web analytics
March 5, 2015 / 14 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

Unconditional Love


Torah Ark Door (back); Egypt, 11th century with later carving and paint; Wood (walnut) with traces of paint and brass; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (64.181) and Yeshiva University Museum (2000.231)

Torah Ark Door (back); Egypt, 11th century with later carving and paint; Wood (walnut) with traces of paint and brass; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (64.181) and Yeshiva University Museum (2000.231)

The wooden door, the only one surviving from a pair, measures 34” x 14” x 1” and has been scientifically dated to the 11th century when the synagogue underwent a major renovation. Based on visitors’ descriptions, this specific door was in use well into the 19th century. It was jointly acquired by Yeshiva University Museum and the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore in 2000 and has been under conservation and research at the Walters Art Museum since then. The verses carved on top and bottom from Psalm 118 – “Open to me the gates of righteousness,” and “This is the gate of the Lord” – also likely date from the 11th century (based on the particular abbreviation of God’s name used here), while the central abstract design was almost certainly created hundreds of years later from 14th century Islamic book design.

Another fascinating detail is the back of the door, also elaborately carved with a “spinning” decorative design, but here adorned top and bottom with Birkat Kohanim. Evidently there is a Sephardi minhag of allowing the Aron doors to remain open during Birkat Kohanim: thereby in this scenario allowing the verse to face the congregation when the Kohanim are actively blessing them. This detail suddenly brings us into the actual use of the Ark door and, with a little bit of imagination, into the middle of a morning service.

The objects and documents of this exhibition, a small selection reviewed here, convincingly bring alive the Fustat community and its larger environs. They express their unconditional love of serving God and His people; forever reminded, no matter how harsh the current conditions were, of Egyptian bondage and ancient Exodus that occurred in their hometown.

Alan Falk has a significantly different understanding of unconditional love in his current exhibition of paintings and watercolors depicting the “Song of Songs” and the “Dybbuk” currently at the Jewish Religious Center at Williams College. His approach to Song of Songs concerns the “romantic and magical aspects of love” that he finds in the fabled poem that is “a universal love story about the awakening and consummation of love between a youthful shepherd and a young Shulamite woman.” (All quotes are from the artist’s catalogue introduction). This of course flies in the face of Rabi Akiva’s injunction that while: “The entire universe is unworthy of the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. All the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies (Yadaiim 3:5),” Therefore, “One who recites a verse of the Song of Songs and renders it a kind of [ordinary] song…brings misfortune to the world” (Sanhedrin 101a). Rashi went so far as to translate the Song in totally allegorical terms, solely expressing the constant and undying love of God for Israel.

Nonetheless Falk has based his illustrations on a contemporary secular translation by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch, striving to evoke a vision of “unconditional love and a harmonious relationship between us and the natural world…[that] can be a holistic path to healing our world.” While the twelve watercolors he shows are but a selection from an ongoing series illustrating the entire poem, I would imagine they are representative of his goals. Both the shepherd and the Shulamite are featured together in all but three of the images, almost always locked in variations of a loving embrace. While this might be expected, the theme of longing, so dominant in the poem, seems missing. When the Shulamite is featured alone, she is a direct reflection of the poetic verses: “Who is that rising from the desert like a pillar of smoke…” shows the female figure encircled by smoke rising from the sandy desert; “An enclosed garden is my sister, my bride…” shows a modest woman kneeling in an orchard. This reflects the fundamental problem of attempting to make art from already existing art, i.e. the inherent poetry of the Song itself.

The Dybbuk: Leah and Channon, 42 x 36, oil on canvas by Alan Falk Courtesy the artist

The Dybbuk: Leah and Channon, 42 x 36, oil on canvas by Alan Falk
Courtesy the artist

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.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Unconditional Love”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
US Secretary of State John Kerry with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier before P5+1 talks. (Nov. 22, 2014.)
Fears Over US Iran Deal Trigger Mideast Nuclear Race, Saudi-South Korea Deal
Latest Sections Stories
Yarden Merlot

Bottles of wine accompany the Pesach storytelling – each glass of wine represents the four expressions used by G-d in describing the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt.

Schonfeld-logo1

There is a point that many parenting books miss: children do more for us than we do for them.

Brigitte was a nine-year-old girl when Islamic militants launched an assault on a Lebanese military base and destroyed her home.

The husband needs to make some changes!

Purim is a fantastic time for fantasies, so I hope you won’t mind my fantasizing about how easy life would be if kids would prefer healthy cuisine over sweets. Imagine waking up to the call of “Mommy, when will my oatmeal be ready?”… As you rush to ladle out the hot unsweetened cereal, you rub […]

‘Double Gold’ awarded to 2012 Yarden Heights wine & 2011 Yarden Merlot Kela Single Vineyard.

One should not give the money before Purim morning or after sunset.

The mishloach manos of times gone by were sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, but the main focus was on the preparation of the delicious food they contained.

One of the earliest special Purims we have on record was celebrated by the Jews of Granada and Shmuel HaNagid, the eleventh-century rav, poet, soldier and statesman, and one of the most influential Jews in Muslim Spain.

Jews, wake up! Stop educating the world and start educating yourselves.

The lessons conform to the sensitivities and needs of the Orthodox community…

The program took on special significance as it marked not only the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Kudan’s levayah but also the 27th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a”h.

It was only in the reign of George III (1760-1820) that Jews became socially acceptable in Britain, and Nathan became music master to Princess Charlotte and musical librarian to King George IV.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

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).

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/unconditional-love/2013/11/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: