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Winner: Archibald Prize 1961

William Pidgeon Rabbi Dr I Porush

oil on canvas

95 x 69 cm

Image courtesy The Great Synagogue, Sydney

The subject of this Archibald Prize-winning portrait by William Pidgeon is Israel Porush (Porusch-Mandel, 1907-1991).

Born in Jerusalem into a strict Orthodox Jewish family, Porush was sent to Germany to study mathematics and Rabbinic Judaism. He received a doctorate in algebra and was ordained in 1934. Fearing the rise of Nazism, he migrated to London, then accepted the position of senior rabbi at Sydney’s Great Synagogue, which he took up in 1940. Porush was the ‘uncrowned chief rabbi of Australia’ and the head of the rabbinical court (Av Beth Din). Although some people did not agree with his strong Orthodox position, he was revered for combining ‘rabbinical learning, general scholarship and exceptional leadership’.

Now in the collection of the Great Synagogue, this portrait was commissioned by a Sydney bookmaker and horse breeder, Mr A Davis, to mark Porush’s 21st anniversary as its rabbi, in memory of Davis’s younger sister Ettie. Porush is dressed in his liturgical vestments, including his ṭallit (prayer shawl), standing at the bimah (reading platform) before the Ark.