Talmudiste endormi is a powerfully philosophical and spiritual work, rooted firmly in Chagall's memories of his Hassidic Jewish upbringing in Vitebsk, the figure's similarity to his father recalling his loving and devout family life. Unlike the celebratory paintings of gravity defying figures of his later work, the bearded man in Talmudiste endormi is firmly earthbound. Huddled against a vast snowy terrain, his introspective pose severs him from the world in an internal communication with God. Clutching a Bible to his body, his head reverently bowed, he sits in solemn contemplation of the sacred text, while far off in the distance a temple and houses of a village peek above the horizon. His detachment from the village can be seen to represent the Jew in exile, a figure longing for the far off lands of Israel.
The bearded man, attired in the long dark coat and Kashkel cap typically worn by Jews in Chagall's native Belarus, is a recurrent presence in his paintings, paying tribute to his beloved homeland and the Jewish culture that shaped him. The religious overtones in Chagall's work were repeated throughout the 1930s and 1940s and the man's somber reflective posture in Talmudiste endormi, eyes closed and isolated in prayer and set under a dark wintry sky, are clearly derived from his painting Solitude of 1933, housed in the Tel Aviv Museum. Chagall once stated "If I were not a Jew, I wouldn't have been an artist, or I would have been a different artist altogether" (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 170). Talmudiste endormi is both a universal symbol of the Jewish faith as well a personal remembrance of his profound connection to the native lands from which he was now an exile.