4.3. Ephraim Moses Lilien, drawing ‘The Creation of Man’ (1902)

The poem Sephirah, subject of Chapter 4.2, was taken from Wiener’s anthology with English translations of Moris Rozenfeld’s Yiddish poems (1898). In 1902, the same anthology was released in a German translation, entitled Lieder des Ghetto, enriched with illustrations by Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874-1925). One of the poems is the 13-stanza Die Erschaffung des Menschen (“The Creation of Man”), which describes God’s creation of man as the last stage in His creation of the world. *Translation by Rose Pastor Stokes and Helena Frank (1914).

[1] When the world was first created
By th’ all-wise Eternal One,
Asked he none for help or counsel,—
Simply spake, and it was done!

In contrast to Gen. 1:27, “perplexities arise” and therefore, God convenes His “winged Senate” to get their opinion. God’s plan, the creation of a ruler over the earth, the air and the sea, terrifies the Senate, because man could invade heaven. God acts on their advice and gives man no wings; however, in the final two stanzas of The Creation of Man, he makes an exception for the poet, the crown of His creation:

[12] One exception! for the poet,
For the singer, shall have wings;
He the gates of Heav’n shall enter,
Highest of created things.

[13] One I single from among ye,
One to watch the ages long,
Promptly to admit the poet
When he hears his holy song.

Notwithstanding the great difference in mood between this optimistic poem and the pessimistic Sephirah, the common ground is the idea of chosenness with regard to the Jewish people in Sephirah and to the poet in The Creation of Man. The difference in atmosphere and refinement between Rozenfeld’s naive poem and Lilien’s complicated drawing is remarkable. *Though contemporaries of Rozenfeld and Lilien may have had different opinions: the well-known writer Stefan Zweig stated in 1903, that “this deep unity, this tribal relationship of the artists, makes the Rosenfeld book [Lieder des Ghetto] culturally more valuable.” Quoted in Schmidt, The Art and Artists of the Fifth Zionist Congress, 1901 167. The naive content of the poem is enhanced by the rhythm – ᴗ/- ᴗ/- ᴗ/- ᴗ//- ᴗ/- ᴗ/- ᴗ/- of the alternating verses, which decays quickly into a drone. In the drawing, however, the symmetric rows of the five vertical flower stems on both the left and the right half of the drawing provide an interesting rhythm.


Fig. 2. Ephraim Moses Lilien, The Creation of Man, print on paper. 19 x 28 cm.

The tall plant with its straight, vertical stem is the poppy and the small composite the chamomile, which possess relevant connotations, both apart and together. The chamomile with its yellow-white flowers is a fragrant plant with medicinal, narcotic properties. The poppy is associated with sleep, dream and death, and moreover, with resurrection, for its seeds can lie in the ground for years and then suddenly sprout through the effect of the light, due to plowing or war activity. Both plants are common in Palestine/Israel and possess a perishable beauty—the chamomile petals droop at night and the flowers of the poppy fall off after two or three days; therefore, the Israeli botanist Michael Zohary presumes that they could have served as a model for Isa. 7-9: “7 Grass withers, flowers fade / When the breath of the LORD blows on them. / Indeed, man is but grass: / 8 Grass withers, flowers fade— / But the word of our God is always fulfilled! // 9 Ascend a lofty mountain, / O herald of joy to Zion[.]” *Zohary, Plants of the Bible 172-3. The connotations of the medicinal properties, the long-awaited germination and resurrection fit in with the Zionist idea of ​​the revival of the Jewish people which inspired Lilien’s drawing. In another work, the painting Secrets and Ties (1906), *in the collection of the Israel Museum. http://www.imj.org.il Lilien depicts a similar chronotope with grass and poppies, but with lilies instead of chamomile, and so he is present in his work by means of a pun, Lilien being German for “lilies.”

In both Secrets and Ties and The Creation of Man there are a shofar blower and a kingly figure who bears a strong resemblance to the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. The photographic resemblance of the angel with the kinnor (biblical lyre) in The Creation of Man to Herzl is no coincidence, because Lilien made ​​the famous picture of Herzl overlooking the Rhine and even nude photographs of him, although Herzl urged Lilien to destroy them. *Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin de Siècle 112. Because of his musical pose and aristocratic appearance, Herzl awakens associations with the young David in 1 Sam. 16:18, who is called to deliver King Saul from his evil spirits with music; one of Saul’s attendants gives a description of David which calls into mind later characterizations of the charismatic Herzl: “he is a stalwart fellow and a warrior, sensible in speech, and handsome in appearance, and the LORD is with him.” The duo of Herzl and the shofar blower can be linked to Ps. 150:3: “Praise Him with blasts of the horn; / praise Him with harp and lyre.” The boy, the only figure without wings, must be the newly created man and the resemblance between him and the three angels beside “Herzl” is consistent with stanza 5 of Rozenfeld’s poem: “In our image, I would make him.” Presumably, the process of creation is not yet completed and the boy is the future poet who is to have wings, and “Herzl” is the angel of stanza 13 with the mission to observe the poet and if necessary, to allow him entrance into higher spheres.

A completely different interpretation of the drawing is proposed by the musicologists Philip Bohlman and Ruth Davis in a book about music and Orientalism in the British Empire: *Bohlman and Davis, “Mizrakh, Jewish Music and the Journey to the East” in Music and Orientalism in the British Empire, 1780s-1940s: Portrayal of the East.

The myths recounted in the print come from several texts in the first book of the Torah, ‘Genesis,’ the invention of instrumental music and song by Yuval (here, depicted as Jubal with his lyre), and the introduction of the shofar (ram’s horn) into Jewish ritual, associated with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. . . . In fin-de-siècle Europe, when Rosenfeld’s Songs of the Ghetto first appeared, the figure of Theodor Herzl was already well known, indeed, even in photographs with his gaze fixed on the East itself. *None of the many well-known photos shows Herzl with his gaze fixed on “the East itself.” In the best-known photo, taken by Lilien, Herzl looks to the northeastern bank of the Rhine, opposite his hotel in Basel.* In the modern Orient – in Zion – he stands in for Yuval, and Zionism has become a secular surrogate for Genesis. *Bohlman and Davis, “Mizrakh” 108.

In Lilien’s drawing and Rozenfeld’s poem, however, there are no “myths recounted;” instead, a myth is being created about the creation of man and the preferential treatment of the poet, the only human to receive wings. According to Bohlman and Davis, the drawing represents the invention of music and song by Yuval, who is “depicted as Jubal.” First, Jubal and Yuval are not different persons in the Bible but only different transliterations of the same Hebrew name. Second, Jubal is not the inventor of instrumental music and song but “the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe” (Gen. 4:21). Moreover, the Bible does not mention the “invention” of instrumental music and song. Although the two halves of Lilien’s drawing constitute a whole, which occupies two pages because of its large, horizontal format, Bohlman and Davis only reproduce the left half, without indicating this. As a result, the main subject of the poem, the newly created man, has disappeared. If this is simply an omission, the question arises of whom the wingless figure represents. As the inventor of song, or as the personification of song, he would be portrayed as a singer with an open mouth. If he represents Isaac, then where is Abraham, and what is the connection between Abraham’s sacrifice and “the invention of instrumental music and song”? With regard to the left half of Lilien’s drawing, there is no indication that the shofar blower is occupied in introducing the shofar into Jewish ritual, and it is not very probable for a prominent personality like Theodor Herzl to serve as a model for Jubal, a minor figure in the Bible.

Shofar blowing in The Creation of Man differs completely from shofar blowing in the prayer books for the High Holy Days. First, the law from Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah 3:6, which is quoted in the prayer book and states that a cracked shofar should not be used, even if the crack has been glued, *The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor 168 seems bizarre here, because the ram’s horn of the angel has a glossy surface, suggested by shading, and looks just as perfect as the body of its owner; and that angels would blow their shofar “into a pit or a cellar or a barrel” *Ibid. 168* is hardly imaginable. Second, the shofar in Lilien’s drawing is an aesthetic phenomenon; in contrast with the Talmudic statement “If its sound is thin, thick or dry, it is valid, since all sounds emitted by a shofar can pass muster,” *Talmud Rosh Ha-Shanah 27b it will produce nothing but clear and virile blasts. Third, the pose of the shofar angel is completely different from that of a tokeʿah in the synagogue. In the Rosh Ha-Shanah prayer book, the faithful stand before the throne of “the most fearful One,” “gathering to sound the shofar in the hope of finding redemption.” *The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor 402. In contrast, the angels in the drawing are God’s “winged Senate,” who do not bend and kneel “in the shelter of God’s garden among his beloved nation.” The tokeʿah in the Rosh Ha-Shanah service adopts a modest attitude and prays: “I do not have the understanding or wisdom to hold the correct intentions, with the right holy names, while blowing the shofar.” *Ibid. 492. He has a prompter to avoid mistakes, he wears a tallith and covers his head with it, and according to Kieval, *Kieval, The High Holy Days 112 it is even customary for the shofar blower to wear a kittel, a garment associated with death. *Cf. Moshe Mashber in Der Nister, The Family Mashber 523. Chapter 4.29. Even the shofar is covered until the blowing begins, a usage inspired by Num. 4:15: “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and all the furnishing of the sacred objects at the breaking of camp, only then shall the Kohathites come and lift them, so that they do not come in contact with the sacred objects and die.” Lilien’s herald angel with his shofar does not need a makrei, nor does he cover his head; instead, he shows his nakedness and magnificent wings; instead of looking modest and contrite, he looks self-conscious and defiant. Whereas the shofar blasts in the Rosh Ha-Shanah are the internally persuasive discourse of man, addressed to heaven, the shofar blasts of the angel are the authoritative discourse of heaven in the creation of man.

In this drawing, Lilien pictures not only ​​the creation of man, as Rozenfeld did in his poem; he pictures also a new image of Jewishness in the early years of Zionism, the image of the healthy, muscular, sensual Jew, which had to replace the stereotype of the weakly yeshiva Jew. Nearly a generation later, at the time of the Revolution in Russia and Ukraine, Yoysef Tshaykov also draws a shofar blower who represents a new Jewishness. *Chapter 4.11. In his work, the “usable Past” of shofar tradition is also altered by the revolutionary Present, which however is not Zionist, but Communist. In his drawing, the shofar blower does not represent the sensual nudity of a model in an artist’s studio or an idealized Oriental garden, but the sporty nudity of an athlete or a dancer in an East European context.


Next Chapter