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Janet Shafner’s Biblical Women

24 Av 5771 – August 24, 2011
By the Bible's own admission, the laws and procedures pertaining to the red heifer constitute some of the greatest chukot, or mysteries, of the entire scriptures. Per Numbers 19, an unblemished, never-been-harnessed red heifer, if slaughtered by a priest outside of the camp in the proper way - which includes the following ingredients: a piece of cedar wood, hyssop and crimson wool - can purify someone who has touched something unholy. The great mystery of the red heifer, the para adumah, though, is that the very object that purifies the ritually unclean also makes all the priests who come in contact with it unclean. It is the original double-edged sword.

Alan Falk’s Lessons

17 Av 5771 – August 17, 2011
Two of Alan Falk's biblical paintings immediately assault us aesthetically and thematically. Isaac Blessing Jacob (2009) and The Cry of Esau (2010) document the famous stolen blessing of Beraishis 27 and its consequences. The ancient Isaac is clad in a white nightshirt, raising his bony hands in blessing over his two sons. In one, Jacob has donned a curly-haired brown Afro deceitfully offering his blind father food, while in the other, Isaac's trembling hands attempt to bless the hysterical Esau at his feet. The cartoonish figures are caught in a melodrama of high-keyed color and exaggerated gesture that casts the biblical tale into an unfamiliar and strange realm.

Alan Falk’s Lessons

Two of Alan Falk's biblical paintings immediately assault us aesthetically and thematically. Isaac Blessing Jacob (2009) and The Cry of Esau (2010) document the famous stolen blessing of Beraishis 27 and its consequences. The ancient Isaac is clad in a white nightshirt, raising his bony hands in blessing over his two sons. In one, Jacob has donned a curly-haired brown Afro deceitfully offering his blind father food, while in the other, Isaac's trembling hands attempt to bless the hysterical Esau at his feet. The cartoonish figures are caught in a melodrama of high-keyed color and exaggerated gesture that casts the biblical tale into an unfamiliar and strange realm.

The Politics Of Jewish Calendars

10 Av 5771 – August 10, 2011
Although jokes abound about how punctual German Jews (Yekes) are, the concept of "Jewish Standard Time," presumably mocking the non-Germanic segments of the Jewish population, has earned an entry in Urban Dictionary for "15 minutes late to everything" or "being late to an important event."

Meer Akselrod: Painting His People

3 Av 5771 – August 3, 2011
Empathy and memory meet in the work of Meer Akselrod (1902-1970), the Jewish Russian artist who defied aesthetic convention and totalitarian dictates to relentlessly pursue his personal artistic vision of painting the Jewish people. His quiet courage in the face of epochal changes that convulsed his Russian homeland cannot be overestimated. They are amply attested to by his artwork, not the least of which are two pen and ink drawings, Pogrom, from 1927 - 1928, currently at the Chassidic Art Institute.

Lilith by Siona Benjamin

11 Tammuz 5771 – July 13, 2011
Siona Benjamin's exhibition "Finding Home: The Art of Siona Benjamin" is simply beautiful. Set in the spacious lobby gallery of the JCC Manhattan, it allows for a peaceful (when the kids, nannies and crowds subside) contemplation of this complex artist's meditations on biblical women, war, exoticism and contemporary society.

Philadelphia Museum Exhibit Showcases Chagall’s Jewish Circle

5 Tammuz 5771 – July 7, 2011
Although the subject matter of Marc Chagall's 1910 painting Resurrection of Lazarus clearly comes from Christian scripture, the artist put his decidedly Jewish mark on the image twice over. Chagall depicted both a Star of David and two hands - signifying the priestly blessing - on the tomb from which the haloed Lazarus has emerged. Although Jewish burial traditions tended to represent the priestly hands with the index and middle fingers touching and the ring and small fingers touching and a gap in between, Chagall, perhaps forgetting the convention, elected to spread all the fingers out evenly.

Echoing Vishniak: Ahron Weiner’s Photographic Pilgrimages to Uman

20 Sivan 5771 – June 22, 2011
At first glance, the chassid in Ahron Weiner's "In Memorial" looks like he may be wearing an earring on his right ear, which is framed by his dark brown side curl. Further inspection reveals the ear is in silhouette, and the "earring" is indeed white light cast by one of the many memorial candles he contemplates - tributes to the tens of thousands of Jews of Uman murdered in the 18th century and nearly two centuries later by the Nazis.

What We Can Glean From Ruth’s Posture

5 Sivan 5771 – June 7, 2011
Until one examines the Book of Ruth - which is read on the holiday of Shavuot - artistically and mines the text for visual fodder that would lend itself to dynamic subjects to paint, one is unlikely to realize how passive the book actually is. The overwhelming majority of action verbs have to do with speech, and there is virtually no violence or conflict. Save a spitting in a shoe here or uncovering an ankle there, the book is much more about states of mind and identity than it is about action.

Chagall’s Bible Images

28 Iyyar 5771 – June 1, 2011
Ironically the same quote by art critic Robert Hughes cited in my May 20th review "Chagall and the Cross" namely that Marc Chagall was the "quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century," is applicable in our consideration of Chagall's images for his graphic masterpiece, The Bible. Except here it illuminates the truth: his greatness as a Jewish artist is founded on his lifelong obsession with the Torah. No matter how far he strayed from his Jewish roots, even his late-in-life dalliance with Judeo-Christian universalism as surveyed in that review, nothing could compromise his amazing insights and comprehension of the Torah narratives.

In the Dog House: Gabriel Metsu’s Dismissal of Hagar

24 Nisan 5771 – April 28, 2011
Hagar and Ishmael, as imagined by the 17th century Dutch Catholic painter Gabriel Metsu, are literally in the doghouse.

Siona Benjamin’s Megillas Esther

17 Adar II 5771 – March 23, 2011
There is nothing funny about Siona Benjamin's Megillas Esther (2010). Unlike some contemporary illuminated megillas that emphasize the absurd and outlandish nature of the corrupt Persian court and the buffoonish character of the king, Benjamin takes the Book of Esther quite seriously. She is obviously deeply sensitive to the terrible consequences of God's hester panim (hidden face) in our own time.

Landscapes That Devour Their Inhabitants: Ludwig Blum’s Jerusalem Works At Ben Uri Gallery

10 Adar II 5771 – March 16, 2011
When the spies Moshe sent to scout the land of Canaan returned with their report, they testified (Numbers 13:32) that the land "eats its denizens," many of whom happen to be giants. In fact the spies, to the extent that their propaganda can be trusted, felt so dwarfed by the Israeli landscape that they claimed they must have resembled grasshoppers to the giants, and even felt like locusts themselves. The description of Canaan in Leviticus 18:28 is no rosier; the land has an allergic reaction to disobedient citizens and literally "spits them out."

A Jewish Lip: New book On Lipman Emanuel Pike Explores Baseball Player’s Career, Religious...

26 Adar I 5771 – March 2, 2011
Early in Ernest Thayer's poem Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, a "sickly silence" has fallen on the patrons of the game. But when "mighty Casey," with his "sneer curled" lip and defiance gleaming in his eye, comes to the plate, 5,000 throats and tongues cheer for him and 10,000 eyes focus on his every move.

Doll (Haunted) House: Two ‘Naïve’ Holocaust Artists at GW’s Brady Gallery

28 Shevat 5771 – February 2, 2011
In an interview for an article published in these pages (Aug. 25, 2004), Jewish Bombay-born painter Siona Benjamin discussed her technique of hiding troubling imagery in the seemingly inviting floral and decorative borders of Indian and Persian miniature-influenced paintings. "Under the beauty of miniatures you can hide danger," she told me of her "Finding Home" series. "The beauty of miniatures draws you in-veiling and revealing."

Moriah’s Illuminated Torah

21 Shevat 5771 – January 26, 2011
Avner Moriah, the well-known Israeli artist, has illuminated the Book of Genesis. No small feat, he has conjured images for all the major narratives as well as alluding to other analogous stories throughout the Torah. He sees the first book of Torah as nothing less than "a poem," a minimalist text that yields an unending series of explorations of the mysteries and conundrums of the human condition. While this is hardly the first nor largest of his explorations of biblical and Jewish narrative, it is easily the most ambitious.

In Loco Templum: Amsterdam’s Esnoga/Portuguese Synagogue

14 Shevat 5771 – January 19, 2011
One of the aspects of the biblical construction narratives - both those about the Tabernacle in the wilderness in Exodus, and in 1 Kings about Solomon's Temple in the Holy Land - that most troubled and confused me when I was young was the aesthetic status of the structures.

A Tale of Four Synagogues: Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum

29 Tevet 5771 – January 5, 2011
Even a poor, unfortunate Jew stranded on an otherwise deserted island, the joke goes, builds two synagogues - one that he attends semi-regularly and the other he wouldn't set foot in if you tried to make him.

Sotheby’s Jewish Vision

23 Tevet 5771 – December 30, 2010
Every year in the early winter the world-renowned auction house, Sotheby's, presents an auction of Israeli and International (Jewish) Art and Judaica. It is always a delight and Sunday, December 12 was no exception. Since it is an international affair, the foremost experts assemble the finest artworks available. The efforts of specialists Rivka Saker, Sigal Mordechai, Daria Gluck, Esta Kilstein and Jennifer Roth of Sotheby's Israel and Jennifer Roth, Sharon Liberman Mintz, David Wachtel, Elizabeth Muller, John Ward, Jill Waddell, Kevin Tierney here in New York were well rewarded. It was a truly exciting exhibition that frequently surprised one with new insights into many familiar artists.

Hidden In Plain Sight: The (Jewish) Hague

15 Tevet 5771 – December 22, 2010
Beneath Baruch Spinoza's smiling bust on his tombstone on the grounds of the Nieuwe Kerk in the Hague is an inscription of his famous motto, "caute" (written cavte on the stone, see image one), or "cautiously" in Latin. Between that admonition and the dates of his life - 1632 to 1677, cut short by an illness whose identity is hotly debated - is the Hebrew word "amcha" or "amach", Hebrew for "your people" or "your nation."

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