Ruth Weisberg: The Open Door Haggadah

On View

February 28-June 28, 2002

Opening Reception

Thursday, March 14, 5:30-8:00 pm

Drawings for Reform Movement’s New Haggadah

Ruth Weisberg: The Open Door Haggadah, an exhibition of drawings by renowned artist Ruth Weisberg for the Reform Movement’s new Haggadah, will be on view at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from February 28 through June 28. Presented in conjunction with the publication of The Open Door, A New Haggadah, edited by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell (Central Conference of American Rabbis Press), this exhibition of 35 drawings and monotypes illustrates the Biblical story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

This new Haggadah will be read on Passover as part of the seder meal, when according to Jewish tradition, all Jews are required to recount the story of the exodus which led the Jews from Egyptian slavery to freedom over 3000 years ago. With sensitivity to the gender-inclusive text in this version of the Haggadah, Weisberg depicts figurative, humanist works which invite the emotional connection of the viewer. Weisberg wants her work to “extend an invitation to enter in and to reenact our story and deepen the experience of seeing ourselves as if we also came out of Egypt.”

Weisberg’s drawings express the spiritual and narrative dimensions of traditional and innovative Jewish text. Her Jewish studies helped inspire this work. She noted: “I have learned in my efforts to create art that the traditions of Jewish commentary and midrashic interpretation are valuable tools for the artist as well as the scholar. My own work has been informed by study with many inspiring teachers and rabbis — first among them, Rabbi Laura Geller. Jewish study has helped me go beyond an art based on the superficial manipulation of symbols to a more profound engagement with our distinctive Jewish ways of knowing and understanding.”

Her drawings begin depicting the Exodus with a view of a full moon in Egypt and progress to a peaceful view of Jerusalem. She includes scenes from the story that had not been depicted in a Haggadah before to emphasize their importance, such as the role of the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah. Art historian Donald Kuspit praises the “idealized realism” and thus the spiritual aspects of Weisberg’s work: “Perhaps the integration of the ideal and the actual can only occur through divine intervention, as Weisberg’s art, and Passover, suggest.”

Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Exhibitions Director, noted, “The Haggadah has the longest and richest history of any illustrated Jewish text. For centuries, artists and scribes have adorned this text in fulfillment of ‘chiddur mitzvah’ – the beautification of Jewish ritual objects which enhance the fulfillment of Jewish ceremonial traditions. Weisberg’s illustrations for the newest publication of this traditional and innovative text reflect an integration of historical knowledge of Haggadot, a sensitivity to the text, and an aesthetic relationship among the drawings themselves.” In this exhibition, Weisberg’s drawings are accompanied by the related texts of The Open Door Haggadah, demonstrating how her art is a true partner in drawing out the spiritual and narrative dimensions of this contemporary Haggadah’s text.

Weisberg, the Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, works primarily in painting, drawing, monotypes, and large-scale installations. Her work has been exhibited in over 70 solo and 160 group exhibitions and is part of 50 major museum and university collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), The National Gallery (Washington, D.C.), Biblioteca Nazionale of France (Paris), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and The Norwegian National Museum (Oslo). Having been honored as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome and a Senior Research Fulbright recipient for Italy, Weisberg has also received many awards, including the College Art Association Distinguished Teaching of Art Award.


Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum One West 4th Street (Between Broadway and Mercer Street), Manhattan


Wednesday, March 20, 6:00-8:30 pm
“Opening the Door: When Text and Art Embrace”
Exhibition tour and study session with Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell and Ruth Weisberg

Admission to Museum


Museum Hours

Monday-Thursday, 9 am – 5 pm; Friday, 9 am – 3 pm;
Selected Sundays, 10 am – 2 pm: April 14 and 28.
Tours/Information: (212) 824-2205

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication, The Open Door Haggadah (CCAR Press, 2002).