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Professor Beth Krensky at the Bernard Heller Museum in NYC

“TZEDEK BOXES: JUSTICE SHALL YOU PURSUE”: Artists imagine a new Jewish ritual object at the Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College in New York

On View: January 26 – May 15, 2023

Art Teaching Professor Beth Krensky's piece, A House for Doris, is featured in the art exhibition "Tzedek Boxes: Justice Shall You Pursue," imagining a new Jewish ritual object for use in a new ritual at the Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College in New York.

The Tzedek Box, a container for gathering reflections about our efforts to improve the world, is the inspiration for 30 highly original works by contemporary artists on display.

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 note 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 silk hanging with a background of the forest.

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.

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. It 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 visually powerful the work of righteousness becomes when it inspires an artist’s creative process."

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."

Opening Reception: 
Thursday, January 26 at 4:30 - 6:30pm; Program at 5:15pm
Dr. Bernard Heller Museum
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
One West Fourth Street, New York

Photo credit: Amelia Walchli