Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
The words reverberate with sweet memories. “Kiss the mezuzah,” a grandparent urges his grandchild, while a parent nods approvingly as a rebbe teaches about the proper behavior upon entering or leaving a room … “and don’t forget to kiss the mezuzah!”
What an interesting ritual, treating the little scroll like an actual Torah, showing such reverence, such affectionate care, such honor. And throughout the centuries, Jewish artists have responded by crafting mezuzah cases to hold, protect and, perhaps most importantly, inspire. Belle Rosenbaum’s book, Upon Thy Doorposts, evokes just such an inspiration.
In 1995, Belle Rosenbaum, a prominent collector of Jewish art, along with her husband, Jack Rosenbaum (collection reviewed in Jewish Press July 2002), published this opulent book that sets out to encapsulate 50 years of her collecting this most venerable of Jewish art forms – mezuzah cases. Belle began collecting in 1940 and stopped counting after acquiring her 2000th mezuzah. Her book reproduces in color more than 700 examples of mezuzot created by over 300 artists from 45 countries. The vast majority are contemporary artists, many well known and perhaps, just as many, less known. Belle’s collection is a sweeping survey of contemporary Judaica, inspiring both artists and collectors by the diversity, skill and creativity of the artworks.
One of the works that represents the architectural motifs of columns, turrets and decorated stone walls is by Frank Meisler, a well known sculptor in Jerusalem and Jaffa who works in metal. His and many others’ mezuzot reflect the fact that this particular Jewish art is intimately connected with architecture.
The Toledo Mezuzah was created to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and is made of silver plate and gold plate, depicting elegant Moorish arches that frame a golden-gated doorway emblazoned with the holy name Shaddai in silver letters.
Upon Thy Doorposts is divided into three sections: Law, Lore and Love.
The first section, Law, is a small encyclopedia of information about the klaf (parchment), the blessing, the requirements for a kosher mezuzah, how to observe the commandment, and an extensive excerpt from the Mishneh Torah on the mitzvah of mezuzah.
Interestingly enough, the inclusion of the word Shaddai (Almighty) on the outside of the klaf is actually an acrostic for Shomer Daltot Yisroel (“Guardian of the Doors of Israel”). Of interest is that nowhere in the section on Law is there any requirement that the case be decorated, ornate or made of any particular material. Also, there is no Halacha about kissing the mezuzah.
The essential meaning of the mezuzah is explored in the creation of Phillip Ratner, the artist who created the Bible Museum in Safed which is dedicated to his sculptural and graphic Biblical work. His mezuzah from 1986 is a small copper sculpture that is a fluttering apparition of two angels who are guarding the sacred klaf between them. This image figuratively demonstrates the function of the mezuzah to guard our homes. Its application harkens back to the act of smearing the blood of the Paschal lamb in Egypt to guard us against the Angel of Death on the original Passover night.
The second section of Belle’s book is named Lore. It explores the numerous references to this mitzvah throughout the Talmud, and subsequent writings, tales and musings. Eleven historically significant mezuzot are scrutinized, from the mezuzah made from fragments of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav’s famous chair, to an ivory fish-shaped mezuzah of the Jews of Kaifeng, China.
In this chapter, kissing the mezuzah is described as an act of faith, acknowledging G-d’s sovereignty over us and our homes and our dependence upon Him as we venture out in the world (Rabbi Elias Schwartz, Yeshiva Toras Emes-Kaminetz). The mezuzah here is discussed as simply the scroll containing the first two paragraphs of the Shema – surely a sacred concept overflowing with meaning, power and significance. And yet, nothing is said about that which contains this holy object.
The significance of the Uri Ramot’s “Silver and Ancient Roman Glass” mezuzah is pure poetry. Its subtle colors and graceful shape suggest a fantastic kind of harp that is transformed into a sacred container that luxuriates in its antiquity and pure beauty. The weathered material of ancient Roman glass is but one of hundreds of materials used to create cases including: alabaster, aluminum, plastic, ceramic, cotton, crystal, wood (45 different kinds in Belle’s collection), emerald, ivory, paper, tin and plain cloth. The very diversity of material attests to the creativity and freedom with which artists approach this mitzvah.
Love is the final and largest section of Belle’s book, presenting a photographic cornucopia of her mezuzah collection accompanied by comments and a short biography about each artist and their works. Her presentation is clearly a labor of love, deeply appreciative of the enormously diffuse efforts of artists to accomplish one goal: hiddur mitzvah. The amplification and beautification of a mitzvah is the foundation of Judaica and Belle Rosenbaum’s collection. Her celebration of Jewish artists and their creation of mezuzah cases makes kissing the mezuzah an entirely natural, rational, and expected act. Jewish creativity never looked so good.
Kalman Freidus is a legendary sofer, artist and farmer in the Catskills whose hand-painted parchment Dove mezuzah is a flight of fancy embodying a cut-out dove that echoes the traditional Shin delivering the olive branch of peace as the intermediate object of our devotions. His blue, white and green design combines the object of G-d’s guardianship of the Jewish home (i.e. peace) with our hopes for a parallel peace in the world.
As a further expression of a contemporary consciousness, Avi Biran’s paper-cut and Lucite mezuzah pushes the conceptual envelope even further. The image of his bizarre pink hand, at first, seems to indicate a salute or mutually agreed upon signal that eludes decipherment. It is only paper cradling a Lucite tube with a klaf, and yet if we notice that the fingers that grasp the tube are the thumb and the pinky, we realize that these are the opposing digits that are all too well suited to grasp a hammer, an ax, a sword or a gun. The hand itself, the hand that kisses the mezuzah, is the subject of this Jewish artwork.
Jewish art unabashedly celebrates the mitzvah of mezuzah, as presented in Belle Rosenbaum’s Upon Thy Doorposts. Her dedication to the art, as well as to the artists and the mitzvah, is legendary, and rightly so. Her own courage and creativity in supporting this Jewish art, investing her time, money and reputation on thousands of these relatively tiny objects is to be commended. There may be no other individual who has done more to celebrate this humble, easy and yet, terribly important act of devotion. The very least that we, her audience, can do is to adorn our houses with beautiful mezuzot and think of Belle Rosenbaum when we too reach up and kiss the mezuzah.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
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.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
Think of your issues this way: due to those different backgrounds, you have a “shovel” to deal with difficulties while he has a “spoon”.
Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.
The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/kish-dmeziza-upon-thy-doorposts-by-belle-rosenbaum/2005/01/19/
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