Exodus 38 and All The Naked Ladies

“And he made the basin of bronze, and its pedestal of bronze, from the mirrors of the women assembling, who assembled at the door of the Tent of Meeting.”–Exodus 38:8

all the naked ladies


One day ahead of the opening of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, artist Spencer Tunick orchestrated hundreds of women for a public art protest.

The art installation is titled: Everything She Says Means Everything. It involved 100 naked women holding mirrors facing the Quicken Loans Arena, where tomorrow the Republican National Convention will begin.

Tunick described his inspiration for the installation this way:

Republicans, Democrats and all other political parties were welcome to take part reflecting their anger through art against the hateful repressive rhetoric of many in the Republican Party toward women and minorities. Trump and Pence are giving many in America the belief that is OK to hate. Over 1800 women signed up for the 100 spaces to bare all in this heightened arena of politics and protest and this number alone is a testament to their bravery and desire for change. They did not know where they were going to pose when they signed up to be part of this art action, it could have been in the epicenter of the security zone, but they still wanted to participate. Our concept was for 100 women to pose with 100 mirrors. Our location was secret to keep the women safe and would only allow for a small number of participants. But 1800 women would have shown up naked in front on the steps of the convention to make art with what may be the most controversial subject in this presidential race, a woman’s body.

I was struck by how biblical this image is. Women and “mirror play” is central to the survival of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt. The women’s mirror-play is a way of extending the grand narrative of liberation and shining it into every generation. The midrash says that in slavery the men were beaten down, forbidden to sleep with their wives and families. They lost generative power because of the weight of their oppression. The brief mention of “mirrors,” which the women offer as part of building a basin for the Temple is expanded in the midrashic process to illuminate a backstory of defiance against Pharaoh’s impossible decrees and the liberating energy of multiplying the Israelites.

Avivah Zornberg describes, “Subtly, the midrash yields its meanings. The mirrors are not simply the means by which women adorn themselves, set in motion the processes of desire, procreation, the creation of a nation. A much larger claim is being made: through these mirrors, each woman conceived six hundred thousand babies at a time” (Exodus: The Particulars of Rapture by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg).

When the body politic is so flaccid and desiccated as it is now, producing more death than life, then a generative desire must be cultivated so that the people can remember what it feels like to be alive, to choose life. In Zornberg’s book on Exodus, she says “the mirrors … remain for me the most evocative symbol of redemption.”

From a field in Cleveland at dawn, may this midrash bear fruit.

Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and poet.


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