I Am Not Ashamed
The Apostle Paul says,
For I am not ashamed of the Good News, since it is God’s powerful means of bringing salvation to everyone who keeps on trusting, to the Jew especially, but equally to the Gentile
(CJB Romans 1.16).
It is my sincere appeal to my fellow Jews that we need to not be ashamed of claiming Jesus/ Yeshua not only as part of Jewish cultural heritage, but equally as Messiah and Lord. It is very important that at the outset that we acknowledge that there are numerous barriers that have to be crossed in this endeavour to discover the Jewish Jesus.
How utterly amazing and courageous of Amitai Mendelsohn to have produce this amazing exhibition about Jewish and Israeli artists who have dared to portray Jesus in their artistic creations and face the potential criticism and rejection for doing so.
Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art
Click on Link:
The Attempted Suppression of the Visual Portrayal of Jesus in Israeli Art
During our visit to Israel in April-May 2019 in my pursuit of to discover paintings and sculptures of Jesus I encountered what I perceive as a deliberate attempt to suppress and hide any portrayal. This is despite the most amazing show of Jesus in Jesus in Israeli Art.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem
While visiting the gallery that had this painting by Reuven Rubin in which one of the central figures is the woman beside a man holding fruit and a vegetable resembles a fertility goddess.
Museum:The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Artist / Creator:
Rubin, Reuven, Israeli, born Romania, 1893-1974
Madonna with Pomegranates,
Madonna with Child
The Madonna of the Vagabonds
The Madonna of the Vagabonds, painted in Bucharest the year before Rubin left for Palestine, suggests an analogy between the infant Jesus and the pioneer reborn in the Land of Israel. With its brighter palette, the painting heralds Rubin’s new Land-of-Israel style and reflects the optimism he experienced on the eve of his immigration.
The hopeful light of dawn illuminates the scene. In the background is the Sea of Galilee, upon which Jesus is said to have walked and where he gathered many of his disciples, simple fisherman. Three empty boats float on the water, presumably belonging to the men asleep on the shore and about to awake to a new era of redemption. These are the “vagabonds” who arrived at this shore at the beginning of the 20th century to be pioneers in the old-new land.
The Madonna looks down at the infant, not in the adoring pose of many traditional Christian depictions that show her venerating the baby Jesus, but with her bared breast emphasizing her fecundity and a smile on her lips. The fact that she is seated solidly on the ground conveys simplicity and rootedness. In composition, the painting closely resembles the earlier Temptation in the Desert, but this mother is the antithesis of a femme fatale, and the work’s message is entirely different. Instead of sexual repulsion, asceticism and anguish, the Madonna of the Vagabonds and her baby signal fertility, the renewal of nature, and the advent of redemption.
Reuven Rubin, The Madonna of the Vagabonds, 1922
Oil on canvas
Rubin Museum, Tel Aviv
A response by one the staff on duty at the Rubin Museum in Tel Aviv
When I questioned him about the overtly Christian symbolism depicted in some of Rubin’s paintings, he was rather dismissive and said that one can read into the artist’s work whatever you like. He implied that if you want to see Christian symbolism in these paintings that is one’s own choice, but it is no necessarily what Rubin may have explicitly intended. While his response was not a flat denial, he did not appear to readily embrace a messianic inclination in interpreting Rubin’s work when he dealt with images of Jesus and other New Testament themes.
How Jewish Artists Reclaimed Jesus as Their Own
Though Jesus has traditionally been a taboo subject among observant Jews, he has served as a common theme for modern Jewish painters and writers. Now the Israel Museum is devoting an exhibition to portraying the way local artists have engaged in dialogue with ‘that person’.
Man of Sorrows and Zionist Messiah: Reuven Rubin
“The nails in Jesus’ hands and feet are those that burn me, and no one can comprehend my suffering.” (Reuven Rubin, 1922)
The work of Reuven Rubin became synonymous with what is known as Land-of-Israel Zionist art, but Christian themes played a role in the paintings Reuven Rubin created in Europe and also after his arrival in Palestine in 1923. On a personal level, he identified with Jesus, regarding him as a misunderstood, persecuted spiritual figure. In a national context, he saw Jesus as a symbol of the exile the Jews needed to leave behind in order to achieve self-fulfillment and regeneration – and also, unusually, as an image of Zionist rebirth. Marc Chagall likewise regarded Jesus as an alter ego and as a symbol of Jewish suffering, but Reuven was the first to connect the figure of Jesus to that of the New Jew and the pioneers living in their homeland after two thousand years of exile.
Self-Portrait with Flower
Shortly after arriving in the Land of Israel, Rubin paints himself in the white shirt of a pioneer, seated against a characteristic background: sand dunes, three tents, two houses, and a corner of the sea with a boat. His right hand clutches a fistful of paintbrushes, while his left holds a glass containing a white lily. Also known as a Madonna Lily, this flower is familiar from depictions of the Annunciation: it is the attribute, the distinguishing symbol, of Mary. Just as saints were portrayed in Christian art holding their attributes, Rubin’s paintbrushes identify him as an artist. The lily also suggests that he sees himself as the bearer of glad tidings, perhaps even as a messiah of Zionist painting in the land. His mission: to herald – and to create – a newborn art that will accompany the momentous change occurring in the life of the Jewish people.
Reuven Rubin, Self-Portrait with Flower, 1923
Oil on canvas
Rubin Museum, Tel Aviv
Temptation in the Desert
“That figure in the middle is myself . . . resisting temptation, continuing on my way of suffering in spite of the hands that reach out to grasp me. . . . she [the woman] is trying to hold me back, but I am (going on. I shall go on!)” (Reuven Rubin, 1918)
This key early painting by Rubin (born Romania, 1893–1974) brings to mind two New Testament stories that had become popular subjects in Christian art: Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane immediately before his arrest (the Agony in the Garden) and his encounter with Mary Magdalene after rising from the tomb, when he warns her not to touch him (Noli me tangere). In Rubin’s portrayal of the confrontation with worldly temptation – the title also refers to a third episode in the life of Jesus, the Temptation in the Desert – a poignant image of personal supplication is joined to defiance of a woman who evokes the seductive femme fatale.
Although not an overt self-portrait, Rubin did tell an interviewer that he modeled the face of the central figure after his brother, who died during World War I, but also saw himself in the tortured ascetic. Thus the painting can be considered a rare early example of a Jewish artist daring to identify with Jesus.
Reuven Rubin, Temptation in the Desert, 1921
Oil on canvas
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, gift of Kaye Lee Wrage Gunn, Dallas, to the American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
The Encounter is one of the most intriguing and enigmatic of Rubin’s early works. A weary elderly Jew sits, head bowed, at one end of the bench. At the other end sits Jesus with his stigmata; he has been crucified, but now he is resurrected and sits upright. This encounter suggests the legend of the weary Wandering Jew, punished with eternal homelessness for his taunting of Christ.
A tree with drooping branches stands beside the old, bent Jew, while a burgeoning tree grows upward next to Jesus. The visual juxtaposition of defeated Judaism and triumphant Christianity echoes the longstanding motif of Ecclesia (the Church) overcoming Synagoga – but here the meaning is quite different. Early-20th-century Zionist imagery contrasted the withered past with the fertile growth of a new era; in this painting, Rubin may also be suggesting a more daring symbolic analogy between the Zionist movement’s mission to bring the Jewish people back to life and Jesus risen from the dead.
Reuven Rubin, The Encounter (Jesus and the Jew), 1922
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Phoenix Insurance Company Ltd., Tel Aviv
Moshe Elazar Castel born in Jerusalem, Ottoman Palestine, in 1909, to Rabbi Yehuda Castel and his wife Rachel. The family was descended from Spanish Jews from Castile who immigrated to the Holy Land after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. His father was born in Hebron. He opened religious schools for Sephardi boys in the Nahalat Shiv’a and Bukharim quarters of Jerusalem. Moshe grew up in the Bukharim neighborhood, where he attended his father’s school. At the age of 13, he was accepted to the Bezalel Art School, directed by Boris Schatz, where he studied from 1921 to 1925. His teacher, Shmuel Ben David, encouraged him to study art in Paris.
Castel traveled to Paris in 1927, where he attended Académie Julian and Ecole du Louvre. He sat in the Louvre copying the works of Rembrandt, Velasquez, Delacroix and Courbet, intrigued by their paint-layering techniques. It was here that he began to realize that “art is not symbolic, but rather material, the material is the main thing, the way the paint is placed, the way the layers are placed on the picture, this is the most essential thing.” 
In May 1927, the World Union of Hebrew Youth in Paris sponsored his first exhibit. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who was in Paris at the time, wrote an introduction for the catalogue.
In 1940, Castel returned to Palestine and settled in Safed. In 1949, Castel married Bilhah (née Bauman), an actress.
In 1947, Castel helped to found the “New Horizons” (Ofakim Hadashim) group together with Yosef Zaritsky, Yehezkel Streichman, Marcel Janco and others. In 1959, he purchased a studio in Montparnasse where he worked for several months a year. In 1955, a solo exhibition of his works was mounted at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His murals hang in the Knesset, Binyanei HaUma Convention Center, Rockefeller Center in New York, and the official residence of the President of Israel in Jerusalem.
In the 1930s and 1940s, many of Castel’s paintings depicted the lives of Sephardic Jews in the Holy Land, revealing the influence of Persian miniatures. From the 1950s on, Castel created relief paintings inspired by the “ancient predecessors of Hebrew civilization.” In 1948, he visited the ruins of an ancient synagogue in Korazin, an ancient Jewish town in the Galilee. Inspired by the basalt blocks he saw there, engraved with images and ornaments, he began to use ground basalt, which he molded into shapes, as his basic material. The technique utilized ground basalt rock mixed with sand and glue, infused with the rich colors that became his trademark. The works were embellished with archaic forms derived from ancient script, symbolism and mythological signs from Hebrew and Sumerian culture. As a member of the New Horizons group, he combined elements of abstract European art with Eastern motifs and “Canaanite art.”
Moshe Castel, Untitled (The Crucified)
“. . . Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabakhtani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46)
The story behind this dark crucifixion by Moshe Castel (1909–1991), a painter known for his depictions of Jewish religious and national subjects, must be sought in Castel’s personal history. The work was created when the artist secluded himself in a monastery near the Sea of Galilee in order to recover from the loss of his first wife, who died in childbirth, and the death of their daughter three years later. Discovered in a locked cupboard in Castel’s house in 1992, the painting – which is highly unusual in the context of his work and that of his Israeli contemporaries – is now displayed to the public for the first time.
In an expressive style influenced by Chaim Soutine, and inspired by Marc Chagall’s crucifixions, Castel put himself on the cross. The face is a self-portrait, while above the figure a Hebrew inscription says “Castel the Jew,” so that the artist’s intense outpouring of pain culminates in total identification with the suffering of the crucified Christ.
In two sketches from the same period, the Hebrew inscriptions above the figure read “Jesus” and “Jesus of Nazareth.” They give the full name Yeshu’a rather than the more common Yeshu, which was often read derisively by Jews as an acronym for “may his name be obliterated,” and may indicate the painter’s rejection of this traditional revulsion and his own positive perception of Jesus.
Moshe Castel, Untitled (The Crucified), 1940s
Oil on canvas
Moshe Castel Museum of Art, Ma’ale Adumim
While staying in Ma’ale Adumim I was able to visit the Moshe Castel Museum of Art a number of times. When I enquire as to where Castel’s explicitly Christian paintings once more I met some vague explination that these pieces of his work were not available for viewing at that time.
For just as these crucifixion paintings and drawings by Castel had been locked away in a cupboard until after Moshe Castle’s death, so once more these pieces of work were hidden from view.
The Figure of Jesus in Jewish Art
View of the gallery
Maurycy Gottlieb, Christ Teaching in Capernaum
“How deeply I wish to eradicate all the prejudices against my people . . . and to bring peace between the Poles and the Jews, for the history of both people is a chronicle of grief and anguish!” (Maurycy Gottlieb, 1879)
Maurycy Gottlieb (born Galicia, 1856–1879) may well have been the most important Jewish painter of the nineteenth century. During his short lifetime, he created a body of work that joined Polish Christian culture to his own Jewish identity in a search for reconciliation.
Christ Teaching in Capernaum shows Jesus standing in the pulpit of a synagogue built in Greco-Roman style. His body is wrapped in a prayer shawl, but his head is surrounded by the halo from Christian artistic tradition. Not all of the men and women listening to him appear to be Jewish; a man in light-colored Roman garb is particularly noticeable. The young Jew in the foreground, lost in thought with his hands on his knees, is a self-portrait of the artist.
Gottlieb’s approach clearly derives from the Jewish enlightenment view that Jesus was a great ethical teacher who never intended to abandon his own religion. The message preached by his Jesus seeks to overcome antagonism between Judaism and Christianity and hence between Jews and Poles in the artist’s own society. Gottlieb does not advocate embracing the Christian Savior, but rather returning to the authentic roots of religion, to its universal teaching of truth and love.
Maurycy Gottlieb, Christ before His Judges, 1877–79
Oil on canvas
Samuel Hirszenberg, The Wandering Jew
This monumental painting by Samuel Hirszenberg, (born Poland, 1865–1908) whose artistic career coincided with a period of violent anti-Semitic persecution in Eastern Europe, became a symbol of Jewish suffering in the shadow of the cross. A powerful image for those who believed that Jews’ misery would only come to an end with the creation of a national home in the Land of Israel, it was prominently displayed for many years in Jerusalem’s Bezalel Museum.
The painting’s subject is the Wandering Jew, the figure of Christian legend who taunted Jesus on his way to Calvary and as a result was condemned to wander the earth until the end of time. However, in contrast to the dark robes worn by the Jew in traditional depictions, only a loincloth covers the naked man portrayed by Hirszenberg, recalling Jesus on the cross. The image of the cursed Jew has been joined to that of his arch-enemy in a nightmarish scenario which suggests that the Jews will only find rest after they have escaped the shadow of the cross.
Samuel Hirszenberg, The Wandering Jew (or The Eternal Jew),
Oil on canvas
Jewish Word – The Wandering Jew
A legendary curse, revisited
This piece originally appeared in Moment in 2010.
Every autumn, Jews all over the world read the Torah portion Lech Lecha, in which God instructs the future patriarch Abraham to abandon his native land for a promised one. In exchange, God vows to make Abraham’s name great and to create a mighty nation out of his descendants. But the 75-year-old isn’t all that pleased when he winds up in Beersheba, a sandy city in the desert prone to famine. Before long, the first Wandering Jew is on the road again, headed to Egypt in search of food.
Be they refugees, merchants or tourists, Jews have been wandering for more than 3,000 years. Yet surprisingly, the origin of the phrase Wandering Jew has little to do with peripatetic Semites. Instead, it harks back to a fictitious—and anti-Semitic—legend that arose in late antiquity.
Sometime between the 3rd and 7th centuries, a story began circulating about a Jew who had refused to allow Jesus to lean against the wall of his house as he carried the cross to the crucifixion, according to Galit Hasan-Rokem, professor of folklore at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In later versions, the Jew is said to verbally assault Jesus or even strike him. Whatever the details, says Hasan-Rokem, in each telling the Jew “was cursed by Jesus to wander until the Second Coming.”
Although it first emerged in written form in 13th-century Italy, the tale didn’t become popular until 1602, when it was recorded in a German book, A Brief Description and Narrative Regarding a Jew Named Ahasuerus. The author asserted that the bishop of a town called Schleswig had encountered a Jew named Ahasuerus in Hamburg in the 1540s; Ahasuerus told the bishop that he had been wandering aimlessly for well over 1,000 years.
The book became a bestseller with more than 80 printings over the next century—“like an Oprah’s pick, back when there wasn’t much to pick from,” says Joanna Brichetto, who wrote her master’s thesis at Vanderbilt University on images of the Wandering Jew. Soon the Wandering Jew was featured prominently in English, French and Finnish ballads and even crept into literature and art.
“And here am I a-walkin’ about like the wanderin’ Jew—a sportin’ character you have perhaps heerd on,” wrote Charles Dickens in his serial 1836-37 novel The Pickwick Papers. Twenty years later, the French artist Gustave Doré illustrated Pierre-Jean de Béranger’s “La Légende du Juif Errant”—images that Brichetto calls the “definitive representation of the anti-Jewish Wandering Jew.” By the end of the 19th century, “all of Europe…was on a first-name basis with Ahasuerus,” she wrote in her thesis. He was generally portrayed as devilish and money-grubbing; he bore a facial blemish and a heavy, tangled beard, and was equipped with a walking stick and purse.
Serving as “a common target for any and all Judenhass [Jew hatred],” Ahasuerus “enjoyed a burst of popularity” between 1890 and 1920 in Germany, says Brichetto. Der Ewige Jude—the Eternal Jew—as the Germans called him, “was as likely to turn up in a third-rate novella as in a satirical cartoon or political diatribe.”
At the same time, Jews—largely in response to the racism—began to claim the Wandering Jew as their own. In certain circles, Hasan-Rokem explains, he had already become “identified with the positive values of individualism, rebellion against religious authorities and authority in general.” Hasan-Rokem offers the example of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which “combines Europe’s two great wanderers: Odysseus and the Wandering Jew.”
Jewish painters such as Marc Chagall and Samuel Hirszenberg, too, were drawn to the character. In 1899, Hirszenberg painted his Wandering Jew, an apocalyptic image in which a Jesus-like figure is represented as “a desperate, old Polish Jew whose suffering saves no one,” says Brichetto. Chagall’s Jews came to represent “the quintessential Wandering Jews of the 20th century, reflecting political and existential exile.”
Not surprisingly, Nazis resurrected the Wandering Jew to portray Jews as cultural parasites whose values and character traits ran counter to the Aryan ideal. But although the figure continues to function as a catalyst of hate, appearing, for example, on neo-Nazi websites, its original meaning has begun to recede into history. A wanderer, after all, is not necessarily a negative thing or even uniquely Jewish. “There is no single archetypal figure,” says Jay Geller, professor of modern Jewish culture at Vanderbilt University, who explains that there are also non-Jewish variants such as the Flying Dutchman and the Ancient Mariner.
Today the term is popular with Jewish travelers and travel writers, which Brichetto applauds. She believes it’s important for Jews to continue to imbue the Wandering Jew with positive meanings in order to counter its ugly past. “We should use it,” says Brichetto, “but we should always question it: Who is using the term and why?”
From Personal Experience to National Identity: 1930’s-1960’s
Leopold Krakauer, Jesus/Tree
The “Jesus/Tree” series by Leopold Krakauer (1890–1954) reveals a complex relationship between this architect-artist from Vienna and the landscape in which the story of Jesus is set. Against dark, turbulent backgrounds, the olive tree, a symbol of the East, is fused with the figure of Jesus – who became a Western symbol, but whose roots likewise lie in the East. The first work in the series dates back to 1927, three years after Krakauer’s arrival, while the final drawings are from 1940–41.
Living in Jerusalem, Krakauer was inspired by its olive trees, including those in the Valley of the Cross, where, according to Christian tradition, the Romans cut down the tree from which they fashioned the cross. But his bleak depictions lack the hope for salvation that Christianity associates with the crucifixion: although an instrument of death, the cross symbolizes life and atonement for the Original Sin of having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. That comfort is lacking here. Adapting to his new environment and presumably influenced by the troubled events of his time, Krakauer evokes the suffering of Jesus in portrayals of an anguished Jerusalem landscape.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
Leopold Krakauer, Jesus Tree, 1949
Chalk on paper
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Extended loan from Trude Dothan, Jerusalem
Sale Date: June 1, 2006
Cursed is every man/one that hangeth on the tree
“And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”
– Deuteronomy 21v22-23
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”
– Galatians 3v13
“If any man has committed a sin worthy of death, let him be hanged on a tree…Christ became a curse for us…cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.”
What an amazing incident from Scripture. This passage from the law tells that those who have committed a sin worthy of death were to be hanged on a tree. Crucifixion, the Roman method of execution was unknown at the time. Here was prophesied one of the most dramatic aspects of the death of Christ for us.
Those who were to be hung on a tree were accursed, guilty of a sin worthy of death. Jesus was deserving on neither of these. Yet, He was hung on a tree, cursed and seemingly guilty.
It is almost beyond our comprehension what had to happen for Jesus to find Himself on the cross. Jesus had to take all of our guilt on Himself, becoming accursed for us and bearing our curse on the cross. The One who committed no sin worthy of death hung on the cross for all who do commit sin worthy of death. This is the epitome of love!
Praise God that Jesus took my place on the tree. May I live a life of gratitude to me!
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The Image of the Cursed Tree
One of the ways that the Romans crucified their victims was to strip the branches of an olive tree and impale the body on it by stretching out the arms and attaching them to part of the tree. This concept fits in perfectly with Leopold Krakauer visual interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah say,
Isaiah 53:5 New King James Version (NKJV)
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
- Isaiah 53:5 Or pierced through
- Isaiah 53:5 crushed
- Isaiah 53:5 Blows that cut in
If Jesus did this for us, then how should we respond?
We should not be ashamed whether we are Jewish or Gentile to bow the knee and embrace him as Lord and Messiah:
What is the sinner’s prayer?
The sinners prayer is a Christian term for a prayer that is said when someone wants to repent of their sin, ask God for forgiveness and state belief in the life, death, and saving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-10 says that “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Millions of people world-wide have come to a saving relationship with God through Yeshua the Messiah. He is the only true mediator between God and humankind. We are saved not by saying a prayer but rather through repentance and faith that lies behind the prayers that we say.
Here is an example of the sinners prayer that you can address to God in prayer:
A Sinner’s Prayer
Lord Yeshua/ Jesus, I thank you that you are the way, the truth and the life. I invite you to come into my life and save and deliver me from sin and death. I open the door of my heart/ life and by faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation.I want to trust you as my Lord and Savior. I believe you are the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world who died on the cursed tree/ cross and that you cancelled the debt of my sins. Thank you that you are a living Saviour and that you are offering me the gift of eternal life. Come into my heart, Lord Yeshua/ Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.