Bronze Bull, Golden Calf
The metal bovine with a peculiar magnetism that is known as the Golden Calf (Exod. 32) brings to mind Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull (1989). A potent Financial District icon, it exerts a remarkable pull on passersby (on its webcam you can see the crowd so often around the statue). According to the artist’s website, it was designed as a “symbol of virility and courage” and “the perfect antidote to the Wall Street crash of 1986,” but it was also created without the invitation of the Wall Street community and was promptly removed from its original location in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Charging Bull was eventually embraced by the traders as a totem and source of good luck. Its golden predecessor, however, was ground to dust. The image of a bull was a common depiction of gods in the ancient Near East, but our parashah could not be clearer in rejecting it.
Glistening, muscular, dynamic, and intensely animal, Charging Bull has an allure that is undeniable, and the sculpture seems a fitting mascot for the highly charged financial business of its neighborhood. It sheds light on why such a creature was once a symbol for a mighty god—and invites us to speculate as to why such an image was so adamantly disowned by the Torah.