4.53. Eliyahu Sidi, painting ‘From Tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah’ (1994)

In two of the seventy works discussed in A Tool of Remembrance, the Present of the modern work of art is directed by the Past of the Mishnah. Both of these works were created by Israeli artists: the composer Yehezkel Braun (born 1922) and the artist Eliyahu Sidi (born 1936). Braun’s composition for chorus and brass Festive Horns *Chapter 4.44 and Sidi’s gouache Mitokh masekhet Rosh Ha-shanah (“From Tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah”) are based on the halakhah from Chapter 3 of the Mishnah tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah; whereas Braun uses all six mishnayyot on the shofar (2-7), Sidi uses only four of them (2-5). *The Koren Rosh HaShana Maḥzor 164-6. Despite the serious character of halakhah, both works distinguish themselves by their light-hearted character: they represent the commandment of shofar blowing not as a burden, but as a delight.
Eliyahu Sidi-1

Fig. 9. Eliyahu Sidi, From Tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah. Gouache on paper. 55 x 36,5 cm.

Sidi’s gouache offers a combination of old and new, traditional and modern elements. With its four text units, each followed by an illustration, it resembles a page from a medieval book and, at the same time, a comic strip or the story board for a film.

The first of the four text units is the second part of mishnah beth: *Hebrew characters have a numerical value: beth is 2, gimel 3, daleth 4, heh 5 “Rabbi Yose said: Are not all shofarot called horns? as it is said: ‘When they sound a long note on the horn of a ram…’” Sidi writes the words rabbi and amar (“said”) in full in notes, as explanations in layman’s terms. The corresponding picture shows three stylized ram’s horns and the title SHO-FAR-OT.

The second illustration quotes mishnah gimel: “The shofar of Rosh HaShana was that of an ibex – straight, and plated with gold at the mouth, and to its sides there were two trumpets. A long note sounded from the shofar, and short notes from the trumpets, for the commandment of the day was the shofar.” The difference between the shofar and the silver ḥaẓoẓrot can easily be seen. The red spots on the shofar blowers’ faces might be allusions to the “gold at the mouth,” the gold-plated mouthpieces mentioned in this mishnah. More on the birds is said below.

The third illustration deals with mishnah dalet: “On fast days they would blow the shofarot of rams – curved, and plated with silver at the mouth, and in between the shofarot were two trumpets. Short notes sounded from the shofarot, and long notes from the trumpets, for the commandment of the day was the trumpets.” Here, the characteristic curve of the ram’s horn is not only exaggerated, but even multiplied.

The fourth part of the painting is taken by mishnah heh: “The Jubilee is like Rosh HaShana with respect to the shofar and to the blessings. Rabbi Yehuda states, ‘On Rosh HaShana one blows the shofar of a ram, and for the Jubilee, that of an ibex.’” The abbreviations R (“Rabbi”) and R”H (“Rosh Ha-Shanah”) are written in full in notes. On the left of the fourth part of the painting, there are a green ibex and a black ram with strongly curved horns; by putting them with their heads against each other, as before a fight, Sidi emphasizes that their horns are not used on the same holy days.

The birds on the pictures represent sacrificial animals. According to Lev. 5, certain people, for example those who have touched something unclean, should offer a sheep or goat to God, or if their means are not sufficient, two pigeons or turtledoves. The halakhah concerning sacrifices from Leviticus is elaborated in the Kodashim (“Holy Things”) part of the Mishnah, which is commentated in the Talmud. The 1st tractate of Kodashim, Zevaḥim (“Animal-offerings”), contains a sentence which connects sacrifice with the blowing of the shofarot and ḥaẓoẓrot, and therefore concerns Sidi’s gouache: “[Ye shall blow with the trumpets] over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings.” *Talmud Zevaḥim 55a. The final, 11th tractate of Kodashim is Kinnim (“Nests”), named after the “nests,” that is, the two birds that were being sacrificed together.

Strictly speaking, the images of humans and animals are a violation of the second commandment in Exod. 20:4: “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth,” the more so, in illustrations to a halakhic text. Sidi even goes a step further. From Tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah can be considered a stylization with the passages from Leviticus, the Mishnah and the Talmud as the represented discourse and the language of modern advertisements and infographics as the representing discourse. Although there is much humor in Sidi’s painting, it cannot be defined as a “parodic” stylization, because the intentions of the representing discourse do not conflict with those of the represented discourse—as Bakhtin puts it: “they fight against them, they depict a real world of objects not by using the represented language as a productive point of view, but rather by using it as an exposé to destroy the represented language.” *Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel” 364. Nowhere does Sidi object to halakhah; instead, he only visualizes it. The first picture with the three ram’s horns and the title Shofarot resembles a playful product logo, with the arrows and notes as stickers announcing recent renewals or price tags. Just as an infographic, the work of art explains the textual information at a single glance, without making the text redundant. Both the title and the three pictures, each with three shofar blowers and three birds, are in line with the tripartite structure of the shofar ritual.

The repetition of the identical bird icons resembles the “isotype” symbols developed by Gerd Arntz in the 1930s, that were often used in statistics. *The artist Gerd Arntz (1900-1988) was born in Germany and emigrated to the Netherlands in 1934. The development of employment in industry, for example, was graphically represented by a row of identical, schematically-drawn workers per year, one symbol per million workers, whereas unemployment was represented by symbols of workers with bent shoulders and their hands in their pockets. Cf. Annink and Bruinsma, “Visual Statistics” in Gerd Arntz, Graphic Designer 123-56. One illustration refers to the tractate Kinnim, which treats the complicated problems which arise when sacrificial birds fly away to alight somewhere else or never to come back. The imminent confusion in the sacrifice ritual is represented by a bird sitting on the shofar blower’s head; other examples of visual jokes are the horns used by the birds as a branch or nest, which alludes to the meaning of the Mishnah tractate of Kinnim (“Nests”). “Text balloons” out of the bells of the horns, just as in comic strips, illustrate the connection between shofar blowing and bird sacrifices. The non-realistic proportions of the shofarot and ḥaẓoẓrot illustrate the importance of the different instruments in the ritual and the durational dimensions of their blasts, instead of the real dimensions of the instruments. At one glance, the viewer sees the difference between a ram’s horn and an ibex horn; and the difference between on the one hand, the ram, pictured as a comic character, and on the other hand, the icon-like birds, illustrates the importance of the ram, which is connected with Abraham’s sacrifice.


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