Two braided challah loaves sandwich a large, wide-eyed fish in a witty evocation of the delights of the traditional Sabbath meal, the New York artist Mark Podwal tells JNS of his acrylic and colored-pencil drawing on paper, “Shabbat Fish” (2003).
The work, which is on view in the exhibition “Mark Podwal: Juxtapositions of Understanding” (through June 2024) at the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan, portrays the dual loaves that “commemorate the double portion of manna the Jews received in the desert every Friday in honor of Shabbat,” Podwal says.
“The fish carries multiple symbolic meanings. The Hebrew word for fish, dag, has the numerical value of seven, alluding to Shabbat as the seventh day,” he adds. “Just as fish were the first created living beings, the custom is to begin the Shabbat meal with fish.”
“The Talmud aligns the fish’s need to live in water in order to survive with our required immersion in Torah as our sustenance,” Podwal told JNS. “This fish’s mouth is open, just as we must make the effort to learn Torah on the Sabbath. The fish lacks eyelids and always has open eyes, alluding to God’s watching over us with love and compassion.”