JMM Insights: “A Fence Around The Torah” Opens December 5

On December 5 the Jewish Museum of Maryland will launch a new art exhibit titled A Fence Around The Torah: Safety And Unsafety In Jewish Life. This multimedia exhibit explores how Jewish communities navigate the concepts of safety and unsafety in traditional, contemporary, and futuristic ways. 

The featured artists tap into ancestral and historical Jewish narratives, while imagining what safety, solidarity, and mutual aid mean in today’s world. The show also focuses on how people who have been marginalized and excluded from Jewish institutional spaces experience physical and emotional harm and safety. 

RAYJ: Ami Weintraub, We Are The Disloyal Ones, Digital poster, 2019

The exhibit is curated by Baltimore artist and Jewish Museum of Maryland Curator-in-Residence Liora Ostroff, and features 15 artists from around the country. 

Works include personal reflections on queer life and Judaism, racial justice in Jewish spaces, cultural dialogues and political dissent, mythological narratives around unsafety, and dreams for inclusion and solidarity coming from within Jewish institutions and the organized Jewish community. The exhibit features video, sculpture, installation, painting, textile, poster art, poetry, and more.

Nicki Green, Sabbath Crock, Glazed stoneware, 2017

A Fence Around The Torah is the first major exhibit since Sol Davis joined the Museum as Executive Director in early 2021.

“This exhibit enacts many of the principles I bring to museum practice including participatory ethics, considering our historical inheritance through contemporary modes of expression, and using the museum as a platform for imagining a more just future,” Davis says. 

The Museum also hosted, in the lead up to the exhibit, a virtual conversation series with five local leaders, where participants reflected on safety and exclusion within their own communities. These included discussions on queer Jewish life, policing and security, safety in Orthodox communities, and how to have conversations about racial justice.  

Judith Joseph, A Rose Among Thorns: Herem, Hand-pulled woodblock print, 2018

The title of the exhibit comes from Pirkei Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings from the Rabbinic Jewish tradition, which instructs Jews to “make a fence around the Torah.”

“With the Torah at its center, Jewish law and practices—the fence—define the bounds of Jewish life and preserve the core values and ethics of Judaism,” Ostroff explains. “But safety practices, an integral part of this fence, which Jewish communities build today to protect communal life, can also perpetuate unsafety and create barriers to participation for diverse Jewish populations and challenge relationships with our neighbors.”  

Featured Artists: 

Marisa Baggett, Coral Cohen, Danielle Durchslag, Hannah Aliza Goldman, Nicki Green, Judith Joseph, Joy Ladin, Annabel Rabiyah, Rosabel Rosalind, Val Schlosberg, Katz Tepper, Arielle Tonkin, Daniel Toretsky, Ami Weintraub, and Naomi Rose Weintraub.

A Fence Around The Torah will be on view from December 5, 2021 until February 13, 2022. 

On November 7 the Museum hosted a community art-making and singing workshop featuring one of the artists participating in the exhibit, Daniel Toretsky. Toretsky built an installation in the Museum’s courtyard titled We Would Come Home But You’ve Locked The Door. He invited community members to help create art for the installation and to sing a niggun, a traditional Jewish melody, which was recorded and will be part of the project.  

Here are a few pictures from that art build.  

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