Schechter Logo for Print

How do artists portray Bereshit, the first Torah portion?

This was recorded prior to the current war. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those killed, wounded and kidnapped. We hope and pray that this war will end with a positive outcome for the State of Israel.

״ה׳ עוז לעמו יתן, ה׳ יברך את עמו בשלום.״

“May God grant strength to God’s people; May God bless our people with peace.”  (Psalm 29:11)

How do artists portray Bereshit, the first Torah portion? Dr. Shula Laderman takes us into the vision of modern Israeli artist: Avner Moriah.

Looking at Bereshit,  the first parasha  of the Torah, from an artistic point of view, several questions arise: How can the Creation story be visualized? Where is God in the picture?  Is the order of Creation on each of the six days important? What are the most significant features of Creation? How should Adam and Eve be imaged in terms of the continuation of the Bereshit story?

Relating to these kinds of questions is so difficult that medieval Jewish artists seldom included portrayals of Creation in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts of the Torah.

Avner Moriah presented here his version of the story.

The Creation, Avner Moriah

His first painting visualizes the opening of the Genesis story: “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” (Gen. 1:1). Looking from right to left, we realize that he made no effort to describe the order of Creation day by day, but rather challenged the viewer to decipher its various acts  that are figured in the picture. Relying on the first two verses, “Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2), led the artist to image the tohu, the substance formed in the initial act of Creation, out of which everything else was shaped, as depicted in the upper right-hand corner of the picture by erratically arrayed amorphous yellow shapes.

The continuation of the verse “and the spirit of God (ruach) hovered over the face of the waters” is visualized as a non-anthropomorphic spirit of God, imaged as a three-dimensional spiral next to the waters (tehom) on its left. Again shaped as spirals, this time in several other colors, the spirit of God is depicted to the left of a white and a black rectangle, which represents the day and the night. Below we see a patch of blue between two white circles, suggesting the firmament that separates the waters above and below the sky, which alludes to the second day: “And God said: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’” (Gen. 1:6).

Under the image of the firmament, the artist illustrated the sun and the moon, as well as the stars, skipping over the creation of the third day, and displaying the flying fowl, thus moving on to the verse, “And let fowl fly above the Earth in the open firmament of Heaven” (Gen. 1:20), which was part of Creation on the fifth day.

Returning to the top of the picture, we find images of the two acts of Creation on the third day to the left of two small spirals representing the spirit of God. First, visualizing the verse, “Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear” (Gen. 1:9), we see a patch of blue with a crocodile (sea-monster) within it, representing the sea, and below it a stretch of yellowish green for a sward of grass and trees. The sea-monster in the water is mentioned with the fowl on the fifth day, “And God created the great sea-monsters” (Gen. 1:21), thus making it clear that they are not mythological creatures, which competed with God over the domination of the world, but rather are to be counted among God’s creations.

Elsewhere in the picture are the various animals; wild four-legged beasts, such as a lion; domesticated four-legged creatures, such as the bull and the deer; and the crawling creatures. The winged creatures are figured, as well and various kinds of fish in the water. Most prominently,  are the  four figures standing together in the foreground – Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel – that are modeled after cult figurines and the images on seals taken from ancient Near Eastern civilizations.

In response to the questions asked above, the artist wanted to emphasize the presence of God who created the world according to His will, but the important thing is that Adam, who was created in the image of God, his wife Eve and their descendants, will take upon themselves the preservation and continuation of creation

Dr. Shula Laderman worked for many years as a computer programmer and planner at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. While working there, she studied at  the Hebrew University in Jerusalem towards her Ph.D.,  which she received in  2000. Her topic of research is the “Artist as an Interpreter” – visual interpretation of the Bible in Jewish and Christian Art. She is the author of: Images of Cosmology in Jewish and Byzantine Art- God’s Blueprint of Creation and is co-author with the artist Avner Moriah of: The Illuminated Torah. She taught for many years at Bar Ilan University as well as at the Schechter Institute, where she continues to teach in the Judaism and the Arts track (which she directed in the past).

Join our mailing list

Sign up to our newsletter for the newest articles, events and updates.

    * We hate spam too! And will never share or sell your email or contact information with anyone