Next time you’re on the fifth floor of the Mendel Gottesman Library, be sure to stop and look at the painting ‘Talmud Students / “בבית המדרש by Leopold Pilichowski. Pilichowski (1869-1933), a well-known painter of Jewish life, is most famous for his monumental painting of the opening of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in 1925. The image may be viewed at: http://www.mfa.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/832BE5F2-4AFE-43FB-ADA2-8090C9A61DBE/0/MFAJ0byl0.jpg
‘Talmud Students” was presented to Yeshiva College in honor of the dedication of Yeshiva’s new building in Washington Heights in December 1928, by Mr. Bernard London, a member of Yeshiva’s Board of Directors. Mr. London had recommended that Pilichowski execute a painting of those who were instrumental in erecting Yeshiva’s magnificent new building, a suggestion that never came to fruition. Perhaps London donated the Pilichowski painting to Yeshiva in lieu of the proposed painting of the founders; perhaps he felt that if the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem had a Pilichowski painting, it was fitting that Yeshiva College should have one too.
A press release issued by Yeshiva College described the painting: “The painting, which is internationally known, is a study in oil, 66 x 42 inches on canvas, representing a group of young and old scholars studying the Talmud. The various expressions on the faces of those depicted show various characters and personalities and the varying degree of interest taken by each of them in the ancient word. In the background, a frozen window through which a scarce light is streaming in, is seen. In the center there stands an old fashioned tile stove with a teapot in a hollow, a typical scene in the Beth Hamidrash, the traditional Jewish house of study. A few logs are stored in a corner to keep the fire going. The picture, when hung on the walls of the Yeshiva College, will be a testimony in oil of the continuity of Jewish learning under varying conditions. Jewish learning and the Talmud are a constantly recurring theme in the paintings of Pilichowski.” The press release neglected to mention the presence of phrase “משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה - when the month of Adar begins our happiness increases” in the painting, a statement which may influence the viewer’s interpretation of the work.
The painting of the Talmud students in the house of study hung prominently in the original Library of Yeshiva College, and was featured proudly as the centerpiece of official Yeshiva College faculty and graduation photographs for many years. The painting was moved to its current location when the Mendel Gottesman Library Building opened in 1969.
Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger