“For the commandment is a light/ The teaching is a light”/Proverbs 6:23. Since the Gaonic period, the 613 commandments that the people of Israel were commanded at Sinai are found in the form of various lists which contain directives replete with glory and splendor (“I am the Lord your God”), prohibitions which seem integrated in man’s soul and in the ethics of mankind (“You shall not murder”), laws which if not odd, are at least not self-explanatory (“Let them serve as a symbol on your forehead”) and everyday matters (“You should make a railing for your roof").
This exhibit offers a graphic alternative to a list of commandments and presents the commandments not only as spirit but as matter – albeit illuminating matter. A uniform series of the 613 commandments, which at first glance seems straight off an assembly line, the only distinction being individual labels. A closer look reveals that each label has icons that classify the commandments according to type, like washing instructions on clothing. Upon whom is the commandment incumbent? Where and in what time is it in force? What is the punishment for transgression?
The commandment for the blessing on the food after meals (commandment number 430) would look like this: (see diagram).
Positive commandment applicable to women Applicable to men
In force everywhere and all the time
And the prohibition for a priest (who has been defiled) who has immersed himself during the daytime not to serve in the temple until the sun has set (commandment 265) would look like this:
Negative commandment Applicable to men Applicable to priests Punishable by divine death In force in the Temple
The exhibition raises questions concerning the connections between the commandments, what separates them and what unites them, the choice to deconstruct a Torah of life into 613 items, and how the observer sees himself vis-a-vis this structure of light and matter.