Michael Tal, researcher in the Ritual Object Section of the Center's Index of Jewish Art, comes from a background not typical for one dealing in Jewish Art. A former kibbutznik from Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz Gazit in the Jezreel Valley, he was educated at neighboring Kibbutz Ein Dor. One familiar with the different kibbutz movements will recognize that this particular movement is well known for its anti-religious leanings. However, oddly enough, it was during his high school years at Ein Dor that he began to connect with his Jewish identity, with an inspiring teacher, Dr. Regina Ya'ari, of Jewish Studies.
Prior to his army service, Tal had occasion to hear several lectures on the subject of Jewish spiritualism by Beit Hatfutzot historian, Dr. Eli Ben Gal. Tal was very attracted by Ben Gal's new interpretation of Judaism and his descriptions of the spiritual and cultural world of Judaism. Tal says that it was quite clear to him during this period that he would someday study Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Tal served in army intelligence, two years of which he spent in Sharm-el-Sheik in the Sinai desert, and upon completion of his army service, traveled for two years in the Far East. He returned to study at the University of Tel Aviv where he enrolled in two major fields of studies. The first being Art History, and the second Jewish Studies, including philosophy, literature, poetry, and mysticism. Tal was particularly drawn to studies in the Midrash and Jewish Mysticism , Kabbalah. After his first year he transferred to the Hebrew University where he later completed his first degree.
His connection to the Center began in 1991 when, after taking a course in Gothic Art with Director Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, she asked him to join the Center's research team. He joined the Ritual Object Section which was just beginning its intensive work in Eastern Europe.
Tal has joined two expeditions to Eastern Europe. One was to Prague where the research team surveyed and documented ritual objects in the Jewish Museum. He was especially affected by what he found in his second expedition to Lithuania and to Byelorussia, where very little remains of the once thriving Jewish communities. Viewing the synagogues, which were often the largest and most impressive edifices in a very simple landscape, Tal felt the loss of the communities most poignantly. Tal is utilizing his experience in Eastern Europe in his present research for the Index on synagogue wall paintings and the ritual object collection of the Museum of Historical Treasures of the Ukraine.
Tal has recently completed his master's degree in Art History at the Hebrew University, for which he wrote his master's thesis on mosaic floors in the Mediterranean countries during the Byzantine period. Now beginning a Ph.D. program in the Hebrew University Art History Department, Tal will continue as a researcher in the Ritual Objects Section of the Center. He is also teaching Jewish Art at the Kibbutz Seminary where he hopes that the subject will enrich his students' Jewish identity as it has for him.
Michael Tal is this year's recipient of the Mordechai Narkiss Prize for outstanding Research in Jewish Art and the Erlanger Scholarship for the 1997-1998 Academic year.