The content in front of us here features a man with a shawl and a Torah. He looks miserable and stands sadly at the ground. A goat with a violin is perched to his left, but he seems completely unaware of that. Additionally, there is a large angel floating across the sky, as well as a suggestion of a cityscape across the horizon. This overall painting seems to be a rejection of the anti-Jewish sentiment which was prevalent in some parts of Europe at that time, where some believed this race could not produce impressive art, even though the evidence was very much to the contrary. Chagall's representation to counter this added humour, almost satire, with the suggestion that even animals could produce cultural items, but apparantly not his own community. The context of Europe, particularly Germany, at that time needs to be understood for the items of this artwork to make sense. The question is really about how Chagall sees the role of the Jewish community in society here, as there is no doubt that this is the theme of the work.
Sadly, the fears and concerns of the artist would be entirely justified just a few years later. Firstly, he would witness physical assaults of Jewish people with his own eyes and later on his own work would be confiscated in a crackdown on his community, as well as contemporary art more generally. Some items still have yet to be returned to their rightful owners, but thankfully many efforts have been made to correct this situation. He would be caught up with a number of non-Jewish artists as well, who would collectively be mocked by the highly conservative ruling powers who sought to control art and to ensure that it returned to its style of previous centuries. Ultimately, this attempt to control culture would fail and the likes of Chagall are today held with high regard all across the globe.
This painting can be found in the collection of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Tel Aviv, Israel. This impressive location features a good selection of art, covering both national and European artists and themes. There is also, naturally, a bias towards Jewish artists, but these still only form a small section of the overall display. Alongside this highly prized Marc Chagall painting, you will also find the likes of Rue L'Hermitage by Camille Pissarro, Grainstack at Giverny by Claude Monet, The Shepherdess (after Millet) by Vincent van Gogh and also Portrait of Friederike Maria Beer by Gustav Klimt. The impressive building was constructed in the 1970s but has been added to since as the overall institution continued to grow its collection and international standing.