"Tzedek Boxes: Justice Shall You Pursue": Artists Imagine A New Jewish Tradition


On View: January 19 – May 15, 2023

The Tzedek Box, a new ritual object for gathering reflections about our efforts to improve the world, is the inspiration for 29 highly original works by contemporary artists on display at the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at HUC-JIR/New York.

Tzedek means justice; and working toward justice is a response to Judaism’s call: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

Each work has a slot for inserting a written reflection on each effort made to help the world, whether through volunteering, philanthropy, advocacy, education, or other just acts.

The Heller Museum’s call to imagine a Tzedek Box has produced ingenious versions from contemporary artists from across America and around the world. Objects range from clocks to globes, from a jar that produces sparks of light with each submission to an interactive scroll. One work is a sleek brass shaft that opens to form the scales of justice; another is a sculpture of helping hands.

Each box opens so that notes can be retrieved one month after Passover on Yom Hatzedek, which is celebrated on Pesach Sheini, a Biblical holiday allowing for second chances. The goal on that day is to review the past year’s actions and dedicate oneself to do even more in the coming year.

Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director of the Heller Museum, explains, “This exhibition exemplifies the Heller Museum’s mission to encourage the interpretation and renewal of Jewish values, tradition, and practice through the creativity of contemporary artists in works that will advance justice in our world.”

The idea of Yom Hatzedek and the Tzedek Box Project has been led by Dr. Andrew Mandel, a 5th year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR, and has attracted a team of lay leaders, rabbis, and rabbinical and cantorial students to imagine how the holiday could be celebrated.

Dr. Mandel notes, “The artists in this exhibition have demonstrated that Judaism provides a remarkable diversity of visual metaphors with which to elevate the ritual of the Tzedek Box. From the prophetic mighty stream to the Kabbalistic gathering sparks of light, from the camel, whose name means to do good in Hebrew, to Holocaust imagery that cries ‘never again,’ each piece represents a unique contribution to the age-old conversation about who we are, looking beyond ourselves, when we seek to do our part to repair the world.”

Curator Nancy H. Mantell, Ph.D., adds, “We find it remarkable how powerful the work of righteousness becomes when paired with an artist’s vision.”

View the exhibition catalogue.
(View the ADA version.)

In the media: Jewish Ledger, 2022

Image: Holly Berger Markoff, Justice Knows No Other, 2022; Mixed media.

Admission: Free; Identification and proof of vaccination required
Hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 9:00 am – 6:30 pm
Tours: Free docent-guided tours on Tuesdays at 11:00 am and 1:30 pm and by appointment; contact eberman@huc.edu
Information: Please contact HellerMuseum@huc.edu; (212) 824-2218