Beloved ‘Bitcoin Rabbi’ tends to religious, financial-minded flocks on Twitter and Boris Schatz And The Bezalel School Of Art By Saul Jay Singer and Why is Supporting ‘Freedom of Worship for Jews’ on the Temple Mount Controversial? By Jonathan S. Tobin and Yehuda and Shalom Polocks trip to Joshua’s forgotten biblical altar is now at the heart of a land battle
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Yehuda and Shalom Polocks trip to Joshua's forgotten biblical altar is now at the heart of a land battle
Joshua's forgotten biblical altar is now at the heart of a land battle Israel must find a way to protect and preserve the area as an archaeological park. There is nothing to let a casual wanderer know that the scenic, rock-filled hill on Mount Ebal behind a small olive grove could be the ancient site mentioned in Deuteronomy and the Book of Joshua. Joshau's altar on Mt. Ebal at a close up/ Tovah Lazaroff Joshau's altar on Mt. Ebal at a close up/ Tovah Lazaroff The site is not fenced off. Nor are there any signs denoting that this pile of rocks thousands of years ago served as an altar where Joshua sacrificed animals to God. Unlike the Western Wall or the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the exact location of the altar was unknown until it was unearthed by University of Haifa archeologist Adam Zertal in 1980. Zertel's claim that this was Joshua's Altar was never universally accepted. Moreover, its location in Samaria placed it in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and kept the site from development as an archaeological park. Earlier this month, however, a municipal Palestinian work crew hauled rocks from an exterior biblical-era wall surrounding the altar for use in paving a road. The outcry over the harm caused to the site refocused attention on the altar from the Iron Age, and re-sparked calls by the Israeli Right to transform it into an archaeological park. Among those who have picked up the gauntlet is Likud MK Uzi Dayan, who is also a former head of IDF Central Command.
"It is not even marked as an archaeological site," Dayan told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. It was not mentioned under the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, which set up the governance of the West Bank that has lasted until today, he added. When he was head of Central Command, Dayan said, he considered Joshua's Altar to be part of Area C of the West Bank, which is under IDF civil and military control. But changes to the map has now placed it in Area B of the West Bank, under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. Defense Minister Benny Gantz has clarified that he considers the site in Area B. Dayan has asked to meet with IDF officers to clarify the reclassification, with the hope that it can once more be considered part of Area C. Regardless of its location, Israel must find a way to protect and preserve the area as an archaeological park, he said. Dayan has in mind the example of Qasr al-Yehud in the Jordan Valley, which is both Jesus' baptismal site and the place where the Jews crossed the Jordan River into Israel after wandering 40 years in the desert.
Joshau's altar on Mt. Ebal, a close up of the biblical era wall or terrace. Two sections of this wall were destroyed/ Tovah Lazaroff Joshau's altar on Mt. Ebal, a close up of the biblical era wall or terrace. Two sections of this wall were destroyed/ Tovah Lazaroff Two decades ago, the area was a closed military zone that could be opened only with special permission. Now it is a national park that attracts close to a million visitors annually. Dayan is joined in his battle by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzvi Hauser, who is now part of the New Hope Party, and the right-wing archaeological group Shomrim al Hanetzach, which initially discovered the damage. Hauser, who wants to hold a committee meeting on the issue, has been banned by Gantz from bringing members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to the site. Dagan said this was just one of a number of archaeological sites over which there is a battle between Israel and the PA for control. He and Dayan, who together visited the site on Sunday, stood near where damage had been done to the wall. The earth-colored stones, where the wall had been rebuilt, stood out in contrast to the gray biblical-era portions of the wall. The politicians are blunt about their belief that Joshua's Altar should eventually be under Israeli sovereignty. But beyond that, they said, there is also an issue of preserving Jewish history and the archaeology of the Jewish people. According to Yonatan Mizrachi, of the left-wing archaeological group Emek Shaveh, the area is "not significant," and at best one could have a nice view of the area.
Why is Supporting 'Freedom of Worship for Jews' on the Temple Mount Controversial? By Jonathan S. Tobin
Maybe it was just the product of the ongoing civil war between the different political parties on the Israeli right. Or maybe it was just time that an Israeli prime minister said something that, in a saner world, wouldn't be considered controversial. But whatever motivated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to speak of Israeli security forces and police acting to maintain order on Jerusalem's Temple Mount after Arab disturbances while also "maintaining freedom of worship for Jews" at the sacred site, it was a first and, in the eyes of many in his own country's foreign policy and security establishment, something that could be a dangerous mistake that will lead to violence.
Bennett's statement, made on Tisha B'Av—the day on the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples that existed on the Mount—was an eye-opener for a number of reasons. But it came in the context of what appears to be a shift in policy by the new government in that, for the first time since the city was unified in 1967, it is acknowledging that Jews are being allowed to pray at the holiest place in Judaism.
After an illegal Jordanian occupation that lasted from 1948 to 1967, Israel took control of the Temple Mount when it unified Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Israeli rule meant that for the first time in its modern history, there was complete freedom of worship at all the holy places in Jerusalem. Prior to 1948, the British—and before them, the Turks—had maintained a status quo that established Jews as second-class citizens with respect to prayer at many holy places. During the Jordanian occupation, Jews were forbidden to pray at the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount.
But the one exception to that rule after June 1967 was on the Temple Mount where Jews were, in theory, allowed to visit, but forbidden to pray. Then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan decided, in a gesture intended to help keep the peace, to allow the Muslim Waqf to maintain control over the Temple Mount. Those Jews who did visit were often harassed by Arabs, including police, who were vigilant against any behavior that might be construed as prayer.
That was a policy that was not challenged by any Israeli government, including those led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though the coalition that has succeeded him is still to some extent claiming, as Netanyahu's governments always did, that there has been no change in the status quo.
Dayan's surrender of the Temple Mount has been criticized bitterly over the years, not least because it allowed the Muslim religious authorities to engage in vandalism on the site when they undertook construction projects that essentially trashed the treasure trove of historical artifacts that existed underneath mosques built on the site of the two temples.
The ban on prayer was maintained because Israeli governments feared that Palestinian Arab leaders would use any gesture towards acknowledging the Mount's holiness to Jews, as well as to the Muslims who worshipped at the mosques there, to justify violence. Since the beginning of the conflict a century ago, leaders such as Haj Amin el-Husseini, the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, PLO leader Yasser Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have attempted to gin up violence and hate by claiming that the Jews are planning to blow up the mosques.
Palestinians have consistently treated any acknowledgment of Jewish rights to the Mount as an intolerable insult to all of Islam—an unreasonable stand that has nevertheless been supported by the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. Even the supposedly "moderate" Abbas hasn't hesitated to play that card, vowing that the "filthy feet" of Jews would not be allowed to defile Jerusalem's holy places during the so-called "stabbing intifada" in 2015 and 2016.
This appalling incitement was largely accepted by Netanyahu as a reason to maintain the status quo. He not unreasonably believed that the alternative was a bloody religious conflict that would undermine Israel's efforts to normalize relations with the rest of the Arab world and provide fodder for the Jewish state's critics in the West.
That decision was easy to stand by as long as the Israeli public was largely indifferent to Jewish rights on the Mount. That was backed up by the opinion of some in the Orthodox world that held that Jews should stay off the Mount since the exact location of the Temple's Holy of Holies was unknown and thereby avoid profaning a place that only the High Priest was allowed to enter while it still existed. But in recent years, more support for the rights of Jews to pray on the Mount has been building, especially among the right-wing and religious parties.
It appears that some Jewish prayer has been going on in the last two years. In 2019, there was a report that some Jews were praying aloud there regularly in a minyan conducted openly without police interference. But the abridged informal services being held did not involve participants wearing prayer shawls or tefillin, so it somehow escaped much notice. But once Israel's Channel 12 news reported the policy shift on Saturday night, it was enough to prompt violence from Arabs.
At this point, it remains to be seen what the implications of that shift and Bennet's public expression of support for "freedom of worship for Jews" on the Mount—words that never passed the lips of Netanyahu during his 12 years in power, despite his being labeled as a hardline right-winger in the international press—will be.
It's possible that Abbas and his Hamas rivals, whose firing of 4,000-plus rockets and missiles into Israel in May was rationalized as an expression of opposition to Israeli policies in Jerusalem, will use it to escalate the conflict again. Arab states, including those with relations with Israel, such as Jordan, whose King Abdullah is visiting Washington this week, will also feel obliged to make an issue of it as well, possibly endangering the normalization of relations with the Gulf States.
Nor is anyone expecting the United States—let alone, Europe—to express support for the right of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.
That will create problems for Bennett and the incongruous coalition he leads. He will likely be pressured to walk back his statement from both Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the Ra'am Arab party that provides the government with its slim majority.
Whatever the cost he must pay for having said those words, Bennett cannot take them back without doing incalculable damage to himself and Israel.
This dispute is dismissed by some as an unnecessary conflict that is harming Israel's security merely to satisfy the wishes of extremists. But the Palestinian claim that Jews have no rights on the Temple Mount is inextricably linked to their unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish presence and sovereignty anywhere in the country.
That Abbas and his "moderates" claim there were no Temples on the Mount or the historical nature of the Jewish claims to this land isn't merely rhetoric that enables them to compete with Hamas. It goes to the heart of their long war against Zionism that they still refuse to renounce. A Jewish state that would officially renounce Jewish rights on the Mount would be sending a message to the Palestinian street that the extremist belief that Israel will disappear isn't a pipe dream that they must abandon if they want a peaceful future.
Those who are still trying to pressure Israel to accept a two-state solution that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly made clear it has no interest in pursuing need to understand that peace can't be built on the denial of Jewish rights, especially in Jerusalem.
Israel has no desire to interfere with the mosques on the Temple Mount or stop Muslim (or any) worship there. Those who circulate this lie, whether among the Palestinians or their American cheerleaders, like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), are opponents of peace, not people working for co-existence. That even some of those who claim to be Israel's friends think it is reasonable to deny "freedom of worship" for Jews at their most sacred site are giving unwitting aid and comfort to the very extremist forces that make peace impossible.
The world's tolerance for Palestinian intolerance and anti-Semitism that finds expression in a denial of Jewish rights to the Temple Mount has helped enable the conflict over Israel's existence to linger on long after it should have been abandoned by its foes. By taking a position on the Temple Mount, Bennett has done something that should have been done by his predecessors decades ago. Having chosen to take a stand on the issue, he dare not retreat from it lest he justify his opponents' belief that he hasn't the right stuff to maintain his principles or his government.
Beloved 'Bitcoin Rabbi' tends to religious, financial-minded flocks on Twitter
Michael Caras says serving as a bridge between the Jewish and cryptocurrency worlds gives him the opportunity to provide guidance to some who would never have sought it otherwise
Many of Twitter's cryptocurrency zealots are often notorious trolls, but one particular thought leader stands out from the rest. He happens to be a rabbi.
"Twitter people either use it to scream at each other and not be nice, which I don't like," says micro-influencer Rabbi Michael Caras, also known as @thebitcoinrabbi. "I enjoy connecting with my two communities through Twitter, both Jewish Twitter and Bitcoin Twitter."
Caras, a rabbi associated with the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, is fascinated by the way that Bitcoin, both the network and the asset, relates to halacha (Jewish law). And since he's quite vocal about it online, Caras says that strangers slide into his Twitter messages each week to ask for advice and spiritual guidance on the topic.
Before serving as a public bridge between the two worlds, Caras studied at Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Israel and now teaches both Judaism and technology classes at Maimonides Hebrew Day School in New York. Caras has been interested in Bitcoin since 2017, and in 2019 he published a children's book about it that has sold more than 10,000 copies.
The book, a secular introduction to basic economics for kids, tells a tale of children learning about how to use Bitcoin as money by running a lemonade stand in a town called Bitville.
Caras has also spoken at synagogues and Jewish youth groups about Bitcoin and Judaism, including how the history of money is discussed in the Torah.
"There are people who are Jewish but not observant who have never talked to a rabbi any other time," he says. "Because they feel some type of kinship with me through Bitcoin Twitter, they'll feel comfortable that I will give them relevant information without lecturing them.
"I also have a WhatsApp chat where people often ask me privately for guidance as well. Sometimes they have a Bitcoin question, in some way, and I'm happy to help. I'm happy to be that resource for the community, especially for things like private key management."
Although there are thousands of things now called cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is the world's oldest and most decentralized blockchain network, with the most diverse population of users as of 2021. People can store, send and receive currencies like Bitcoin without a third party, like a bank.
Most avid cryptocurrency users keep track of transactions with a public network and a ledger called a blockchain. For example, the Bitcoin ledger is a record of all transitions with bitcoin (the asset). However, many cryptocurrency traders prefer to use mainstream financial marketplaces (such as Fidelity or the Israeli company eToro), which don't necessarily need to use the public blockchain for all transactions.
Illustrative: A line of would-be Bitcoin buyers outside Tel Aviv's Bitcoin Embassy, December 2017. (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)
Caras is among the avid users who prefer to participate in the grassroots Bitcoin network, transacting with open source tools rather than merely trading cryptocurrency like stocks.
Caras, like many rabbis, is a huge fan of old records, ledgers and sacred secrets. With regards to the "private key management" he mentioned, bitcoin users keep track of their bitcoin using a unique password called a private key — protect that key, and the bitcoin will remain in your custody. That's why knowledge related to private key management is so important to Caras.
The public blockchain ledger is not unlike the way Jewish communities maintained written records about their societies for thousands of years. This combination of history and technology fascinates Caras.
"We have 'the chain of tradition' quite literally in Hebrew, this point of following the tradition back in written history," he says. "We are continuing a chain, and it is a continuous chain. There are soft forks and hard forks within Judaism, different customs, like protocols, that are compatible with each other."
Caras, 31, was raised in a "fairly secular" household, he says, and considered a degree in computer science before switching to rabbinical school. His brother, also a well-known Bitcoin advocate, became more religious after visiting a Chabad house as a teenager and Caras followed suit.
Now a father of six and observant member of the Chabad movement, Caras finds many similarities between the cypherpunk ethos and Judaism. He's not alone, as there are numerous WhatsApp groups for Jewish crypto fans, including the "Jewish Crypto Chat" where Caras is among nearly 190 participants.
I address questions like, could that wedding transaction be done with bitcoin?
"Judaism has a lot of legal frameworks for how money is used. A Jewish wedding is a transaction. The groom puts a ring on her finger because he needs to give her something of value under the huppah [wedding canopy]. [In private DMs] I address questions like, could that wedding transaction be done with bitcoin?" he says.
As a family, Caras and his wife see Bitcoin stewardship as part of their household virtues.
"Hopefully, the majority of the time, we use this technology for good," he says. "That's what I like to encourage people to think about."
There's always a way to apply guidance from the Torah to new conundrums in the modern world. Some people have asked Caras about running trading bots or bitcoin mining on Shabbat, or if checking the always fluctuating bitcoin price (its value compared to the dollar) disrupts from a day of rest.
Bitcoin is often used for donating to charity and securing savings. On the other hand, there are, of course, controversial and harmful ways to use bitcoin. For example, Hamas — the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and is deemed a terrorist organization by the US and Israel — has reportedly fundraised using the cryptocurrency.
Caras, who lived in Israel for four years of rabbinical school and has a brother who lives there, says he's been thinking a lot about the Holy Land since the most recent conflict. It's impossible to say exactly how many bitcoin users there are in Israel, although some local exchanges have garnered more than 55,000 users (each) and thousands of people work in the local crypto industry, including some companies that expanded globally to serve millions. (On a much smaller scale, some Palestinian bitcoin dealers also get their wares from Tel Aviv's same crypto hubs.)
Israel's first Bitcoin ATM in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2014. (Photo credit: Ben Sales/JTA)
Caras strongly believes in Israel's right to defend itself, and hopes that Bitcoin could present economic opportunities that could lessen the stranglehold he says that Hamas has on the population of Gaza. Before the pandemic, in 2019, several Gazan Bitcoin dealers were reportedly transacting with more than $5 million worth of cryptocurrency every month for civilian use cases like international shopping, paying tuition abroad or accepting freelance payments without PayPal or credit cards.
"I'm not concerned about Hamas using relatively small amounts of bitcoin to fund their terrorism, as it seems rather insignificant compared to their other funding methods," Caras says. "Terrorists use cellphones and electricity and every other type of technology that most people use for good and peaceful purposes… I am glad that individual Palestinians can use a money which can't be easily controlled or taken from them by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas."
This sentiment is common among Caras's Twitter compatriots. Israeli investor Eylon Aviv of the crypto-savvy fund Collider Ventures, who knows Caras and enjoys his Twitter feed, says "the promise here is for Palestinians to not be dependent on the financial services provided by these terrorist organizations."
Aviv also agrees with Caras that the Bitcoin ethos complements Jewish ethics.
"Basically every holiday is 'insert an overpowering someone who tried to kill us,' they fail, and we celebrate. The celebration is about the freedom and liberation that happens around the unsuccessful elimination attempt," Aviv says, adding that censorship, resistance, loss and liberation are all recurring themes throughout Jewish history.
I am glad that individual Palestinians can use a money which can't be easily controlled or taken from them by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas
And some Jewish users like Aviv wonder if Bitcoin would be useful if a Holocaust-like situation were to arise again, with governments and armies seizing assets from Jewish communities. Bitcoin would be easier to escape with.
Israeli crypto industry veteran Danny Brown Wolf thinks so, saying that "being Jewish, we pretty much all have in our family history some form of immigration story that involves being forced to leave assets behind."
"Given this history, Jews of all peoples ought to appreciate financial sovereignty," she says.
To be clear, Caras isn't an advocate for any "blockchain revolution." He only answers questions when asked and firmly considers himself a "maximalist," meaning he only uses Bitcoin, no other cryptocurrency. He thinks users' energy is best spent on Bitcoin rather than exploring new token experiments.
"I'm a hardcore maximalist. I don't believe the blockchain has any use case outside of Bitcoin and securing the Bitcoin blockchain," Caras says. "My brother in Israel tells me about every blockchain thing under the sun, but I've yet to see anything positive that it's useful for beyond that."
Instead, Caras prefers to contemplate what Jewish law says about loans and earning interest, for example, so he can learn for himself and help others learn how to apply Jewish ethics to the way he manages his Bitcoin.
"Every piece of technology in this world, it's up to us to choose for ourselves," Caras says, "whether we use technology for good or bad."
Boris Schatz (1866-1932), "the Father of Israeli Art," is best known as the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Arts, named after Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur, the legendary biblical artist and creator of the Mishkan. Schatz is credited with reviving a Jewish aesthetic consciousness and planting the seeds for artistic culture in Israel, and his vision of arts as a necessary component of Zionism played an important role in Israel's singular commitment to the arts.
Schatz's own work, which was heavily influenced by his traditional training in Europe, reflects romanticized, sublime, and sentimental visions of Jewish personalities, religious practices, and sites in Eretz Yisrael. His reliefs include The Blessing of the Candles, The Wailing Wall on the Ninth of Ab, and Havdalah, and his paintings include portraits of Zionist leaders including Herzl and Nordau, and biblical figures, including King David and Jeremiah. His art, however, was overshadowed by his founding of Bezalel.
Jewish art at the time was essentially related to the art of the Diaspora communities where the Jews happened to live, and Schatz changed that by establishing a distinctively Jewish art that employed Jewish themes and designs. Believing that a facility in Jerusalem would serve as a center for his novel Jewish art that would gather talented Jewish art students from around the world, he founded Bezalel to develop and promote an indigenous artistic tradition for Eretz Yisrael.
The stated goal of Bezalel, which originally opened on Ethiopia Street in Jerusalem in 1906 and moved to its permanent home on Shmuel Hanagid Street two years later, was "to train the people of Jerusalem in crafts, develop original Jewish art and support Jewish artists, and to find visual expression for the much yearned-for national and spiritual independence that seeks to create a synthesis between European artistic traditions and the Jewish design traditions of the East and West, and to integrate it with the local culture of the Land of Israel."
Schatz developed a tripartite design for the Bezalel School: first, a school to train artists and artisans; second, a workshop in carpet-weaving, metal work, and woodcarving, where the students could use their talent and apply their growing skills; and third, an art museum, which was the foundation for the Bezalel Museum and later became the Israel Museum, which today contains thousands of paintings, sculpture, and other artistic works.
Schatz sought to express the national ethos through depictions of simple Jews at work and at prayer. Bezalel artists and craftsmen under his tutelage celebrated farmers, road builders, and factory workers, and the Bezalel artists became noted for combining their deep feelings for Jewish themes and nationalism with remarkable skill and craftsmanship. He planted the seeds for artistic culture in Israel, and Israel's extraordinary commitment to the arts is in no small part due to his vision of arts as a necessary component of Zionism.
Exhibited here is an incredible one-of-a-kind document, an original student card for Bezalel's first class. It is signed by both Schatz and secretary Chemda Ben-Yehuda, who married Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the "Father of the Modern Hebrew Language," after the death of his first wife (who was Chemda's sister). Chemda played an important role in creating "the first all-Hebrew speaking family" and in promoting her husband's newspaper, for which she wrote a popular, but controversial, column promoting Hebrew as a national language.
Born the son of a cheder melamed in Lithuania, Schatz was sent to study at the yeshiva in Vilna, but after falling under the influence of the Haskalah (the so-called "Enlightenment") movement, he broke from his religious upbringing and education to pursue his interests in art. Though no longer religiously observant, he remained closely tied to Judaism and continued to celebrate Jewish rites including, as shown here on this remarkable original document, the bar mitzvah of his son, Bezalel, on March 14, 1925, at his home. The invitation includes a drawing by Schatz of a young man putting on tefillin.
Moving to Warsaw in 1888, Schatz developed his philosophy that Jewish art should be tied to a national role, and he presented these concepts for the first time in an article he published in Ha-Tzefirah, a Hebrew language periodical published in Poland from 1874 to 1931. The next year, he moved to Paris, where he was trained as a sculptor and painter in the traditional, academic style before accepting an invitation from Prince Ferdinand to move to Bulgaria in 1895. As the Bulgarian court sculptor, he designed public monuments, founded the Royal Academy of Art in Sofia, and dedicated himself to creating a national Bulgarian artistic identity, an important precursor to his later work at Bezalel to establish a distinctly Jewish artistic identity.
In 1903, the Kishinev pogrom, which shook the entire Jewish world, reawakened Schatz's Zionism and triggered a dramatic emotional transformation, as his art turned to salvaging collective Jewish memory and preserving an endangered Jewish community facing devastation. After meeting Theodor Herzl later that year, he became a passionate Zionist idealist and tried to convince Herzl that the Bezalel Academy should be added to the official Zionist agenda; however, though impressed by Schatz, Herzl's priority at that time was the establishment of a bank for the Zionist enterprise.
In 1904, Schatz went to the St. Louis World's Fair to exhibit his Bulgarian Pavilion sculpture at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Drawn to the Jerusalem exhibit there – a full-scale model of the city that occupied 11 acres at the center of the fairgrounds – he imagined a revived Jewish artistic presence in Jerusalem. At the Seventh Zionist Congress held after Herzl's death at Basle the following year, he proposed the idea of an art school in Jerusalem, which was approved by the Congress, and the founding of Bezalel was proclaimed on October 8, 1905.
A year later, Schatz moved to Eretz Yisrael and formally founded Bezalel, which became the symbol of the artistic component of cultural Zionism. He arranged exhibitions of Bezalel arts and crafts throughout Europe and the United States, which constituted the first time that artistic works from Eretz Yisrael were displayed abroad. He not only single-handedly revived Jewish art in Eretz Yisrael but, perhaps equally important, he provided a means of livelihood for many hundreds of young and talented Jewish artists. As such, he took most of Bezalel's output at that point and in 1914 embarked on a tour of the United States to raise funds for his students.
Schatz had always thought of Bezalel in almost religious terms as a present-day Third Temple, a source of mystical, divine, spiritual and artistic power that would inspire a renewed national identity among the Jewish people in both Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora. That view apparently became contagious during his American trip; for example, one analyst described him as "an old Hebrew Patriarch" who had become "the high priest in service of sacred art." The Bezalel building in Jerusalem was characterized as a "temple of handicrafts," and Bezalel works became beloved as much for their promise of a new, post-Diaspora era of hope as for their beauty and craftsmanship.
Moreover, Schatz's exoticism and his extroverted personality endeared him to the public as much as the works that he brought to exhibit, and he was incredibly well received by the American Jewish community wherever he went, as he delivered public lectures, held press conferences, and met with political and civic leaders. Exhibitions of Bezalel works were held at large venues, such as Madison Square Garden in New York, and the New York Times, reflecting the public's expansive embrace of Bezalel creations, wrote that its artistic output "bear[s] witness to the fact that the [Jewish] race has lost nothing since the days of [the original biblical] Bezalel."
When the British Mandate began in 1920, Schatz, believing that the Mandate presented new opportunities for Bezalel and its artists, devoted most his energy to developing the potential of its workshops. In particular, he introduced the use of Bezalel ceramic tiles as decorations on the new public buildings and on private homes of Tel Aviv, which became very popular and generated significant income for the financially struggling school.
In this 12 Tevet 1925 handwritten letter on his Bezalel letterhead, Schatz works hard to obtain a ceramics order from the Vaad Hadar HaCarmel Committee:
In Thursday's Haaretz, I read an announcement for the making of signs for the names of the streets in Har HaCarmel. I urge you not to make them from tin; in Tel Aviv, all the signs made of tin spoiled and you cannot read what is written in them. Rather, they should be made only from ceramics like the one that was sent to you for "Bezalel Street," that you kindly came to call it, which came to rest in accordance with the Jaffa community in the Ministry of [ ].
The Jerusalem municipality is not overflowing with love to give work to Jews. Nonetheless, we received an order to do all the writing for the ceramics for all of Jerusalem, and many hundreds have been installed in the walls of Jerusalem. Also, Tel Aviv is retaining us to do all the numbers on the houses and the names of the streets. Moreover, ceramics are exceptionally beautiful and the writing looks good both by day and night. If placed at the center of the wall, it will last forever. This is certainly known to you from the ceramics of Egypt and Babylon found in museums that are thousands of years old.
It may be that in time you can find people who will do it for you at a cheaper price, but who can compare tin with ceramics? [Goes on to discuss prices for signs in one or multiple languages.]
I am certain that you know to distinguish between ceramics and tin and that you will know how to recognize the beauty of our work. And you will give us this order. Alongside the city of Jerusalem, [the signs] are in three languages for which we receive 120, and they ordered many hundreds of signs, and only for you have we set a [low] cost out of the ordinary. Whoever has been in Tel Aviv has seen the House of Hashem Kablakin and the Boy's School [ ] that are decorated by us with ceramic. And now, we are working for Bialik, Herskowitz, Lederberg, Salzman, and up until the Community House.
All these are orders that involve hundreds of fonts. I hope that when you see our work, you will also want to decorate your homes with ceramics.
With great respect and love of Zion,
Schatz solicits a ceramics order from Hadar Hacarmel.
Founded before WWI and once the commercial center of Haifa, Hadar HaCarmel ("the Splendor of the Carmel") is a district in Haifa located on the northern slope of Mount Carmel between the upper and lower city overlooking the Port of Haifa and Haifa Bay. One of its founders, Shmuel Pevzner, was head of its development committee (1922-1927) and was almost certainly the recipient of Schatz's letter.
Exhibited here is the October 1, 1931, issue of The Modern View depicting Schatz (and his son, Bezalel) and originally signed by him. The Modern View, which was published from 1901 to 1943, was an illustrated English-language weekly that chronicled the St. Louis Jewish Reform movement. Schatz, who had become ill and was forbidden by his doctors to sculpt, devoted his remaining strength to painting, and this exhibition at the St. Louis Y.M.H.A. was likely his final one before passing (he died the following March).
Schatz published many works on Hebrew art and Jewish issues in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and Bulgarian. One of his novels, The Rebuilt Jerusalem (1918), written in celebration of the Balfour Declaration, features Bezalel ben Uri, the biblical architect of the Mishkan, who takes him on a tour of Eretz Yisrael in 2018.
Schatz died in Denver while on a fundraising trip and, sadly, he died a pauper. With no Jewish organization willing to pay for a funeral for this great man, his body remained in the hospital morgue for six months until it could be sent to Eretz Yisrael for a proper burial on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. The Bezalel School was closed upon his death, but it was reestablished the following year with the aid of a government grant and it continues to thrive and to serve as a leading art institution to this day.