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“A Celebration of Unity and Diversity is the space between Judaism and Christianity”
– Roots & Shoots –
The Martyrs of Kischinew by E M Lilien
Jews fleeing from persecution in Eastern Europe sought places that were less hostile and more secure, with a number turning towards their ancient Biblical homeland as an option to settle. This led to the establishment of growing numbers of Jews moving to Ottoman occupied Palestine
(In the 3 part series of programmes on Joseph Rabinowitz we considered some of the issues surrounding the pogroms that were instigated against the Jews of the realm).
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Behold the Man: Between Judaism, Zionism, and Christianity
These new European Jewish arrivals in Ottoman Palestine during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, were motivated by the Zionist ideal of the ingathering of the Jews from the diaspora to their ancient Jewish homeland and this idealism finds expression in artists among the new arrivals and is depicted in sculptures, pictures and paintings by them.
Zionism – what it is not and what it is!
It is my desire to seek to clear up some misconceptions regarding what Zionism is and what Zionists believe.
The mere mention of the word “Zionist” or “Zionism” has taken on a negative meaning in the minds of many and this is due to a number of factors – the anti-Israel campaigners and lobbyists who pursue their propaganda war against modern Israel and the BDS (cultural, academic & economic boycotts) which questions Israel’s very right to exist as a sovereign nation state, and continues to be a challenge that needs to be countered.
Therefore, in the present anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist/anti-Israel/anti-Jewish climate, open and frank conversations are needed in an increasingly dangerous world in which we live, with its growing hostility to those who hold differing views to our own and this is particularly the case for Jews in general and Israel in particular.
Say, “NO!” to hate speech and hate crimes
Contrary to the UN Resolution 3379 – ZIONISM IS NOT RACISM –
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), “determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The vote took place approximately one year after UNGA 3237 granted the PLO “observer status”, following PLO president Yasser Arafat‘s “olive branch” speech to the General Assembly in November 1974. The resolution was passed with the support of the Soviet bloc and other then Soviet-aligned nations, in addition to the Arab and Muslim majority countries.
The determination that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”, contained in the resolution, was revoked in 1991 with UN General Assembly Resolution
While Arab nationalism is not considered racist, Jewish nationalism (Zionism) is called racist. Many Arab and Moslem nations discriminate and severely restrict religious freedom targeting Jews, Kurds, and Armenians, Christians, Druze, Baha’i, Ahmadiyyas, Yazidi, Zoroastrian and this includes either Shia or Sunni minorities depending on the particular country, yet the one democratic country, Israel, that allows religious freedom, is singled out as racist.
The prime reason for this accusation is the fact that the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah have not succeeded in destroying Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state that will be Judenrein (Jew-free) from which Jews are excluded – (originally with reference to organizations in Nazi Germany). For just as “the Nazis sought to make Germany ‘judenrein’” (Jew-free), so Israel’s enemies seek to do likewise.
While the PLO have in principal agreed to a two-state solution to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, neither Hamas or Hezbollah with its Iranian backers, have agreed to any kind of peace accord or territorial accommodation, but continue to call for Israel’s destruction.
Zionism is nothing more than Jewish nationalism and stands for her right to exist as a sovereign national state like all other states.
Ephriam Moses Lilien, the first Zionist artist, helped Boris Schatz, to establish the Jerusalem Bezalel School of Art. Subsequently Ze’ev Raban (1890-1970) helped Boris Schatz to create the Bezalel style. However, it was Lilien who was responsible for creating the Zionist visual representation in those early years.
Ze’ev Raban (1890-1970) –
He was a leading painter, decorative artist and industrial designer and made a major contribution to the Bezalel style of Israeli art.
The eclectic East-West style was named Judenstil
Lilien’s particular style of portrayal was in the Art Nouveau / Jugendstil school, with its combination of eroticism and fantasy with Zionist idealism. He created a unique fusion of the two, expressing the pathos of Jewish longing for Zion. His style of depiction achieved a harmonious partnership with Zionist imagery, Jewish and Christian symbols, Orientalism, Japanese art with influences of Egyptian and Assyrian together with a Renaissance influence. This eclectic East-West style was named Judenstil and this became Lilien’s hallmark (p 63).*
*[Amatai Mendelsohn, Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 2017 –
ISBN 978 965 278 465 0]
Lilien was born into a traditional Eastern European Jewish family and his artistic expression flourished in Austrian and German cultural centres. His art shows subtle Christian influences and the interaction between Zionism and the Christian world at the turn of the century. In those formative years of Zionism there was a keen Christian interest that influenced Theodore Herzl. The Christians saw the Jewish peoples’ return to its ancestral home in the Holy Land as the herald of the Second Coming of Christ.
Old Jewish man’s head entangled in thorns, looking up at the rising sun in the East
In 1902 Songs of the Ghetto by New York Yiddish poet, Morris Rosenfeld appeared in German translation with Lilien’s image the Jewish May showing an old man with his head entangled in thorns.
In 1905 Lilien together with Boris Schatz went on their first trip to Palestine, where they set up the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem. Lilien taught and worked as Schatz’s assistant in 1906 when the school opened. He spent 6 months at the school, but he and Schatz parted company after this period and Lilien subsequently no longer associated with the school. During this trip he also took many photographs in preparation for illustrations of a German Lutheran Bible commissioned by the Lutheran Church and its first volume was published in 1906. He made other trips to the Holy Land in 1910, 1914 and 1917 taking more photos to enable him to make further drawings and etchings to continue his work as an illustrator of religious subjects. He died in 1925 having made a considerable contribution to the early Zionist movement and saw his art as having a mission. (p 64-65).
The Influence of Christians on the fledgling Zionist Movement
A considerable time before the Jewish Zionist movement began to formulate its plans and desires to effect the return of the Jews to Palestine, a not insignificant number of Christians were showing an interest in the Holy Land. This was not just as a place of Christian pilgrimage,but these Christians in Britain, USA, Germany and other places, turned their attention to the subject of the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland. This also culminated with the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897,*
*( There was no secret Jewish cabal convened at Basel at which the Jews conspired for world domination and it was purported that they formulated a document that became known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – it is a horrid fabricated anti-Semitic lie that was concocted by the Russian secret police in 1903 and it perpetuates the myth that the Jews control the world and are behind every bad thing that happens – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protocols_of_the_Elders_of_Zion).
By the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was in severe decline, approaching its downfall. Britain in particular, showed a vital interest in the fate of the Empire, and Palestine together with the other Bible Lands was of great significance. With a growing Jewish awareness, a strategic alliance dawned.
Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary, wrote to the British Ambassador in Constantinople, the Sultan’s seat:
“There exists at the present time among the Jews dispersed over Europe, a strong notion that the time is approaching when their nation is to return to Palestine…It would be of manifest importance to the Sultan to encourage the Jews to return and to settle in Palestine because the wealth which they would bring with them would increase the resources of the Sultan’s dominions; and the Jewish people if returning under the sanction and protection and at the invitation of the Sultan, would be a check upon any future evil designs of Mehemet Ali (of Egypt) or his successor…I have to instruct Your Excellency strongly to recommend (to the Turkish Government) to hold out every just encouragement to the Jews of Europe to return to Palestine” (p 43-44 – Faith & Fulfilment).*
On August 17, 1840, the London Times published an editorial entitled, “A plan to plant the Jewish people in the land of their fathers.” This plan was then under serious political consideration and people of significance like Lord Shaftsbury, a deeply committed Christian, joined forces with Lord Palmerston who was called “the sword” in a plan of active support for such a return by the Jews. The men studied the Scriptures earnestly giving special attention to those prophetic portions that pertained to the return of the Jews to their ancient Biblical homeland.
This strong Biblical conviction led them in the aiding of “God’s ancient people” and they felt that this would lead to the fulfilment of those Biblical prophecies that they had noted. Ashley (Lord Shafstsbury) never doubted that the Jews would return to their own land and he daily prayed, “Oh, pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and these words were engraved on a ring that he wore on his right hand (p 45).
We should add names like Oliphant and Blackstone to the list of those who actively promoted a Jewish return to Palestine. These two men responded to reports of pogroms against the Jews in Eastern Europe under Tsarist persecutions, and they added their advocacy on behalf of the Jews with pleas for their return. This concern continued unabated and Blackstone appealed to President Wilson of the USA sending him a memorandum in which he expressed his ideas on behalf of a Jewish return.
In 1885, William Hechler became Chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna. He held his post until 1901 and witnessed the beginnings of the Zionist Movement. He personally befriended Theodore Herzl, who as a Jewish reporter at the Dreyfus affair. Herzl turned his attentions to solving the “Jewish Question.” He authored the book Das Judenstat (The Jewish State) published in 1896 in which he advocated the return of the Jews to Palestine.
Hechler was tireless in his efforts and penned these words,
“The Return of the Jews would become a great blessing to Europe, and put an end to the anti-Semitic spirit of hatred, which is most detrimental to the welfare of all our nations” (p 59).
Hechler went to great lengths to persuade the German Emperor to recognise the Zionist Movement. Finally his efforts produced fruit when in 1898 the Kaiser declared:
“I have been able to notice that the emigration to the land of Palestine of those Jews who are ready for it is being prepared extremely well and is even financially sound in every respect. Therefore I have replied to an enquiry by the Zionists as to whether I wish to receive a delegation from them in audience that I would be glad to receive a deputation on the occasion of our presence there (in Jerusalem). I am convinced that the settlement of the Holy Land by financially strong and diligent people of Israel will soon bring undreamt-of-prosperity and blessing to the land’’ (p 60).
(* Faith and Fulfilment,
Christians and the Return to the Promised Land,
Michael J Pragai, Mitchell, England, 1985 – ISBN 0-85303-210-6)
To return to E M Lilien and his importance – “From the start, Christian motifs were woven into many of Lilien’s illustrations. His implicit allusions to Jesus demonstrated his engagement with a figure whose existence and significance he was unable to ignore. His use of Christian iconography played a clear role in the Zionist message that would be central to his oeuvre” ( i.e. the body of work of a painter, composer, or author) (p 65, Behold the Man).
His work related to the image of Jesus as early as his days in Cracow and the final illustration in a book The Tax Collectors of Kluasen by Johann van Wildenradt, that deals with a peasant uprising of the 15th and 16th century and is about their struggle for freedom. The final illustration shows a nude woman crucified and the traditional inscription of INRI over the head of the crucified Christ, is replaced with the word FREIHEIT (freedom).
Considering that Lilien was only 18 years old when he did this illustration and several decades before Chagall’s Jewish Jesus on a cross, it is all the more amazing because Jewish artists did not depict the crucifixion. The fact that the figure was not of Jesus, but of a nude female, may reduce the theological problem from a Jewish perspective, but her liberated sexuality was no less a departure from usual Jewish art themes This illustration is clearly in the Art Nouveau / Jugendstil style that largely characterised his work. A nude women symbolised national freedom in numerous paintings and sculptures, the best example being that of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
Pesah (Passover), E M Lilien, illustration to Juda
As Lilien’s work matured with his move to Germany, he came under the influence of Borries von Munchhausen. He was an advant-garde poet who showed Lilien his unpublished poems on Biblical themes. Lilien was so impressed that he decided to illustrate the poems and publish them. The joint project in 1901 was called Juda. This transformed Lilien into the dominant Zionist artist of his day. In Juda, ancient Jewish biblical history became relevant and vividly graphic.
Lilien gave dignity to Jewish themes instead of the Christian trope of Synagoga and Ecclesia which represents the Church’s triumph over Judaism. Now in Lilien’s work Judaism is depicted as a dignified and beautiful woman holding the Tablets of the Law or Torah Scroll, combining Christian iconography and Jewish symbols.
Sabbath Queen by E M Lilien
Another book of illustrations showing Christian motifs is Lilien’s well known cover of the Jewish cultural monthly Ost and West (East and West) from 1901 – 1906. It features the Daughter of Zion – a young woman with a star of David and a menorah, surrounded by a circle. Her skirt is also embellished with stars of David and her hand has a loop of thorns, resting on an altar and in her hand she is holding a flower called the Rose of Jericho. This plant belongs to the genus known as the “resurrection plants” because of their ability to come back to life after being shrivelled and dried up for months or even years.
For Christians the Rose of Jericho symbolises the resurrection of Jesus and also the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. This flower was a prized memento brought back by pilgrims from visits to the Holy Land.
Like the Rose of Jericho, “so will Israel bloom in youthful splendour…” Lilien was the first to represent this plant artistically with a powerful Zionist message of the hope of Jewish restoration to their ancient homeland (p 74-75).
Ost and West is accompanied by Christian motifs that represent the Passion and Resurrection. Lilien has combined Christian and Jewish symbolism that has at the heart of it is a Christian concept of resurrection.
Lilien’s 1901 postcard from the Fifth Zionist Congress is one of his best known illustrations, and remains a central image on Zionist history.
At the right, the distant figure of the Jewish farmer plowing the land signifies national rebirth; at the left, a Jewish man with bowed head is caught in a tangle of thorns, symbolising the Jew trapped in the tangle of exile. Once again his work is infused with Christian iconography as in his Pesah with crown of thorns as well as the Art Nouveau / Jugendstil influence clearly evident. This use of such symbolism was used to create a Zionist message of revival and resurrection (p 76).
Pesah (Passover) detail
(see full image above)
Another important image that may well have influenced E M Lilien’s Moses was William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World. This image of Jesus is a distinctly Protestant portrayal of him. Firmly based on Scripture, “Behold I stand at the door and knock…” (Revelation 3.20) Holman shows a regal full length figure of Jesus and this bears a resemblance to Lilien’s Moses. As in Hunt’s painting, so Moses has a halo of light with the Eastern sun from Zion shining behind him.
William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World
E M Lilien’s Moses
While Lilien was happy to use Christian iconography, his depictions of Jesus were primarily used to relate to the Jewish experience of suffering as was the case with other Jewish artists. His strong Zionist use of Christian themes such as resurrection and rebirth was to signify the hope of restoration and renewal of Jewish hope in their return to Zion.
Other Jewish Artists express Jewish hope and renewal
Boris Schatz with whom E M Lilien collaborated in his early work in Palestine, is considered the father of Israeli art. He was born in Vilna (1867), in the Pale of Settlement, in Lithuania. He founded the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem in 1906 with the aim of what he called “Hebrew” art. He was a sculptor and his style was essentially academic. Like Atokolsky, Schatz was strongly affected by the tension between Judaism and Christian culture and felt the need to mediate between them.
Schatz directed the energy of his work towards the Zionist cause and like Lilien, he made use of Christian iconography that included allusions to Jesus. This was to continue to play a role in his national art. He dedicated himself to creating a uniquely Jewish iconography that would promulgate a new Hebrew culture. (p 86).
No longer was this the Jew of the dispersion and exile, but a new liberated Jew was emerging out of the bondage of the ghetto throwing off the shackles of the centuries. The basis of this “religion” consisted of set characters and motifs – some of which he derived from Renaissance Christian iconography (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Schatz).
His masterpiece was Mattathias Maccabee (1894). The reason he chose to portray this figure of Jewish history had great significance because they rose up against the Seleucid Greeks in the second century BCE. He portrayed the man who shook off the yoke of pagan oppression. It reflects the spirit of the Zionist ideal in their auto-emancipation as a form of self- realisation and liberation, at the rebirth of a nation that was yet to be fully realised.
“Arise, Judah, come, let us go!”
Auto-Emancipation was the title of the book by Leon Pinsker.
As a Zionist thinker – he reflects,
“What a miserable role for a nation that descends from the Maccabees!”
This longing to be free from oppression and at the whims of the European nations, that at times carried out severe persecution of the Jews in their realm, they needed to strive for a return to Zion where they could enact Auto-Emancipation, a form of self-liberation. Pinsker together with Herzl and others Zionist thinkers gave birth to the modern Zionist movement.
A possible influence for the Maccabee sculpture was the maquette of a triumphant Christ by Mark Antokolsky (we considered his work in Part 1). Though this figure of Christ as a charismatic, spiritually powerful figure, is within the Christian tradition, it was not concerned with Jewish-Christian relations, whereas Christ before the People’s Court was clearly within the realm of inter-faith dialogue.
Schatz’s statue of Mattithias Maccabee, portrayed a militant message, and is a befitting symbol of Jewish nationalism and rebellion (p 87). Schatz referring to his statue, said that he modled the figure after his grandfather’s likeness, who though physically weak, was spiritually strong.
Annibale Carracci – Christ Appearing to St Peter on the Appian Way
In Carracci’s Christ Jesus is pointing to Jerusalem indicating that he is to die by crucifixion. In contrast Mattathias is holding a sword pointing towards the Land of Israel, the focal point of Zionist redemption.
In conclusion, a figure of a Jewish hero raising the banner against the Greeks – Mattathias Maccabee with sword in hand, has combined a number of different elements. We see a fusion of mythological and Christian elements, directly and clearly connected to Jesus. Schatz and other Zionist visionaries show the Jew’s victory over anti-Semitic persecutors and resurrection in a Jewish homeland. (p 88-89).
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