Acrylic kabbala

A Jerusalem painter has created a museum dedicated to a kabbalistic interpretation of Psalms.

kabbala painting 88.298 (photo credit: )
kabbala painting 88.298
(photo credit: )
The Museum of Psalms, Moshe Tzvi Halevi Berger's one-man tour de force, is located in a picturesque, historic courtyard built in 1873 in downtown Jerusalem. Near what is now the Anna Ticho House, the building was once the private home and yeshiva of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi in Mandatory Palestine. In addition to the permanent collection of Berger's striking acrylic canvasses, the free admission also includes a tour of the Rav Kook Museum. Meeting the artist himself is a fascinating opportunity. Berger, 81, is a quintessential eastern European octogenarian, who distinctly reminds the visitor of the Yiddish novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer or the artist Marc Chagall. Berger was born in 1925 in Romania in the remote province of Transylvania. "Dracula country" he winks and says in English, one of the eight languages he speaks fluently. He glosses over the years he spent in a work camp during the Holocaust, clearly preferring to discuss his art career and the passion that brought him to Jerusalem in 1992, after becoming a ba'al teshuva a decade earlier. Prior to that, Berger had studied at Rome's Instituto de Belle Arte and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. "But that is not important," he says with a characteristic wave of his hand. His earlier work, inspired by Rembrandt, was just "commercial things," he says - although his Web site notes he has had more than 100 one-man shows on three continents. After becoming religiously observant, with the patronage of Yehuda Meir Getz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, and a blessing in 1988 from the Lubavitcher Hassidic Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, Berger set out to create his series of kabbalistic masterpieces. The effort took him 15 years. Each of the semi-abstract canvases depicts a single verse from one of the 150 psalms. Berger's color schemes utilize the seven colors of the spectrum, based on the Zohar, the mystical book of Kabbala, and are intended to represent the 10 sefirot (mystical aspects of God). "These paintings are in the metaphorical tradition of the ma'asei merkava (Divine Chariot) rather than the realistic mode of the ma'asei bereishit (Creation) which most art work emulates," he explains, a bit enigmatically. "To transliterate the Psalms from written poems to visual image was a difficult task," he says. "Just as each Psalm is different, so is each painting. And yet, as each Psalm is inherently connected to the other 149 Psalms, so too a unifying element had to run through the 150 Psalm paintings, a task accomplished through careful observation." That process was augmented by Berger's years of study of the Psalms and Judaism's classic medieval commentators including Rashi, Radak and Malbim, among others, he says. "All figurative representations were intended as metaphors. We know the world was created with letters; we know that God is represented by fire in the Bible. Therefore, in each painting there are letters, or fire, or both. Nothing happened by accident." Besides fire and Hebrew letters, Berger has created a private language of sunbursts, crowns and images of the celestial Jerusalem. But it is his almost psychedelic abstraction that gives his canvases their powerful visual intensity. Berger's original paintings are not for sale. But his hand corrected, limited edition, signed lithographs are available for under $150. Posters cost $23. Among the plethora of kitsch Judaica available in Jerusalem, Moshe Berger's images of the Psalms seem inspired. The Museum of Psalms is located at 9 Rehov Dr. Abraham Ticho. Open Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information call (02) 623-0025 or visit Admission is free.