of Southern California.

Driven by social consciousness, Margolis demonstrated against Nuclear armament, participated in Civil Rights marches in the 60’s and early 70’s, and then, with two small children, lived on a leaderless, egalitarian communal farm in Southern Oregon. With her second husband, writer David Margolis z”l, she was drawn to Jewish religious life by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach at the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco. Through the 70s, 80s and early 90s Margolis raised a family and taught University art courses, all the while painting, writing, and publishing artist’s books. She now leads hands-on creativity seminars and serves as a design consultant for book projects and unique commissioned memorial art, in Israel and abroad.

Her limited-edition [2001] book, Countdown to Perfection Meditations on the Sefirot (with text by Sarah Yehudit Schneider) is in the special collection libraries at Yale, U. of Berkelely, U of Washington, UCLA, The New York Public Library, Arthur Jaffe Artists Book Museum and numerous private collections. She is the Art Editor and a contributing writer of NASHIM Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues, published by University of Indiana Press. Margolis has been awarded artist residencies in Russia, United States, and Israel, and is a fellow of the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health. She is exploring ways for art to influence the International peace process. Her work can be seen at and She has three children and six grandchildren and maintains a studio overlooking the Negev, an hour south of Jerusalem.