Chillul Tefila Bifarhesia, as well as halachicly challenged verbiage and dress, are external manifestations of a critical lack of personal yiras shomayim which has lethal consequences.
Seven hundred years ago in a synagogue in southwest Germany near the Rhine River, the chazzan opened a new machzor on Yom Kippur as he began Kol Nidrei. The congregation glanced up and gasped as they saw the new prayer book he was davening from. A freshly written large-scale parchment book presented itself to them, specially made for the bimah, to be used on all the holidays, resplendent with brightly colored illuminations and richly adorned with gold-leaf and precious lapis lazuli decorations.
Thus, what we know as the Leipzig Machzor, currently on view at the Grolier Club until November 21, began its congregational life, filling whoever saw it with wonder, awe and a touch of puzzlement as to how such a beautiful object could be part of Jewish ritual life. This illuminated manuscript, considered “the most sumptuous of the south German illuminated machzorim [that] has the most extensive array of text illustrations (Bezalel Narkiss)” is one of a handful of such manuscripts that have survived from the years between 1258 and 1340. All were written in southern Germany, and most were illuminated in a distinctive style that borrows from Christian manuscripts of the same era and distinguished by a peculiar kind of depiction of the human figures found therein.
The Leipzig Machzor employs a similar kind of human distortion; all of the heads seem to have normal faces, always in profile, except that they have large beaks instead of noses. Similarly their mouths have been replaced by the downward curve of the bird-like beak. They look fully human until you look more closely.
A later manuscript, the Tripartate Machzor from 1320 also features figurative illuminations, except here all the male figures have normal human faces whereas the women are depicted with animal heads. What are we to make of these distortions?
While it is tempting to simply attribute such distortions to a pious fear of violating the Second Commandment, the inconsistencies between manuscripts are puzzling. Scholarly opinion is much vexed over this issue, especially considering that the dominant rabbinic authority of the time and region, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (d.1293) ruled that figurative illuminations in prayer books “did not violate the biblical injunction against idolatrous images.” Nonetheless “he raised the issue of their distracting the worshiper during prayer.” Even so, he permitted these images in prayer books. (Jewish Texts on the Visual Arts by Vivian B. Mann, pg.106) If distraction was the issue, wouldn’t human figures looking like animals be even more disturbing, especially in a machzor that could be easily seen by much of the assembled congregation? A comprehensive answer may never be fully resolved since, as scholar Marc Michael Epstein has commented, “each manuscript represents a particular constellation of patrons, artist and [local] rabbinic advisors,” almost all of whom are absent from the historical record.
On the extreme left Nimrod is seated on a throne, wearing a crown and holding a staff. He gestures upwards asserting his authority, demanding that Abraham worship fire. Before him is the bearded figure of Terah in a turban, evidently explaining the wayward behavior of his son Abraham in destroying his idols. At his feet is a servant pleading with the king to rescind his death sentence of Abraham. Next are two clean-shaven figures in Jew’s hats, Abraham and his brother Haran. Abraham is more assertive, thrusting both hands forward while Haran equivocates, one hand up the other down. Finally on the right edge we see Abraham again, now engulfed in flames while Heavenly hands save him from the fiery furnace.
This illumination dramatically depicts Abraham’s blind faith in the one G-d, a faith he alone possessed. By many accounts this was one of Abraham’s 10 tests. He was ready to renounce his father, as well as the powerful king Nimrod and brave the flames of death in testament to the reality of G-d. The pictorial scheme of this page forcefully links the title word, Eitan meaning mighty, with tz’dakah meaning righteousness, and m’ahav, beloved, with a midrashic image that transcends the simple text to create a deeper and more complex meaning, a visual piyut on the textual piyut itself.
As the chazzan (and his congregation peering over his shoulders) gazed at this page such an interpretation must have dawned on them. What an insight and inspiration to have as the awesome Day of Atonement is slowly slipping by, presenting us with the enormous challenge of now continuing our lives, forgiven surely, but still needing the strength to continue our teshuvah, overcome our tests of faith and struggle with sin that will certainly tempt us.
Seven hundred years after it was created the Leipzig Machzor still inspires us to strengthen our faith by Abraham’s example. Perhaps no less so this medieval manuscript will inspire us to create new works of art in image and text, even illuminated machzorim, that pay homage and even challenge the achievements of our forefathers so long ago.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art.
Contact him at email@example.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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Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
There is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing disorder – mainly because there are many different diagnoses that fall under the catch-all phrase sensory processing disorder (SPD). Among them are three specific subcategories:
The doctor had warned us that even if we did everything right and followed the protocol after the follicle was of the right size, there was no guarantee of success. Fertilization still had to occur, and just like couples do not necessarily become pregnant every month, we had no way to know if we were actually expecting for two full weeks.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we attempt to answer questions sent in by people who fortunately have fake names, so they won’t be embarrassed. I don’t know how they got through school, though.
Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
In the eyes of the ram lies the artist’s commentary on the Rosh Hashanah piyyut “The King Girded with Strength.” From the Tripartite Mahzor (German 14th century), this illumination simultaneously echoes the piyyut’s praise of God’s awesome power and expresses the terror of actually being a sacrifice to God. The ram is but a reflection of Isaac. It is all in the eyes.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. This spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crown Heights this past May. Although this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. The selection of images could easily narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Boris Schatz (1866 – 1932) had a revolutionary vision. He believed that the creation of a new modern Jewish visual culture would become a major force to both articulate a Jewish national identity and sustain the Zionist enterprise. In 1904 he approached Zionist leader Theodor Herzl with the proposal to establish a national arts and crafts school in Palestine and got his blessing. Tragically Herzl died later that year, but the Zionist leadership in Vienna assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.
The exhibitions that precede Judaic auctions are rather special events for anyone who has a feeling for the fabric of Jewish life as it has been lived for the last 500 years. Not only is one afforded the opportunity to see a wide variety of Judaica, books, manuscripts and Jewish art of considerable historic importance, but if something strikes your fancy; intellectually or acquisitively, you can actually handle the objects. For most artwork the thrill is in seeing it up close and judging the brushstrokes and details of a painting or watercolor. One stands in the exact proximity as the creator did.
The auction at Christie’s in Paris this May 11 of a Tuscan Mahzor, created and illuminated in the 1490’s, will be an extraordinary event. This rare example of illuminated Jewish art has not been seen publically in over 500 years and, aside from tantalizing internal suggestions, lacks conclusive identification of the scribe and illuminators. Because the gold-tooled goatskin binding was made about 50 years after the manuscript and has a different coat of arms than those found in the machzor, it is assumed that this prayerbook may have quickly changed hands.
One thing is certain about Robert Feinland – he has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/leipzig-machzor-a-vision-from-the-past/2009/11/04/
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