web analytics
April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Steinhardt’s Legacy


Allegory of Mercy, detail; Monumental Illuminated Esther Scroll (mid 18th century). 
Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem: Elie Posner. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Allegory of Mercy, detail; Monumental Illuminated Esther Scroll (mid 18th century). Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem: Elie Posner. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Share Button
Nezikin Frontispiece – The Frankfurt Mishneh Torah (ca 1457). Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Nezikin Frontispiece – The Frankfurt Mishneh Torah (ca 1457). Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

The exceptional quality of this Mishneh Torah cannot be emphasized enough. There are only three other illuminated copies of the Rambam text in existence and this one stands alone as presenting detailed illustrations of the actual halachic text. Six of the eight books (chapters) are graced with full-page frontispieces; gold-leaf initial word panels and illustrations of the pertinent subject at hand. Unlike almost all other illuminated manuscripts that are copies of earlier prototypes, the Frankfurt Mishneh Torah has absolutely no precedent. Each and every image was created specifically for this manuscript. Of equal importance is that the non-Jewish artist had to be instructed by the scribe or rabbinic authority as to what each image should depict. This was an intense creative partnership unlike any other in manuscript illumination.

The Avodah panel depicts the golden domed Temple (an octagonal building reflecting the Jerusalem Dome of the Rock) with first one priest slaughtering on one side and then another burning the sacrifice. Korbanot is represented by preparations for the first Passover Seder: men assembled with their staffs in hand stand around a set Passover table while a boy prepares to roast a lamb on a spit. Issues of ritual purity are explored in Tohorot with a well-dressed lad lying dead in a tent and two figures heatedly discussing the complications of “tent contamination.” In one of the most vivid images, Nezikin, a violent knife fight unfolds alongside a thief breaking into a house through a window and stealing clothing. Above, an ass falls into an unguarded pit, making the pit’s owner liable for damages, whereas the alleged scene of the goring ox is curiously pacific. While the ox seems to be only nudging the fallen person it thus reflects the Rambam in Halacha 10 that butting is a derivative of goring and also subject to damages. The intricacies of Kinyan are explored whereas on the right a man acquires a horse by leading it into his domain, while on the left two individuals discussing the purchase of a house effect nothing until money or a deed is exchanged. In each one of these images the artist has gone well beyond superficial illustration by consistently opening up the complexities of Jewish law that the Rambam elucidates, sometimes showing its application and at others its exceptions.

Tohorot Frontispiece – The Frankfurt Mishneh Torah (ca 1457). Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Tohorot Frontispiece – The Frankfurt Mishneh Torah (ca 1457). Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Shofetim is an excellent case in point. The defendant is standing before the court, held by two armed guards. Curiously there are four seated judges presiding. While we all know that the minimum court is made up of three judges, a court of four seems puzzling until we read Halacha 5 and 6 together.

“5. When a city does not possess two sages of great knowledge – one fit to teach and issue rulings with regard to the entire Torah and one who knows how to listen diligently and knows how to raise questions and arrive at solutions – a court should NOT be appointed for it even though thousands of Jews live there.

“6. When a court has two judges of this caliber; one capable of listening with regard to the entire Torah, and one capable of expounding, it is a valid court. If there are three, it is of intermediate esteem. If the court possesses four judges who can expound upon the entire Torah, it is a wise court.” It would seem that the artist is illustrating the requisite quality of the judges necessary to establish a valid court, making us closely read the halacha through the eyes of the Rambam.

After the sumptuous complexities of the Frankfurt Mishneh Torah (only some of which we have examined), it is hard to imagine an illuminated manuscript as fascinating. And yet the Illuminated Megillat Esther, lot 100, from mid-18th century northern Italy truly rises to the task. Judged as perhaps “the most important Esther scroll to come to the market ever,” it is indeed monumental at 21 inches in height, 202 inches in length and elaborately adorned with twisting columns, garlands, ornate cartouches, flying putti and floral decorations. Along the bottom panels imaginative scenes from the text are illustrated as well as crowned cartouches atop every other column. All that notwithstanding, what sets this Megillat Esther apart is that it is one of only seven surviving megillot in existence exhibiting an extremely significant allegorical program. Ten allegorical figures based on Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593) are featured above every other column. Iconologia was a highly influential “handbook of allegories, personifications and symbols of vices and virtues” used extensively by writers, artists and poets well into the 19th century. It essentially created a commonly understood symbolic language of the educated European elite. Its use in a Jewish ritual object, alongside pertinent Hebrew quotations that echoed its allegories, was a major step of integration with emerging Enlightenment culture.

Share Button

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “Steinhardt’s Legacy”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Arab rioters hurl objects at Israeli security personnel who use pepper spray to quell the violence emanating from the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount.
Arab Violence Closes Temple Mount to Visitors Again
Latest Sections Stories
Tali Hill, a beneficiary of the Max Factor Family Foundation.

The plan’s goal is to provide supportive housing to 200 individuals with disabilities by the year 2020.

Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas’s deans, Rabbi Moshe Katz and Rabbi Zev Goldman, present award to Educator of the Year, Rabbi Michoel Paris.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the U.S. – the estimated Jewish population is 70-80,000 – Las Vegas has long been overlooked by much of the Torah world.

She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.

Pesach is so liberating (if you excuse the expression). It’s the only time I can eat anywhere in the house, guilt free! Matzah in bed!

Now all the pain, fear and struggle were over and they were home. Yuli was safe and free, a hero returned to his land and people.

While it would seem from his question that he is being chuzpadik and dismissive, I wonder if its possible, if just maybe, he is a struggling, confused neshama who actually wants to come back to the fold.

I agree with the letter writer that a shadchan should respectfully and graciously accept a negative response to a shidduch offer.

Alternative assessments are an extremely important part of understanding what students know beyond the scope of tests and quizzes.

Your husband seems to have experienced what we have described as the Ambivalent Attachment.

The goal of the crusade is to demonize and hurt Israel.

The JUMP program at Hebrew Academy was generously sponsored by Evelyn and Dr. Shmuel Katz.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jo-El/Jore-El (2013) 48” x 60” acrylic on canvas, by Joel Silverstein
Courtesy the artist

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Three Generation Triptych 2012-2013
Photo-collages with gouache and acrylic paint on paper (35 x 105) by Siona Benjamin
Courtesy Flomenhaft Gallery

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

The ostensible outsider frequently has the privilege of seeing the exclusive inner sanctum with fresh and unbiased eyes. Artists’ initial encounters with the Talmud are equally blessed.

It is a rare season indeed when two major auction houses show not only resplendent offerings of Judaica, but also multiple examples of highly unusual and rare Jewish-themed fine art. That is indeed the case now both at Sotheby’s December 19th auction and the Bonhams recent December 10th auction.

As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.

Unconditional love is a concept that sets the bar of human conduct and forgiveness at a dizzying height, challenging the very fabric of human credulity.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/steinhardts-legacy/2013/04/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: