The Honeybee in the Garden

On View

September 21, 2005-January 20, 2006


Wednesday, September 21, 2005, 5:00-8:00 pm

Debra Band’s exhibition, The Song of Songs – The Honeybee in the Garden, showcases a contemporary illuminated manuscript illustrating The Song of Solomon’s lyrical love poetry, expressing sensual yearning, the beauty of nature and the land, and an allegorical interpretation of the relationship between bride (the people of Israel) and groom (God).

The Song of Songs, one of the shortest books of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, has provided some of the most passionate and most lasting love poetry in history. The biblical text of the Song of Solomon has been a major influence in art, music, and literature for over two millennia. Band presents a new visual interpretation of The Song of Songs, based on years of research and six years of painting the manuscript. Band has interpreted the poetry as the daydreams of a couple within a walled garden, enabling the verses to be understood simultaneously as both human, and religious words of love.

Physically, the sixty-five illuminations incorporate all the traditional Jewish manuscript arts. The original pages are scribed and painted on kosher slunk vellum, the finest calfskin parchment available, using ink and gouache; gold, palladium, and copper leaf and powder, and paper cutting. The artist employs both medieval Sephardic and Ashkenazic calligraphy to express both delicacy and strength. She embeds her illuminations with images of honeybees, alluding to the artist’s Hebrew name, Devorah (honeybee), and sustaining a Hebrew scribal tradition of representing the scribe’s or illuminator’s presence in the work.

Accompanying the illuminations are wall texts with translations of The Song of Songs by David Band, who combined the most current linguistic and archaeological scholarship with a close fidelity to the original Hebrew grammar and phrasing.

“Debra Band’s work sustains the continuity of a venerable tradition of illustrated and scribed book arts in Jewish history,” notes Laura Kruger, Curator. “Her imagery infuses the poetry of antiquity with a contemporary sensibility, bringing us closer to the text sources of Judaic heritage and reminding us of the vital role played by the contemporary artist in interpreting Jewish identity and culture for our own time.”

Debra Band holds a B.A. Honours in History from Concordia University in Montreal and a M.S. in Political Science from MIT. She turned full attention to Hebrew manuscript arts in 1987. She studied Hebrew calligraphy with Gwenyth Welch in Berkeley, and is otherwise self-taught in the manuscript arts. Descended from an eminent rabbinic family and married into a family of scholars of modern Hebrew literature, her extensive studies of Jewish texts and research into medieval European and middle Eastern painting and manuscripts inform her work. Her work includes illuminated and papercut ketubot, other manuscripts and papercuts, in private collections, museums, and communal institutions across the United States, Canada, England and South Africa, including the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum in New York and The World Bank in Washington, D.C. Band’s largest single work to date is the illuminated manuscript of The Song of Songs: the Honeybee in the Garden and she is presently working on illuminated books of a selection of Psalms, and the books of Esther and Ecclesiastes. Extensive information about her work is available at Debra has lived throughout the United States and Canada, and after many years in California and New Mexico, presently resides in the Washington, D.C.

This exhibition is accompanied by the book, The Song of Songs: The Honeybee in the Garden, published by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). Contact JPS directly by visiting; please search for “The Song of Songs.” The JPS edition retails for $75.

Click here to view images from the opening

Public Programs

Understanding the Biblical Songs of Songs through the Arts
Dr. Freema Gottlieb

(5 weeks) Wednesdays | 6:30-8:30 PM | Nov. 16-30 | Dec. 7, 14 | $160
A plain reading of the Song of Songs reveals a joyful man/woman eroticism and a sensuous delight in nature. Jewish and Christian mystics have taken the poem as an allegory for the love between God and Israel, but the Song has been an important source of inspiration for musicians and artists as well. We will examine some of the manifold interpretations of this seminal text. Dr. Freema Gottlieb, teacher of midrash and Bible is the author of The Lamp of God: A Jewish Book of Light and many articles.

Registration/Contact Information

New York Kollel at 212.824.2296 or email

Images available

please contact Rachel Litcofsky, 212-824-2205;

Museum Hours

Mondays-Thursdays, 9 am-5 pm; Fridays, 9 am-3 pm; Selected Sundays, 10 am-2 pm, Sept. 11, 25; Oct. 16; Nov. 13; Dec. 11.


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


(212) 824-2205;


Free, Photo ID Required