The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

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Karen Liebowitz

A lot of folks come here for images of the Phoenix, known in Hebrew as Milcham. If you're one of them, please stay a while and check out our Kabbalah or eco-Torah sections, or visit our homepage. If you like what you see, you can join our mailing list and get monthly updates.

Phoenix images          Kabbalah images         Red Heifer 

Liebowitz's art has played a big part in my imagination since I met her in Seattle in 1999. She has worked intensely with Jewish myth, compellingly juxtaposing the most traditional with the most heretical. A major theme of her work has been the place of figurative imagery in a religion that eschews images. Most of her work also plays with putting the Torah and tradition into the hands and bodies of women.

The very small sample reproduced below includes straightforward meditation on Jewish, and Kabbalistic, themes ("With Roots in Heaven - Tree of Life" and "Mada"), Miriam as the holder of the messianic promise ("Miriam's Cups"), and the red heifer as the proverbial white donkey of a female messiah adorned with bells ("The Inspector").

Other series not represented here include a vibrant cycle on Solomon as both judge and idolater, the Sabbath Bride as a woman adorned in a Torah mantle and crown, and Eris (the Greek Goddess of chaos) bound and trussed as the offering of the Passover Seder meal ("seder" means order). The Eris series is, among other things, a commentary on the idea that (Biblical) religion imposed order by constraining the power of women. Whether that's historically the case is a somewhat open question—see In the Wake of the Godesses—but there is certainly a fear of women's power in most patriarchal societies.

One of the older motifs in Liebowitz's work is the incorporation of illuminations from medieval manuscripts, as in "Mada", below, which utilizes calligraphy from a manuscript of Sefer Hamada (the Book of Science), a volume of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. More often Liebowitz superimposes these illuminations directly onto contemporary figures of women (and sometimes men). In the Solomon cycle, illuminations of Solomon with the sword of judgment interact with figures playing with Torah yads (pointers) or fondling and/or examining small idols of both golden calves and red heifers. I also find a lot of humor in her work, in for example "Yad Envy" (not shown), which shows a woman suggestively reclining with a Torah yad (a pointer shaped like a hand), and even in details like the compass made of Torah yads in "Mada". (Come to think of it, yad envy of some sort is pretty much a continuous theme in all but her most recent work.)

The last two pieces shown here, on the revival or resurrection of the Phoenix, draw on themes that are culturally more universal, though the Phoenix also appears in midrash. Once again, the phoenix series symbolizes not only of redemptive hope and completion, but also the image of woman becoming the agent of redemption.

These final pieces represent Liebowitz's more recent work, while the more thickly Jewish pieces are in an older style. More of Liebowitz's Phoenix and Red Heifer series, as well as some other work, can be viewed on the website of her Los Angeles gallery, Rosamund Felsen. [Note: The photos here are my own - professional ones can be found on the website.]

Mada (Science)
Mada Science

With Roots in Heaven
Tree of Life

Miriam's Cups
Miriam's Cups

The Inspection
The Inspector

Reviving the Phoenix [click to enlarge]

Reviving the Bird

Phoenix Rising [click to enlarge]
Phoenix Rising



Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006