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Jewish Community vs. Spinoza: David Ives’ New Jerusalem

3 Av 5770 – July 14, 2010
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion," wrote the political philosopher John Stuart Mill in his 1859 treatise On Liberty, "mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."

Jewish Community vs. Spinoza: David Ives’ New Jerusalem

"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion," wrote the political philosopher John Stuart Mill in his 1859 treatise On Liberty, "mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."

Can a Tenement Fire Be a Microcosm for the Holocaust? Ben Shahn’s Hickman Drawings

18 Tammuz 5770 – June 30, 2010
Ben Shahn's "Allegory" (1948), which is part of the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, shows a lion with a fiery mane standing in an abstract red, blue, green and purple landscape. A bright red-orange structure in the bottom left corner might be a burning building. Underneath the lion is a heap of people, probably dead but perhaps sleeping. The sky is also a mixture of fire and smoke and the painting resembles depictions of hell in medieval manuscripts, where eternal punishment is often personified as a menacing and demonic beast. Whatever the allegory Shahn is depicting, one can be sure it is not intended to be a happy setting.

Can a Tenement Fire Be a Microcosm for the Holocaust? Ben Shahn’s Hickman Drawings

Ben Shahn's "Allegory" (1948), which is part of the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, shows a lion with a fiery mane standing in an abstract red, blue, green and purple landscape. A bright red-orange structure in the bottom left corner might be a burning building. Underneath the lion is a heap of people, probably dead but perhaps sleeping. The sky is also a mixture of fire and smoke and the painting resembles depictions of hell in medieval manuscripts, where eternal punishment is often personified as a menacing and demonic beast. Whatever the allegory Shahn is depicting, one can be sure it is not intended to be a happy setting.

Yiddish Theater Is Alive and Well (at Least in Chicago), But What Does It...

4 Tammuz 5770 – June 16, 2010
Trying to summarize the plot of "Jacob and Jack," currently in its world premier at Victory Gardens in Chicago, is a bit like, well, trying to understand a Yiddish play if you don't speak Yiddish. The viewer quickly gets the sense that something really interesting is happening in the play's myriad flashbacks - which are simultaneously redundant and singular - but even after skimming the Jacob and Jack script, I'm still having trouble keeping the narrative and chronology straight.

Bloom’s Bittersweet Vision: Paintings by Lloyd Bloom

27 Sivan 5770 – June 9, 2010
Upon entering Lloyd Bloom's exhibition at the Chassidic Art Institute one is confronted by the sweet beautiful image of a lamb skipping through the air in a puffy cloud landscape. Right next to it is an image of a goat kid cuddled up in the lap of a young shepherd. Further down the wall we see paintings depicting a young man leining from the Torah, then women lighting Shabbos candles and finally a father and son at the seder table, all candidates to be the most emblematic scene of Jewish life imaginable.

Moses’ Spies in Art

20 Sivan 5770 – June 2, 2010
Growing up, I used to enjoy reading S. Weissman's Little Midrash Says (published 1986) and carefully studying Siegmund Forst's illustrations of the weekly Torah portion. At the time, I had no idea how many of Forst's drawings were derived from earlier traditions of biblical illustration (many of them Christian), but I was particularly struck by the moral readability of the narratives. It was always a cinch to figure out who was a good character and who was evil; you could read it on their faces. The heroes were always smiling widely and the villains looked ugly and angry at the world.

Moses’ Spies in Art

Growing up, I used to enjoy reading S. Weissman's Little Midrash Says (published 1986) and carefully studying Siegmund Forst's illustrations of the weekly Torah portion. At the time, I had no idea how many of Forst's drawings were derived from earlier traditions of biblical illustration (many of them Christian), but I was particularly struck by the moral readability of the narratives. It was always a cinch to figure out who was a good character and who was evil; you could read it on their faces. The heroes were always smiling widely and the villains looked ugly and angry at the world.

Howard Lerner’s Universe

13 Sivan 5770 – May 26, 2010
Walking into Howard Lerner's studio is like falling headfirst into a Tanach made of sculpture. Right near the door is a 10-foot high Tower of Babel. Partially hidden behind this behemoth is a thoroughly idiosyncratic Vision of Ezekiel. Further along into the somewhat cluttered, but not chaotic, studio is a vista of massive sculptures; The Ark of the Covenant looms ahead while Elijah's Ascension is on the left, just past a 10 foot depiction of Enoch. To be totally honest, it's all a bit frightening.

Toby Cohen’s Hovering Hassidim

4 Sivan 5770 – May 17, 2010
One of my favorite characters in all of literature is the senile patriarch José Arcadio Buendía, of Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, who, before getting tied to a tree for his own protection, decides he would like to capture God in a daguerreotype. José's ultimately unsuccessful design solution is to jump out from around a corner hoping to catch the deity unawares.

Toby Cohen’s Hovering Hassidim

One of my favorite characters in all of literature is the senile patriarch Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, of Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, who, before getting tied to a tree for his own protection, decides he would like to capture God in a daguerreotype. Jos?'s ultimately unsuccessful design solution is to jump out from around a corner hoping to catch the deity unawares.

Interfaith Medieval Artistic Collaborations Shed Light on Spanish Jewish-Christian Relations

21 Iyyar 5770 – May 5, 2010
In 1393, two years after the worst pogroms in Spanish history, the Jewish artist Abraham de Salinas accepted a commission to paint a New Testament-themed retablo, a work placed behind a church altar, for the cathedral of San Salvador. Another Jewish artist, the silversmith Bonaf?s Abenxueu (sometimes referred to as Bonaf?s Abenxueu), created the frame for the retablo.

Is There A Jewish Tradition About The Shape Of The Tablets Of The Ten...

7 Iyyar 5770 – April 21, 2010
Nearly six and a half centuries before McDonald's first introduced its iconic logo designed by Jim Schindler, artists had already invented the double-humped shape. The Flemish painter Michiel van der Borch's 1332 manuscript illustration "Moses receives the Tables of the Law" shows a haloed prophet, his hair twisted into horns, carrying his staff and wearing a red robe as he reaches out to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Hundreds of medieval manuscript illuminations, as well as dozens of paintings by Chagall, feature the same rounded layout.

Are the Jews Good for Andy Warhol?

24 Nisan 5770 – April 8, 2010
The joke about "old and tribal" Jews, who are always pathologically wondering if everything is good for the Jews, goes that when they see a new lint filter on the dryer, they want to know if the new mechanism is good for the Jews. So says Josh Kornbluth in his one-man performance "Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?"

Hailing Turner’s Pestilence: Is The Artist’s Fifth Plague of Egypt Really A Typo?

14 Nisan 5770 – March 29, 2010
In an instance of form following content, Joseph Mallord William Turner's "The Fifth Plague of Egypt" was recently exiled from its home at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the exhibit "J.M.W. Turner," which was organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Dallas Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, in association with London's Tate Britain. According to the wall texts from both the exhibit and the painting's permanent home in Indianapolis, the title Turner selected for his biblical study features one of art history's greatest typos.

Hailing Turner’s Pestilence: Is The Artist’s Fifth Plague of Egypt Really A Typo?

In an instance of form following content, Joseph Mallord William Turner's "The Fifth Plague of Egypt" was recently exiled from its home at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the exhibit "J.M.W. Turner," which was organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Dallas Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, in association with London's Tate Britain. According to the wall texts from both the exhibit and the painting's permanent home in Indianapolis, the title Turner selected for his biblical study features one of art history's greatest typos.

Nechama Farber: From Belarus To Jerusalem

9 Nisan 5770 – March 24, 2010
Little did artist Nechama Farber know, when growing up in Minsk, Belarus, that some day she would yearn to live in Israel, become an artist, sell her Judaic paintings, drawings and prints internationally, be commission to create portraits for Jewish families, and, most noteworthy, create an original painting for one of the most grandiose synagogues in Eastern Europe, the 102 year old Riga Synagogue in Latvia.

Unraveling Jewish Threads: James Sturm’s Graphic Novel Market Day

17 Adar 5770 – March 3, 2010
Greek and Roman mythology envisioned the fates -- the Moirae or the Parcae -- as spinners of thread. Clotho (Nona) wove life's threads; Lachesis (Decima) measured; and Atropos (Morta) cut. To the Greeks and Romans, the cosmos was artfully woven by deities, but was also unstable and liable to fray or to unwind piece by piece. Given the Greco-Roman gods' tendencies to act like children, the pattern of life was particularly chaotic.

Unraveling Jewish Threads: James Sturm’s Graphic Novel Market Day

Greek and Roman mythology envisioned the fates -- the Moirae or the Parcae -- as spinners of thread. Clotho (Nona) wove life's threads; Lachesis (Decima) measured; and Atropos (Morta) cut. To the Greeks and Romans, the cosmos was artfully woven by deities, but was also unstable and liable to fray or to unwind piece by piece. Given the Greco-Roman gods' tendencies to act like children, the pattern of life was particularly chaotic.

Have Artists Condemned The “Wayward Wife” To Oblivion? Richard McBee

3 Adar 5770 – February 17, 2010
At the risk of being crude, the narrative in Numbers 5 of the Sotah, the so-called "wayward wife," ought to be a goldmine for biblical painters. It is hard to imagine a biblical punishment more vivid and aesthetically fertile than the adulterous woman's belly bursting after she drinks the "bitter waters" into which the priest has erased the Divine Name - a violation of the third commandment so reprehensible it is clear how serious the Torah sees this issue. Forget the shyness of Esther before Ahasuerus, which has so fascinated artists for centuries. The Sotah is on trial for her life, literally exposed and alone in front of a host of men in the holy Temple. Numbers 5 devotes 21 verses to the Sotah; by comparison, Numbers 20 only gives 13 verses to Moses' sin of striking the rock, which prevents him from entering the Holy Land.

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