The vest of the “ Ba’alei Tzedakah” (Giver of Charity)

Andi Arnovitz
October 19, 2011
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Although I am a printmaker who works primarily on paper, with a printing press, I felt it necessary to create something that hypothetically could indeed hold and contain money. After going back to the most basic of Jewish sources, the Torah, I focused on a specific quote from Deuteronomy 15:7-8:

“ If there shall be a destitute person among you, any of your brethren, in any of your cities, in the land that Hashem your G-d gives you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother. Rather, you shall open your hand to him; you shall lend him his requirement, whatever is lacking to him.”

When I created the vest of the Ba’alei Tzedakah, I did not make a tzedakah box that sits on a table, but rather a hypothetical garment worn by the giver of charity. In fact, in the wearing the giver actually becomes the tzedakah vessel.

I loved the visual concept of opening a hand to the stranger. I felt the imagery of hands reaching into pockets for the giving of money was even stronger. Thus I have created many pockets, which are made of hands, of hamsas, the Middle –Eastern symbol of good luck. Here in Jerusalem, where I live and work, these hamsas are all around me.

In the Kitzer Shulchan Aruch, it lists many of the people and the places to which we are obligated in giving tzedakah. The list begins with the most specific and widens into the larger circles of our communities and our world. I chose to actually print, sew and attach parts of this list to the vest, in an attempt to express the huge obligation one has, the contemplation we must go through in determining who gets what and how much. As in much of my work, there are strings everywhere. To me, we are people of paper and strings. We tie fringes to the edges of our tallitot and strings hang from our tzittzit. Here however the strings become even more symbolic, in that within Judaism the highest form of giving is that which has no strings attached.

The Vest of the Ba’alei Tzedakah is meant to be a visual reminder of the huge responsibility Judaism places on those capable of giving. Inside the coat, unable to be seen by the viewer, but always at the back of the giver are printed the words from Psalms 104:28. These words remind us that ultimately it is G-d who does the giving:

“ You give to them, they gather it in: you open your hand, they are sated with good.”

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Andi Arnovitz was born in 1959 in Kansas City, USA, and now lives and works in Jerusalem, Israel. She uses etching, digital information and various printmaking processes, as well as fabric and thread to create large-scale dimensional paper garments. These pieces explore various tensions that exist within religion, gender and politics. She also makes artists books and assemblages. Andi has participated in many international printmaking competitions. She has exhibited her work in England, The United States, Israel, Spain, Poland, Finland, France, Lithuania, Canada, and Bulgaria. She has had many one-woman shows and participated in multiple group shows. Her work is in many private collections in both the United States and in Europe, as well as major universities and institutions. She is represented in Jerusalem by several galleries.

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