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Posted on: August 11th, 2010

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As I sit to write this article less than a week before my wedding, my mind keeps returning to a particular work, which one must grapple with if one intends to take the history of Jewish art seriously.

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Posted on: August 11th, 2010

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As I sit to write this article less than a week before my wedding, my mind keeps returning to a particular work, which one must grapple with if one intends to take the history of Jewish art seriously.

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Posted on: August 4th, 2010

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Imagine you are a mohel and, thank God, business is booming. It's a good living and you even have time to sit and learn in between the jobs that seem to crop up at least once a week. In addition, you do a bit of doctoring and tutoring a few children in heder. You think, "Perhaps I should have a siddur to replace my father's worn-out printed volume that he got from his father and then from his father oh so many years ago. Here I am in Trebitsch who can help me find something...nice. Oh, I know, Aryeh ben Judah Leib. He is getting really famous for making hand written books with beautiful decorations over in Vienna where he has set up shop. He makes his seforim for important people, even those Yidden who serve at the royal Court - just like they used to do maybe two hundred years ago before we had Hebrew printing. Why not, I'm doing well, doing God's work. It's a hiddur mitzvah."

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Posted on: July 28th, 2010

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Monkeys and apes are generally symbols of base passion, particularly lust, in Western art. Giovanni Battista Foggini's 17th century bronze sculpture "The Fall of Man" shows not only the serpent dangling from the Tree of Knowledge tempting Adam and Eve, but also a monkey seated behind the tree eating an apple. Foggini may have gotten the idea from Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose 1612 painting "Garden of Eden" features a monkey prominently, or from a c. 1410 "The Garden of Eden" by an unknown artist in Frankfurt. A century earlier, Martin Luther had famously referred to Satan as "God's ape," building upon the then-popular view of monkeys as unintelligent animals that simply mimicked primitive human behavior.

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Posted on: July 14th, 2010

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"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."

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Posted on: July 14th, 2010

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"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."

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Posted on: June 30th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: June 30th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: June 16th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: June 9th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: June 2nd, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: June 2nd, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: May 26th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: May 17th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: May 17th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: May 5th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: April 21st, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: April 8th, 2010

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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?"

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Posted on: March 29th, 2010

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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.

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Posted on: March 29th, 2010

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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.

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