Jewish Mother Boris Schatz (1866-1932) Bronze Relief Bezalel Academy, Palestine, c. 1910
To honor Mother’s Day occurring this month, our object of the month is a Boris Schatz bronze relief titled Jewish Mother.
In this relief, a mother lifts up her son so that he can reach the tzedakah box to deposit a coin. Tzedakah means righteousness, fairness, or justice, but is commonly used to signify charity. In Judaism, tzedakah is seen as a religious obligation, which must be performed regardless of financial standing, and must even be performed by poor people. Most Jewish children are given a tzedakah box in Sunday School in which they are supposed to collect change during the week. The Hebrew words on the box in this image are Meir Baal Haneis, the ancient rabbi, sage, and miracle worker in whose name a charity organization was founded in 1860.
Boris Schatz has long been considered the father of Israeli art as he was the founder in 1906 of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, now the renowned Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Schatz, born Shlomo-Zalman Dov-Baruch Schatz, was from the town of Vorno near the Lithuanian City of Vilna. His family was poor but distinguished, and came from a line of rabbis and cantors. From an early age, Schatz was exposed to literature of the Jewish Enlightenment and at the age of 15 he moved to Vilna to further study, but soon withdrew due to his increasing separation from Orthodoxy. Schatz also enrolled at Vilna’s School of Drawing and became acquainted with the Jewish sculptor Mark Antokolsky (1840-1902). Antokolsky’s instruction had a strong influence on Schatz’s work and on his decision to specialize in sculpture.
In 1903, after several years working in the court of Prince Ferdinand in Sofia, Bulgaria, Schatz began producing a series of reliefs on subjects taken from Jewish daily life. Based on childhood recollections, many of the reliefs portrayed Jewish customs and holiday celebrations. They depicted a fast-disappearing view of cultural and communal life in the Diaspora, increasingly threatened by violent pogroms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Originally conceived in wood and terra cotta, Schatz later translated most of these works into bronze. Schatz also depicted various figures that populated shtetl life—the repentant sinner, the village matchmaker, the wise rabbi, the Torah scribe, and the compassionate mother.