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.
“When the Holy One, blessed is He, created the first man, He took him and led him around the trees of the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at My works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world, for if you do, there is no one to repair it after you’” (Koheles Rabba on verse 7:13). Creator and created became partners in creation, sharing responsibility. Janet Shafner takes a long hard look at this mutual responsibility and how it connects us back to the Garden of Eden in her new series of paintings, “The Divine Ecology.”
In the first act of disobedience, man soiled Paradise and brought death into the world, paradoxically giving life its ultimate value. And just as life became precious, the very volition that could remove it - free will – became the foundation of human existence. In the Divine act of choice, G-d chose the Jews and redeemed us from the shackles of Egyptian slavery so that we could freely choose to serve Him. The glory of the Jews is our freedom; we can choose to serve G-d and maintain His world, or rebel and ravage His creation. Our history and that of our co-occupants on this planet has been discouraging at best.
The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil / Hiroshima Maidens (2003) establishes Shafner’s insistence on the timeless nature of the Torah. She depicts the Primal Tree in the center, barren and twisted, rising from angry, crimson rubble. The bark and some branches are still burning. The side panels of this triptych utilize images from the Hiroshima Peace Museum that show the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Japan. Ghostly shattered figures, emerging from the burning rubble, are slowly understood as a kind of twisted echo of Adam and Eve. Smoke and steam belch from the fallen architecture evoking not only Hiroshima, but the World Trade Center.
On August 6, 1945, some 70,000 men, women and children perished in the first nuclear bombing. Another 70,000 died soon after. The image of the Hiroshima Maidens forms a complex metaphor for our awesome power of choice between good and evil. The Hiroshima Maidens refers to an attempt on the part of some Americans to repair the terrible damage we had wrought. In 1955, twenty-five Japanese women who survived the bombing of Hiroshima were brought to New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital for reconstructive surgery to remedy disfigurement.
Hosted by local New York Quakers, their stay here was plagued by constant attention of the press and, in an effort to raise the necessary funds, an appearance on the TV show, “This is Your Life.” In perhaps one of the most bizarre twists of this strange tale, the Mystery Guest was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, Captain Robert Lewis. The agony of the survivors of the nuclear blast is reflected in the twisted forms of the tree. We begin to realize that frequently, human choice is tragically flawed and yet is constantly necessary to maintain our world.
The Tree of Life (2003) is depicted as entangled with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to make them existentially dependent upon each other. In their unity, they give birth to a visual representation of a burst of cellular life. The interdependence of knowledge (implying choice) with the breath of life itself, affirms the Jewish belief that the essence of life is spirituality, rooted in worldly action. Shafner’s choice of this motif attempts to move the primeval story of creation out of the cosmic and into the mundane. Her pictorial contrast of interlocked branches, earth reds juxtaposed with blackened limbs, are framed by two fiery pods of painted energy that seem deeply rooted in an abstract mythological symbolism.
In stark contrast, The Four Rivers (2004) brings the mythological firmly into a contemporary reality by means of narration. The barren, otherworldly landscape forms a primal source for water - water that is not only literally life-giving, but acts as a spiritual link to the lost Eden. Quoting the Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (20:47b) Shafner reminds us that Adam consoled himself after his expulsion from the Garden by touching the waters of the four rivers that flowed out of the Garden. Their source was beneath the Tree of Life and they flowed out to all four corners of the world.
Shafner depicts a man on one side and a woman on the other using the water as a mikveh that offers, as living waters, connection with the original source of life. This painting makes a leap through the millennia, reminding us of not only the need for ritual purity, but also the ecological purity of the waters we so carelessly pollute and defile. She insists here that this is no mere symbolic connection, rather our responsibility is in the here and now.
The last painting in the series, The End of Paradise (2004), reverts to a mythological vision, depicting “the flame of the ever-turning sword” as a barrier against the Tree of Life. The floating image of a whitish yellow ellipse surrounded by conflagration of red and yellow fiery static exists in a pictorial void, forever warning an absent audience not to approach the forbidden goal of life eternal.
Shafner’s “Divine Ecology” vacillates between a sharp narrative edge and images that lull the eye into a mythological stasis of the organic world. This tension between narrative and symbol seems central to her understanding of the Torah’s purpose. While I’m not sure this dialogue is entirely fruitful, it certainly makes one aware of some of the different ways the Torah can be seen, especially in the early passages of Genesis that seem so distant and in fact, mythological. It seems to me that her genius is in bringing a narrative, discursive and critical perspective to exactly this material that is so removed from our everyday life.
Janet Shafner invokes a Talmudic perspective to her many paintings of the Torah, juxtaposing texts and contemporary images to reawaken meanings, long dormant.
Another recent painting, Compassion for the Mother Bird/Out of the Whirlwind (2003), plumbs the issues of reward and punishment as they clash with G-d’s justice and our finite understanding. “Divine Ecology” challenged us with our responsibility as guardians of
G-d’s creation; here she explores the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding.
The main panel depicts the age-old enigma of why the good suffer, depicting a young man, fatally falling (or diving) from a tree after fulfilling the mitzvah of sending the mother bird away. The classic Talmudic text (Kiddushin 39b) relates the story of a son who obediently obeys his father and chases the mother bird away before retrieving a chick from the nest. In the midst of performing two mitzvot whose reward is long life (obedience to parents and sending the mother bird away), death overtakes the faithful lad.
The Gemara struggles with explanations but is clearly unsettled with the incomprehensible stark reality. Shafner crowns her painting with a cosmic vision (again a contrast between narrative and symbolic) that alludes to the verse in Job (Iyov) that reminds us that mortal man cannot comprehend the Mind of the Creator: “Then Hashem responded to Job from out of the whirlwind, saying: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations for the earth? Pray tell ? if you are so wise! … When all the morning stars sang in unison, when all the angels shouted? … Have you ever ordered up the morning, told the dawn its place?’” (Job 39; 1-12).
This remarkable painting returns us to the “Divine Ecology” series, challenging us in our Divine partnership. We must do our part; maintain G-d’s creation, carefully exercise our choices between good and evil and, after all is said and done, hope for the best. As stewards of our world, we have awesome responsibility and yet tragically limited power. We simply cannot know G-d’s ways and must finally accept His judgments. It is in the acceptance of His will, frequently incomprehensible, that our true freedom rests. As in the startling image of Shafner’s last painting, the falling figure – clearly contemporary – is welcoming his fall, indeed soaring in acceptance of the Divine will. This is the final challenge of faith that Shafner’s paintings dare us to match.
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com
Janet Shafner may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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/the-divine-ecology-of-janet-shafner-new-paintings/2004/11/10/
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