Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

Michael is a rabbi and educator at Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville, CA. His lesson plan, “Selling Soap, Smashing Sexism, Seeing Ourselves” uses Torah and images of art and advertising to teach students about how women are viewed in the media, as well as to create their own artwork inspired by Jewish artist Barbara Kruger.

Selling Soap, Smashing Sexism, Seeing Ourselves

In this lesson, students explore the work of Jewish artist Barbara Kruger, and learn how to look critically at images of women in advertising.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • Advertisements shape our views of gender roles and women.
  • Dismantling sexism in modern texts can help us navigate discussions about historical or religious institutionalized sexism.

Essential Questions

  • What do ads tell us about how society views women and their roles in the world?
  • How can we help to change the system of advertising that relies on sexist stereotypes and ideas to sell products?
  • Can art be as persuasive as words in making change?

Materials Required

  • Current magazine images of women and girls, old Hebrew school textbooks, posters
  • Plain paper
  • Scissors and glue

Notes to Teacher

  • This unit was designed to be taught over the course of three lessons (corresponding to Parts 1-3 in the lesson plan)
  • This lesson was designed for Jewish students in grades 8-12
Lesson plan

Part 1

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  • Discuss. Have you ever been affected by a picture or message in an advertisement? Did it make you feel something about yourself?
  • Project the images of vintage ads :
    • Discuss. How do these images make you feel? Who is each of these images talking to? Is there a unifying message in these advertising? What is it? Who is speaking in each advertisement? Where do they get their authority?

Part 2

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  • Have the class read Barbara Kruger’s biography
  • Project the images of Barbara Kruger’s art :
    • Discuss. How are these works of art similar to the advertisements we looked at previously? How are they different? How do these images make you feel? Do you like them? Is there a social message in each of these works? What is it? Are they persuasive? Where do they get their authority?
    • Explain: Barbara Kruger’s use of advertising techniques is part of a bigger criticism of society. She is asking us to question the assumptions that are unspoken in the messages we receive from public messages, both in advertising and other public spaces.
  • Have the class read the quotes from and about Kruger and her work

Discuss. Does Kruger’s work make you think about how people act with each other? How? Can a work of art be both funny and tragic? Do you feel that the works of art smash sexism and other social prejudices? Are they more or less effective than persuasive arguments?

Part 3

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  • Explain. Have the students look at famous quotes, each one of which come from one of the books of Torah.
    • Ask them to take a look at these quotes from Torah, and find one that that interests them.  
    • Display Torah quotes, printed in 48-point type on paper, individually cut out
    • Discuss. Does the Torah quote make you think about how people act with each other? How? Do you feel that the quotes smash social prejudices or enforce them? Can you think of an image that would support each quote? Can you think of images that would undermine each quote?
  • Provide students with numerous magazines, textbooks, and posters. Their task is to combine them with the Torah quotes and find images that they want to match up with the text.
  • Discuss. How can you combine images and Torah text to make your own voice heard?
  • Discuss. Describe the emotions you see in the work. What language would you use to describe the qualities (i.e., tragic, ugly, funny)? What is the voice of the artist telling us?
  • Does the piece remind you of emotions you have experienced in your own life? Do you agree with the message?
  • How does the work relate to the Kruger pieces we have seen?
  • Have students place completed work where everyone can see it.

How does it make you feel about the quote? About the artist? About the Torah in general?

Document studies

Vintage Ads

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Show Her It's a Man's World

Vintage ad.

This is No Shape for a Girl

Vintage ad for girdle and bra.

The Subaru GL Coupe. Like a Spirited Woman who Yearns to be Tamed.

Vintage Subaru GL Coupe Ad.

Blow in Her Face and She'll Follow You Anywhere

Vintage cigarette ad.

Barbara Kruger’s Biography

Barbara Kruger’s Art

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Your Body is a Battleground

Art by Barbara Kruger

I Shop Therefore I Am

Art by Barbara Kruger, photolithograph on a paper shopping bag, 1990.

You Construct Intricate Rituals Which Allow You to Touch the Skin of Other Men

Art by Barbara Kruger.

Who is free to choose? Who is beyond the law?

Art by Barbara Kruger, 1989.

Quotes by and about Kruger

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Quotes by and about Kruger

(Excerpts, “She Has a Way With Words,” LA Times, October 17, 1999)

  • “My work is about how people are with each other. It's about social relations. I'm using aggressiveness and direct address to foreground that. It's what we do to each other.”
  • “It's about fear of difference and wanting to destroy it. From road rage to war, the behavior is not that dissimilar. Whether it is a battle around issues of race or aesthetics, it's all nuts.”
  • “Humor is an important part of the work. I'm trying to create a collision between the hilarious and the tragic.”
  • New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl says of Kruger, “What can sell soap can smash sexism.”

Torah Quotes

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Torah Quotes

(printed in 48-point type on paper, individually cut out, so that everyone can see them)

  • Am I my brother’s keeper
  • Hear, O Israel, Adonai is God, Adonai is One
  • Let my people go
  • Adonai regretted that He had made Man
  • Choose Life
  • Go forth from your land
  • Cursed shall be the ground because of you
  • The serpent tricked me and I ate
  • They set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor
  • Why doesn’t the bush burn up
  • Pharaoh’s heart was hardened
  • The waters were split and Israel went into the sea on dry ground
  • May Adonai bless and keep you
  • Love your neighbor as yourself
  • I will assign this land to your offspring
  • Take your son, your only one
  • There is no god but Me
  • Ask your father, he will tell you
  • Her husband’s brother shall unite with her
  • Remember that you were a slave
  • Leave the corner for the poor
  • A man takes a wife and possesses her. She fails to please him.
  • The man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver
  • When you approach a town to attack it, call out to it for peace
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Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, 2014 Twersky Award Finalist.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rabbi Michael Rothbaum." (Viewed on August 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/twersky/michael-rothbaum>.

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