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.
Imagine ritual without symbol. Impossible. The very heart and soul of Jewish ritual, from prayer to matzah, is the symbolic evocation of something else. Kiddush celebrates creation itself, Hanukah lights are symbolic of the miraculous oil, while a seder-plate is a litany of symbolic suffering and liberation. The list goes on and on throughout Jewish practice.
And yet, Tobi Kahn’s traveling exhibition and accompanying book, “Objects Of The Spirit: Ritual And The Art of Tobi Kahn,” has not one Jewish symbol, not one Star of David, Lion of Judah, or inspiring Hebrew phrase to direct our gaze symbolically. Rather, he fashions contemporary symbols deriving from the substance of his largely abstract forms that emphasizes the meaning of the mitzvah itself, evoked in deeply personal shapes and motifs. Eschewing traditional Judaic form and symbol, Tobi Kahn is determined to eke out objects and images that bring each mitzvah into the present modern reality.
Orah (1987) is an Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) made especially for a mourner’s house. Its simple form bespeaks pure functionality; the shelves to hold siddurim, the painted box to hold the Torah and the crown – like cornice to lead the eye heavenward. And yet, the painted doors use art to address the specifics of the use. A straight road cuts through a blood red field as it approaches two towering gold ochre mountains.
In his time of intense pain and loss, the mourner must cut through his emotions and advance to the mountain of Torah, a mountain that seems almost unassailable. And yet, even in our deepest mourning, we understand that the Torah will return us to the land of the living and to life. Nessa Rapaport’s meditation on this object insists, “Choose life, hear, cleave to Me, beloved, open to Me.”
Tobi Kahn’s work searches out unique metaphors as his means become increasingly transgressive, pushing the boundaries of normative Judaic images. The Aron Kodesh utilizes landscape imagery to evoke a mourner’s consciousness, exactly the kind of depiction that most Torah arks avoid because of the ancient fears of nature worship. The human figure is boldly used in Tokah (1998), the Rosh Hashanah apple and honey set, a joyful miniature sculpture of a figure dancing holding the honey container that expresses the happiness of the New Year with its hopes and aspirations.
Even Kahn’s creation of an Elijah’s Chair for his own son’s circumcision challenges the normative. The tall backed modernist throne is simplicity itself, except that under the seat is a small niche reminiscent of the series of small shrines he made a few years earlier. A small abstract figure rests on a pedestal, reminding all that even as a child enters the covenant, other forces lurk nearby.
This evocation of another side of Judaism, always in context with the very fabric of modern life, is what sets Kahn’s images and objects on edge, challenging our preconceptions of religiosity. Nonetheless, Kahn consistently refers to the fundamentals of Jewish faith as he explores its visual expression. His Hanukah lamp, Quya (1996) utilizes a repeated floral motif that parades across three vegetal supports. The lamps are suspended, miraculously defying gravity, in a physical equivalent of the miracle of the oil. The three tripod supports, perhaps alluding to the three principles that support the world; Torah, worship and kindliness (Avos: 1:2) appear to stand on their toes, as it were, emphasizing the floating nature of the lights themselves. Suspension of disbelief, in art as well as faith, is a precondition to experiencing miracles.
Objects Of The Spirit, curated by Laura Kruger, has been touring the country for the last four and a half years as part of Kahn’s educational project, “Avoda.” In accompanying lectures and workshops, “Avoda” has encouraged thousands of individuals to create personal ritual objects in an expansion of their own spirituality.
The book, published in 2004, adds to the Avoda experience, including trenchant essays that contextualize Kahn’s work within art history and traditional Judaica (Emily D, Bilski); addresses the emerging role of sacred art in public consciousness (Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.); and explores the resistance to specific context that his mysterious titles and neutral exhibition format espouses (Leora Auslander).
The 27 full-page color reproductions of Kahn’s work are each accompanied by Nessa Rapaport’s poetic meditations. While her sensitivity towards her husband’s work is not surprising, her ability to connect with a Biblical voice and infuse her contemporary poetry with the authority and passion of Tanach is truly moving. I can think of no better supplication at Rosh Hashanah than Nessa’s accompaniment to Tobi’s apple and honey set;
“Awaken to the year as it is born, the Aleph Bet beginning, writing our destiny. Sovereign of sweetness, refute severity, remember us as we return to You, word by word, assemble us, Scribe, let us hear Your call as we summon You into our lives.”
The creative relationship between an individual and mitzvah, mediated by an object that fractures our expectations, is the operative subject of Tobi Kahn’s ritual objects.
Ruth Weisberg’s short essay proposes a slightly subversive understanding of hiddur mitzvah, the principle of beautifying our mitzvos. Beyond adorning the mitzvah, she suggests that, “[Jewish] art is a way of knowing, a different kind of intelligence, and an organizing principle.” Indeed, a kind of midrash.
I believe that Kahn’s ritual objects go considerably further. His best works pour his questioning into the pre-existing vessel of ritual, thereby attempting to repossess his faith. His Objects Of The Spirit deconstruct what we think we know about ritual, and demand that one cannot truly enhance a mitzvah, perhaps not even perform a mitzvah, without reconstructing it.
Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and the Art of Tobi Kahn. Avoda Institute, Ltd. NY & Hudson Hills Press, NY, 2004. “Avoda: Objects of the Spirit” by Tobi Kahn. Exhibitions: Georgetown University Intercultural Center, 37th Street NW & O Street NW, Washington, D.C, (202 777 3208). January 26 to February 18, 2005. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, March 8 to May 31, 2005. ◙
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 email@example.com
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Dear Dr. Yael:
Do you really believe that the Internet is the reason why the divorce rate is so high among young couples? This may be so in some cases, but what about the fact that many singles are pressured to get married at a young age despite not having any idea what they are looking for in a mate? And add to that the fact that many are pressured to make a decision about marriage after dating for a very short period of time.
From the moment they stand under the chuppah, newlyweds have two years to enjoy the special bliss that new love brings. This new finding, reported by the New York Times, is based on a study undertaken by American and European researchers. 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over 15 years were followed. The research shows that after two years the couples moved into a more companionable state in their relationships.
Shel Silverstein’s 1974 poem “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is intended to paint a magical picture of a world of peace and serenity far away from the “black and dark streets.” At the time, perhaps the end of the sidewalk was a place that was “measured and slow.” Today, however, for many parents, where the sidewalk ends can feel like a scary place.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Florida is famous for sparkling water. We have the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico surrounding our coast. We have bays, lakes, canals and, of course, an incredible abundance of swimming pools in homes, resorts, apartment complexes and city parks.
The buzz is back as Camp Gan Israel Florida Overnight gears up for another fantastic summer, CGI Florida style. What makes CGI Florida so different from all the other overnight camps? It’s all in the details.
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.
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/repossessing-faith-objects-of-the-spirit-by-toby-kahn/2005/02/02/
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