web analytics
October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Hyman Bloom’s Unreal Rabbis

Hyman Bloom: A Spiritual Embrace


Through January 24, 2010


Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History


15 West 16th Street, New York



 

 


It is only appropriate to begin a Hyman Bloom review with a Chassidic tale. A young man left his village to train as a menorah maker says Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and returned years later as a master designer. His father invited the local lamp makers to see his son’s talents but grew angry when each guest found a different fault in his son’s alleged masterpiece. The son then explained he had created the worst work imaginable. If the locals found just one fault each in his work, it was due to their blindness to their own aesthetic errors.

 

The rabbis in Hyman Bloom’s paintings look like rabbis, dress like rabbis, and come with all the usual rabbinic accessories: beards, hats, kippas and Torah scrolls. But don’t let that fool you. Like the Dada lamp of Rebbe Nachman’s story, they aren’t real. 

 

I have nothing against the late Hyman Bloom, who passed away in August. On the contrary, I love his works, which are expertly shown at the Yeshiva University Museum in “Hyman Bloom: A Spiritual Embrace,” an exhibit which originated at the Danforth Museum of Art. I think art history textbooks would be far better if they swapped Francis Bacon’s “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” (1953) for any of the dozen versions Bloom painted of “Rabbi with Torah.” Bloom’s works are more respectful to religion and, in my opinion, better painted than Bacon’s controversial portrait.

 

 


Detail of “Rabbi with Torah.” C. 1955.  72 x 54 inches. (Cat. 31)

 

But Bloom’s rabbis are made of the same stuff as Chagall’s shtetlach – dreams, nostalgia and stylization – rather than reality and substance. The rabbis of Bloom’s works lounge around holding Torah scrolls with expressions on their faces that evoke Rembrandt’s “Jeremiah Mourning the Temple” (1630). Though they currently possess the scrolls, the rabbis appear to clutch the Torahs too dearly as if aware they will soon have to relinquish them. It’s almost as if the rabbis know Bloom is asking them to pose for a nostalgic motif dedicated to memorializing their passing rather than celebrating their presence.

 

In the synagogues I grew up in, the rabbis could hardly be found without a tractate of the Talmud in their clutches. But the Torah scrolls mostly remained safely locked up in the ark. In the few instances that they were removed from the ark – always during prayer, or to be rolled to the correct place for an upcoming prayer – the Torahs were in the hands of the person leading the services, or a strongman who lifted them up during hagbah for all to see that day’s portion (and point at with their little finger, which they kissed), before being safely restored to the ark.

 


Detail of “Rabbi with Torah.” C. 1955. 72 x 54 inches. (Cat. 32)

 

The rabbis certainly didn’t sit around studying or praying while holding the Torah scrolls. It’s uncomfortable to hold a scroll while you study; even if the Torah isn’t a particularly heavy one, it is still bulky and awkwardly shaped for coddling. The configuration of rabbi and Torah seems to promise a quintessentially Jewish blend, but it makes as much sense as a latke and matzoh sandwich.

 

In her essay in the catalog, Katherine French, director of the Danforth Museum of Art, quotes Bloom on his imagined rabbi portraits: “I decided to paint what I knew It was a good subject to paint. I don’t think anyone else has painted this subject from the imagination. As far as I know, nobody has painted them from memory.”

 

The 19th century French painter, Delacroix, sketched sleeping lions and tigers at the French zoo – where he was rumored to have shown up for every feeding – and turned them into dramatic scenes of ferocious animals attacking horses and people. Bloom’s rabbis are similarly imaginary constructs, and just as Delacroix’s carnivores often look stiff, Bloom’s rabbis betray their idealized origins.

 


“Rabbi with Torah.” C. 1995. 55 x 37 inches. (Cat. 39)

 

“Rabbi with Torah” (c. 1995, cat. 39) shows a rabbi in three-quarter view holding a Torah scroll with a green cover over his right shoulder. In his left hand, the rabbi holds a book, perhaps a prayer book. The rabbi’s eyes are closed, and he wears a tallit. A warm light floods the rabbi from the top right corner, and mingles with the bold green, black, brown and white palette Bloom used to depict the rabbi. Something about the light recalls Caravaggio’s famous 1599/1600 painting, “The Calling of Saint Matthew.” Bloom’s rabbi is not only carrying the scroll of the law and praying or studying; he is undergoing a revelatory experience. But unlike Caravaggio’s Matthew, Bloom’s rabbi, by turning to the light, is turning his head away from the Torah scroll he holds.

 


Detail of “Rabbi with Torah.” Undated. 47 x 43 inches. (Cat. 48)

 

The rabbi in cat. 48 also pours over a book, following along in the text with his left hand. His right hand embraces a small Torah scroll with a purple cover that bears a stitched representation of the 10 Commandments and a crown. The wooden handles at the top of the scroll are adorned with silver decorations with bells. The rabbi seems to draw the Torah scroll and the book close together, but an ominous purple, white and black form hovers over his left shoulder, invading the soft, pastel-colored background. It would be easy to dismiss the form in the right corner as part of the ark, or as a chandelier, as Bloom depicted in a 1945 painting (cat. 29). But there is more to Bloom’s repertoire than just rabbi portraits.

 

Like Georgia O’Keefe, who painted either flowers or skulls, and James Ensor, who depicted nightmares in festive palettes, Bloom has skeletons in his aesthetic closet. At the exhibit at the YU Museum, the entire right side of the room is stuffed with rabbis and Torahs, but the left side features self portraits with rats devouring Bloom’s head, demons with horns, skeletons, and séance scenes.

 

Bloom’s rabbinic superheroes would hardly be heroic if there weren’t evil spirits and skeletons to tempt them. Katherine French’s essay records that in Lithuania, where Bloom grew up, his mother kept him inside one day for fear that Cossacks would shoot the young boy for target practice. As a child, Bloom also dreamt of the devil peering into his room through the window, French notes. Bloom’s childhood fears may have worn off on his imagined rabbis, whose faces are often smeared with greens and jagged lines. There is violence inherent in expression painting, and in visiting his expressionist strokes on his rabbinic subjects, Bloom afflicts his Jews of the Old World.

 

But in their boldness, the rabbis also become powerful. The Torah scrolls weigh down the old rabbis, but perhaps the scrolls function like the Ark of the Covenant, which was said (Sotah 35A) to be nosei et nos’av (“carry its bearers”). Bloom’s rabbis are inextricably tied to their Torahs. Even if most rabbis today don’t look like Bloom’s rabbis (just as most Jews don’t resemble Tevye the milkman), and even if they don’t tend to carry Torahs, Bloom’s rabbis will live on because the Torah scrolls they clutch continue to live on. In that sense, Bloom’s Torahs realize his rabbis.


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.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 “Hyman Bloom’s Unreal Rabbis”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Jews Against Genocide mimicked and blasphemed the ALS Ice Bucket  Challenge with their anti-Israel "Blood Bucket Challenge."
‘Jews Against Genocide’ Take ‘Blood Bucket Challenge’ at Yad Vashem [video]
Latest Sections Stories
Mindy-092614-Choc-Roll

I should be pursuing plateaus of pure and holy, but I’m busy delving and developing palatable palates instead.

Schonfeld-logo1

Brown argues that this wholehearted living must extend into our parenting.

Twenties-092614-Abrams

If we truly honor the other participants in a conversation, we can support, empathize with, and even celebrate their feelings.

Twenties-092614-OU-Mission

I witnessed the true strength of Am Yisrael during those few days.

She writes intuitively, freely, and only afterwards understands the meaning of what she has written.

“I knew it was a great idea, a win-win situation for everyone,” said Burstein.

Not knowing any better, I assumed that Molly and her mother must be voracious readers.

“I would really love my mother-in-law …if she weren’t my mother-in-law.”

For each weekly reading, Rabbi Grysman begins with a synopsis of the Torah portion, followed by a focus on a major issue.

It’s Rosh Hashanah. A new year. Time for a fresh start. Time for a new slate. Time for change.

Governor Rick Scott visited North Miami Beach/Aventura on the morning of Wednesday, September 17.

While the cost per student is higher than mainstream schools, Metzuyan Academy ESE is a priceless educational opportunity for children with special needs in South Florida.

Challah-pa-looza helped get the community ready and excited about the upcoming Jewish New Year.

Miami businessman and philanthropist Eli Nash had many in tears as he shared his story of the horrific abuse he suffered from age 8 to 11.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/hyman-blooms-unreal-rabbis-2/2009/10/28/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: