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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Holy’

Police Admit Permitting Arab Construction at Temple’s Foundation Stone for Six Years

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

According to the website Kipa, Israeli police on Thursday admitted that the Muslim Waqf has been conducting infrastructure work at the very heart of the Temple Mount, the foundation stone, for more than six years.

An Islamic Waqf has managed the Temple Mount continuously since the Muslim chased the Crusaders out of Jerusalem in 1187. On June 7, 1967, during the Six-Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol declared that “no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions.” The Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, protecting the Holy Places against desecration, and guaranteeing freedom of access. In return for obeying the law, Israel agreed to leave the administration of the site in the hands of the Waqf.

Two weeks ago, a complaint was filed with the Israel Police Commissioner by a group of Temple organizations, regarding revelations about Waqf work at the Dome of the Rock, which includes laying scaffolding, tools and debris on top of the sacred Foundation Stone.

The police responded that “the work performed by the Waqf at the Dome of the Rock have begun more than six years ago. They are being performed with the approval of the Israel Antiquities Authority and under its supervision.” The police argued that the work has not caused any damage to the foundation stone.

But the IAA denies completely the approval and supervision of works on the Mount, according to the Temple organizations’ attorney Aviad Visoly, who accused the police commissioner of outrageous, appalling, and deceitful behavior.

“Your response also indicates an abysmal contempt by the Israel Police, and by yourself, as its ranking officer, the holiest place for the Jewish people,” Visoly wrote the commissioner.

The Temple organizations have asked the police commissioner “to convene as soon as possible the Temple Mount police taskforce, together with representatives of the Temple Mount rabbis (led by Rabbi Israel Ariel, who has recently been banned from entering the Temple Mount indefinitely), as well as the various Temple Mount advocacy groups, to so we can explain to you how sacred the Temple Mount to the Jewish people.”

The Temple organizations’ attorney added that ” the shocking images of desecration of the foundation stone, together with your response, indicate that disregard and ignorance of the value of Temple Mount has led the Israeli police to permit the unprecedented desecration of the holiest Jewish place, as it failed completely to carry out its responsibility to enforce the law protecting the holy places.”

Mashiach Now!

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Only an infant expects his desires to be gratified immediately. He wants his bottle now! He wants his rattle now! If he doesn’t get it, he screams, he hollers, he cries. Sometimes, when a child gets to be an adult, he still wants everything handed to him on a silver platter now, without having to do any work. For instance, some big babies demand Peace Now! To get their way, they are willing to do the most self-destructive things, like surrendering their homeland to the enemy and give them guns which end up killing Jews.

There are also people who want Mashiach Now! While the wish for Mashiach’s coming is a very praiseworthy thing, these people don’t realize that Mashiach’s coming is a process that evolves over time. These people want everything to be finished at the start. They say that when Mashiach comes and does all the work of rebuilding the Land of Israel, and gathers all of the exiled Jews to Israel, and fights the wars of Hashem, and rebuilds the Beit HaMikdash, then they will come on aliyah. First, everything has to be perfect. First, the Mashiach has to do all the work. If not, come hell or high water, they’re staying right where they are in Brooklyn, Boston, and Beverly Hills.

The Talmud speaks of “Tzaddikim who do not believe” (Sotah 48B). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook explained that there were people at the time of the Second Temple who complained about the situation in their days, when a small portion of the Jews returned from exile, yet didn’t achieve the greatness of the past and the exalted level of the First Temple because the majority, including the community leaders, preferred to remain in Babylon with their businesses and wealth (Kuzari, Ch.2). In their eyes, the Second Temple was an affront. They would weep and express reservation and scorn, declaring, “This is the Temple? How pathetic.” The Prophets rebuked them for their attitude, asking, “Who has despised the day of small things?” The Talmud answers: “The small-minded among them who didn’t have faith in the Almighty” (Sotah 48B). You are disbelievers, the Prophets told them. The Lord is returning His children to Israel, it is He Himself who has re-established the Holy Temple, and yet you complain?

In our time too, Rabbi Kook taught, there are “tzaddikim” who criticize the Almighty for the way that He is returning the Jewish People to Zion. In their eyes, it isn’t glatt kosher enough for them. There are those who even say that what is happening now is the work of the Satan. Somehow they forget that everything that happens is from the Holy One Blessed Be He. Is it the Satan who has gathered millions of Jews from all over the world to Israel? Is it the Satan who has made the Land of Israel blossom and bloom after having lain fallow for two thousand years? Is it the Satan who has restored Jewish sovereignty over vast stretches of The Holy Land, and brought about miraculous victories in war, rebuilt Jerusalem, and made Israel the Torah center of the entire Jewish world? And still these people complain. They want everything perfect now! They want everything complete without having to lend a hand in the work and get their shoes dirty.

It is true that babies dirty their diapers, and teenagers do all kinds of stupid things that they shouldn’t do, and yes, even adults make mistakes. But is this a reason to throw the baby into the trash can, or kick the teenager out of the house, or burn an adult at the stake? Yes, there are problems in Israel; yes, not everything is perfect with the government; yes, the Supreme Court still has a goyisha cop; yes, not everyone is religious. But what about all the incredible good things? There’s more Torah being learned in Israel than everywhere else in the world. And in just a handful of decades, Israel has become one of the leading nations in just about every field you can name, from agriculture to computer technology. Just because we haven’t yet reached our ultimate Torah ideal, is this a reason to throw out the baby and kick the teenager out of the house?

Beha’alosecha: Light And Reason

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Each detail in the Torah is laden with meaning. Surely the service vessels of the Temple had great importance and consequence over and above their routine service. In the description of the menorah that stood in chamber outside the Holy of Holies, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, found layer upon layer of meaning.

“Toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps give their light” (8:2). The number seven is always the symbol of the creation of the universe from nothing, by the Word of Hashem. “Toward the face of the menorah” is explained by some as the side facing the Holy of Holies; others say it means the wicks of the six branches were turned toward the central post with its lamp. The symbolism of the menorah includes:

1. The gift of life (“The light of G-d is the life of Man” – Mishle 20:27) is a wondrous lamp only Hashem can kindle. The menorah demonstrates that all aspects of life and its resources (as symbolized by the branches of the menorah and their lamps) should be turned with their flames facing the central post (or as others explain, toward the Holy of Holies), which would mean the central principle of complete devotion to the Creator. To emphasize the importance of this principle, Hashem specifically commanded this procedure in this verse, and the following verse again emphasizes this principle: “And Aharon did so: toward the face of the menorah he brought up its lamps.”

2. The creation of light. “And Hashem saw that the light is good” (Bereishis 1:4). This “good” is so sublimely great that we daily devote part of the morning prayers to proclaim its importance and to thank Hashem for it, and we declare that the angels are forever occupied with the function of praising the gift of light. Light is sight, in addition to warmth and food production.

3. The gift of reason. All the achievements for which we have been created are made possible by means of faculties of thought, understanding, remembering, induction and other aspects, including sanity (proper functioning of all aspects of reason). For these gifts, the menorah is kindled. (The prayer for these faculties and the expression of thanks to the Creator for them are given the first place in the weekday berachos of Shemoneh Esrei.)

4. The privilege of having the Presence of Hashem among us forever. “It is a testimony to all that are in the world that the Shechinah rests upon Israel” (Shabbos 22B), as is written: “And we shall be distinguished, I and Your people, from all the people upon the face of the earth” (Shemos 33:16), which alludes to the words just before: “By Your going with us” (ibid.).

5. The request for Hashem’s favor toward us: “Hashem should cause His face to shine upon you” (6:25 above). “And the light of Your face, that You favored them” (Tehillim 44:4). Our greatest desire is to find favor in His eyes, and the menorah bespeaks our prayers and our gratitude for His favor.

6. The gift of Torah: “For mitzvah is a lamp, and Torah is Light” (Mishle 6:23). Our greatest gratitude is for this gift Hashem bestowed solely upon us: “And now, if you shall listen to My voice (i.e. if you shall accept My Torah) and you shall keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a unique treasure from among all the peoples. And you shall be for Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:5-6). The chief part of this Covenant is the Oral Law: “The Holy One blessed is He made a Covenant with Israel solely because of the Oral Law” (Gittin 60B). Other nations profess to practice some laws from the Holy Scriptures, but they did not invade the sanctuary of the Oral Law, which was unknown to them. (Journey Into Greatness)

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.  For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

Drinking on Purim: Holy or Wholly Irresponsible?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Jewish Tradition has always stressed moderation, restraint, and personal responsibility. This is true even when we celebrate. In Hilchot Yom Tov (6:20), Rambam warns:

“When one eats, drinks and rejoices on a festival, he should not drink too much wine or engage in levity or lightheadedness and say, ‘all who add to this are increasing the mitzvah of simchah.’ For drunkenness, excessive laughter, and lightheadedness is not simchah, but rather debauchery and foolishness…” Yet the Gemara (Megillah 7b) records: “Rava said, ‘One is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.’” Drinking on Purim is accepted by the Rif and Rosh and codified by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 695).

It’s hard to imagine how drunkenness, which Judaism abhors the entire year, is considered an “obligation” on Purim. The author of Kol Bo struggles with this very question and writes:

“One is obligated to drink on Purim – not to the point of drunkenness. Drunkenness is completely prohibited and there is no greater offense than it, for it leads to adultery, murder, and the like. Rather, one should drink more than he is accustomed to in order to increase his joy and make happy the poor and console them, speak to their hearts – for that is true joy.”

‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’

Concerning drinking on Purim, Rambam writes that one should drink until he falls asleep (Hilchot Megillah 2:15). Once asleep, one cannot differentiate between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’ Tosafot writes that one should drink until he cannot recite the phrase, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi, “Cursed is Haman, blessed is Mordechai, cursed is Zeresh, blessed is Esther, cursed are all the wicked, blessed are all the Jews.” Some explain that the requirement is to drink until one can no longer answer the proper refrain to a poem that was once customarily recited on Purim (Abudraham, Purim and Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 695:1, citing Sefer HaMinhagim of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Tirna). Others rule that the Gemara only requires one to drink to the point that he can no longer calculate the gemmatria of ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai, which share an equal numerical value (Rabbeinu Yerucham, Toldot Adam V’Chavah, Netiv 10, Chelek 1; Abudraham, Purim; Maharil, Minhagim, Hilchot Purim 10, citing Mahari Segel; Sefer HaAgudah 1:7; Bach, Orach Chayim 695; Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 695:3).

A moderate approach is taken by Rema (Orach Chayim 695:2), who synthesizes the positions of the Kol Bo, Rambam, and Maharil, and writes:

“There are those who say that one need not drink too much, rather drink more than he is accustomed and sleep. Through sleep one does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’ One might increase, another might minimize – as long as the intent of their heart is [for the sake] of Heaven.”

Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira

Strikingly, immediately after Rava’s instructions to drink, the Gemara (Megillah 7b) offers the following anecdote:

“Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira made the Purim feast together. They got drunk. Rabbah arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, he prayed for mercy and revived him. The following year he [Rabbah] said, ‘let’s make the Purim meal together again.’ He [Rabbi Zeira] answered, ‘not every moment does a miracle occur.’”

Some suggest that the Gemara cites this anecdote in order to illustrate the point that the halacha is not in accordance with Rava, and one should not get drunk. The story, in a sense, serves as a warning. One of the Tosafists, Rabbeinu Ephraim, as cited by the Ba’al HaMaor, concludes:

“Rabbah said, ‘One should drink on Purim, etc.’ Rabbeinu Ephraim wrote that from the account of ‘Rabbah arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira,’ this comes to nullify the statement of Rabbah. The halacha is not like him and it is not good to do so [i.e. get drunk] (HaMaor Hakatan in the pages of the Rif, Megillah 3b).”

How ironic, that in his girsa of the Gemara, it is Rabbah who both teaches the obligation to get drunk and who slaughtered Rabbi Zeira! This certainly serves to amplify Rabbeinu Ephraim’s position.

Yet other poskim deduce the opposite from the Gemara’s use of this anecdote. They see the story of Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira as a proof positive of the obligation to become intoxicated (Sefer HaEshkol, Auerbach Edition, Hilchot Chanukah V’Purim; Pri Chadash, Orach Chayim 695:2).

Why Drink?

According to Rashi, the obligation is to get drunk on wine. Abudraham and Chayei Adam explain that drinking wine reminds us that the miracle of Purim was carried out through wine. Feasting and drunkenness is a major theme in Megillat Esther and it allowed the easily pliable Ahashverosh to be manipulated. Drinking allows us to express our joy and gratitude to Hashem for His salvation (Magen David, Orach Chayim 695:1).

In Loco Templum: Amsterdam’s Esnoga/Portuguese Synagogue

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

One of the aspects of the biblical construction narratives – both those about the Tabernacle in the wilderness in Exodus, and in 1 Kings about Solomon’s Temple in the Holy Land – that most troubled and confused me when I was young was the aesthetic status of the structures.

 

If the Tabernacle and Temple were based upon divine designs, I reasoned, they could not possibly be improved upon. Yet, having attended many art classes that included intimidating critiques which left no work unscathed, I could not imagine how the Temple design could possibly be so clever and original that critics and historians would put down their pencils and simply adore and worship.

 

 


Rear view of Esnoga

 

 

Of course, youth has a way of making one feel that one’s questions are unique, and this aesthetic controversy has been considered and analyzed enough times that the path need not be further trodden. But I could not help but be reminded of it reading The Esnoga: A Monument to Portuguese-Jewish Culture (1991, D’ARTS, Amsterdam), particularly David P. Cohen Paraira’s essay “A Jewel in the City: The architectural history of the Portuguese-Jewish Synagogue.”

 

In the outward slanted buttresses in the rear of the 17th century synagogue (image one), Cohen Paraira sees an echo of contemporary visions of Solomon’s Temple. For example, an illustration (image two) in a book by Rabbi Jacob Juda Leon – called ‘Templo’ for his obsession with the Temple – depicts similarly sloped supports in the rear of the Temple. The additions to the rear of the synagogue were added in 1773-1774 “on the basis of the model of the Temple made by Jacob Juda Leon Templo in 1642,” Cohen Paraira says.

 

In 1642, Leon (1602 – 1675) wrote the book Afbeeldinge vanden Tempel Salomonis (Illustrations of the Temple of Solomon), which would be translated into seven languages. Cohen Paraira credits the success of Leon’s book to its legibility, accessibility and illustrations, in sharp contrast to the more esoteric competing book by Jesuits Prado and Villalpando. Leon also had miniature models of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple which he took on tour, and which, Cohen Paraira notes, resurfaced and commanded attention nearly a century after Leon’s death.

 

That the Spanish-Portuguese Sephardi community in Amsterdam went to great lengths to design the Esnoga based on Solomon’s Temple is indisputable.

 

 


Anonymous colored engraving of Solomon’s Temple according to Jacob Juda Leon Templo from Biblica Hebraica (published 1667). Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

 

 

Just as Solomon’s Temple had two columns (named Jachin and Boaz, which the Catholic church later claimed to have recovered and reinstalled in St. Peter’s) at its entrance, Esnoga had pillars on the west side. The Temple had a separation between the courtyard, Holy section (Kodesh) and the Holy of Holies (Kodesh HaKedoshim); Esnoga’s interior design and its strategically placed railings mirrored the separation between Temple domains. Additionally, Esnoga’s 12 pillars might correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel, and its 72 windows might refer to a 72-letter divine name, Cohen Paraira suggests.

 

Furthermore, the iconographic representation of the Ten Commandments over the Ark – which feature much more extensive inscriptions than most arks do – reference Moses’ tablets, which were housed in the Holy of Holies. According to Cohen Paraira, the Ten Commandments at Esnoga is likely “the first example of an Ark with the tables of the law.” Although that is a tall claim, which might or might not be the case, it is interesting to note that Rembrandt, who lived in the Jewish quarter and who was friends with Menasseh ben Israel, seems to have worked from virtually the same type face and layout in his painting of Moses.

 

 


Interior of Esnoga. Photo: Menachem Wecker

 

 

This might explain why Rembrandt made the curious decision to include significant parts of the final commandment in his inscription, and why he skipped certain words – having run out of space, he tried his best to remain true to the Esnoga layout. It does not, however, explain his spelling errors.

 

However much the 17th century Spanish-Portuguese community sought to mimic Solomon’s Temple and its perfect architecture (though Cohen Paraira notes it also tried to imitate classical Greek and Roman models of symmetry), it would have probably surprised the founders and patrons to learn what transpired during the 250th anniversary of the synagogue.

 

The parnassim (synagogue trustees) hoped to add another pulpit to the synagogue, which would be styled exactly like the tevah (area where the chazzan led services). But the synagogue had been listed as a historic building, so the parnassim had to submit an application to the national historic monuments commission.

 

 


Interior of Esnoga. Photo: Menachem Wecker

 

 

The response was eerily evocative of my own question about perfect divine-inspired architecture. “Portuguese synagogue is a building of such beauty, in its lines, proportions and sober ornament,” the national historic monuments commission wrote, “that no change whatsoever which might be made to the interior could improve it.”

 

Electricity has yet to invade synagogue’s interior, which is lit solely by natural light and candles (1,000 of them, placed in the massive chandeliers), and even the dust in Esnoga is holy – or at least fulfills a holy mission. As my tour guide, Vera Querido, explained, the floor of the synagogue was covered with sand to absorb both sounds and dirt from people’s shoes.

 

The day I visited Esnoga it was painfully clear from the temperature in the room that the lack of insulation on the walls made them no match for the chilling Amsterdam winds. But although it is surely easier to worship and to focus on one’s prayers in a synagogue with a climate-controlled interior, there was an aspect of the atmosphere that made a strong impression on me.

 

The holiday of Sukkot is supposed to remind worshippers, who leave the comfort of their homes for the precariousness of the sukkah-hut, how fragile they truly are. That was precisely the same feeling one gets standing in Esnoga.

 

Not only does the massive scale of the interior make one feel small, and not only does the ripe old age of the structure command respect, but it feels like a time warp. I could almost see the distinguished ladies and gentlemen sitting in the pews, and perhaps even Rembrandt, sketchbook in hand, standing off in the corner in the shadows.


 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


 


This article is the fourth in a series on Jewish Amsterdam and The Hague, which is based on a trip sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.

Interfaith Medieval Artistic Collaborations Shed Light on Spanish Jewish-Christian Relations

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain

Through May 30, 2010

Museum of Biblical Art

1865 Broadway at 61st Street, New York

http://www.mobia.org/

 

 

In 1393, two years after the worst pogroms in Spanish history, the Jewish artist Abraham de Salinas accepted a commission to paint a New Testament-themed retablo, a work placed behind a church altar, for the cathedral of San Salvador. Another Jewish artist, the silversmith Bonaf?s Abenxueu (sometimes referred to as Bonaf?s Abenxueu), created the frame for the retablo. As Vivian B. Mann notes in her essay “Jews and Altarpieces in Medieval Spain,” part of the catalog for the current show at the Museum of Biblical Art, Saragossa, where the two artists lived, was one of two cities whose Jewish populations escaped the 1391 pogroms. But even if Abraham, Bonaf?s and their neighbors were safe, how could they be so callous as to accept commissions from representatives of the very church which had turned a blind eye on the massacre of their fellow Jews just one year after their aveilut had finished?

Mann does not explain how the two artists were able to sleep at night – it is beyond the scope of her essay – but she notes that Abraham de Salinas went on to paint two more retablos for another Saragossa church (San Felipe) and another retablo and an altarpiece for the church of La Puebla de Alborton. Mann’s point, and one of the great insights of “Uneasy Communion,” is that it was not unusual for Jewish artists living under the Crown of Aragon in the 14th and 15th centuries to work for churches. “That Abraham de Salinas was given the commissions just mentioned, including repeat commissions from the same churches, testifies both to the fact that he was esteemed as a painter, and that he was able to produce various Christological themes that satisfied his patrons,” writes Mann in the catalog.

 

Mann also argues that the MOBIA show takes advantage of an opportunity that historians of the Medieval period have missed. “None of the historians concerned with the nature of Jewish-Christian coexistence in the 14th and 15th centuries have analyzed the art of the period and the history of its production as a source for understanding relationships between Christians and Jews,” she writes, “or as evidence for knowledge of one another’s religion.”

 

 

Levi ben Isaac ben Caro. “Moreh Nevukhim” (Guide to the Perplexed) by Maimonides. Barcelona, 1348. Ink and gouache on vellum. 8 x 5 in. Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen. Cod. Heb. XXXVII, fol. 114.

 

When that study is conducted, Mann suggests, not only does one find Jewish (and converso) artists working on Christian themes, but the reverse as well. Illuminations in Jewish manuscripts were often created by Christian artists, as was the case with a 1348 manuscript of Maimonides’ Moreh Nevukhim (Guide to the Perplexed). The Hebrew text was produced by the Jewish scribe Levi ben Isaac ben Caro, but the artist is identified as Ferrer Bassa (c. 1285 – 1348), a Christian. Bassa was chief artist of an atelier, or workshop, which was commissioned to create both Jewish and Christian art, including a 14th century altarpiece and a Byzantine depiction of the symbols of the four Evangelists.

 

These collaborations yield fascinating details like Talmudic references in a New Testament-themed retablo which depicts St. John as the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur. John, inappropriately wearing both the priestly costumes at once (the white and the gold garments), stands in the Holy of Holies and addresses an angel. Five other figures stand outside the Holy of Holies (though there is no curtain separating them from John, and one of them holds a golden chain which is attached to John’s leg).

 

This is no doubt, according to Mann, that this a reference to the Talmud in tractate Yoma, which states that during a period where unworthy men were buying the position of high priest (and being killed for their sins on Yom Kippur when they entered the Holy of Holies), the priests used to tie a rope or a chain to the high priest’s ankle so that if need be, his corpse could be pulled out without anyone else having to enter the Holy of Holies. (I see that Ari Zivotofsky, of Bar-Ilan University, has argued convincingly on the Orthodox Union website in “What’s the Truth About the Kohen Gadol’s Rope?” that the Talmud does not in fact recount this story and that it does not make sense for a variety of reasons. The reference comes instead from the Zohar, Rabbi Zivotofsky claims.)

 

Miguel Jimenez and Martin Bernat. “Saint Helena Interrogating Judas.” 1485-87.

Oil on panel. 77 x 45 x 5 in. Museo de Zragoza, Saragossa.

According to Mann, the figures looking out the windows in the background represent Jewish women, who were not represented much in Spanish art before the late 14th century.

 

Wherever the reference comes from, Mann sees this as indication that Jews, who were very familiar with Jewish texts, had a hand in forming or conceptualizing the image. Mann does not wonder whether there is an anti-Christian reference in the suggestion that John was potentially unworthy of the high priesthood and that his corpse might have had to be extracted by being dragged out. That, in my mind, is the only criticism of an otherwise fascinating and creative exhibition. It gets confusing to keep track of which artists identified as Jews and which were conversos. Surely converted Jews had different pictorial motives than Jews who still practiced Judaism, and although “Uneasy Communion” charts new territory in identifying otherwise unknown relationships between Jewish and Christian artists and patrons, I was very curious about the nature of those relationships.

 

For example, Mann sees Jewish hands in Gon?al Peris’ c. 1420 altarpiece, because the Jewish “doctors” confronting Jesus in the image hold books with true Hebrew letters. Mann suggests that Peris may have been connected with the de Levi atelier. A 1403-11 altarpiece by Pere Serra, Guerau Gener and Llu?s Borrass? shows true Hebrew in the depiction of the Ten Commandments in “A Disputation between Moses and Saint Peter,” which Thomas F. Glick discusses in his catalog essay in reference to interfaith debates like that of Nachmanides and Paulo Christiani. Mann, who says the image is probably a debate between the converso Petrus Alfonsi before (when he was named Moses) and after his conversion, notes that the 1403 altarpiece shows true Hebrew on the tablets, but the scroll which should bear Latin letters is empty.

 

Miguel Jimenez and Martin Bernat. Altarpiece. “The Prophets Malachi, Daniel and Ezekiel.” 1485-87. Oil on panel. 25 x 60 in. Museo de Zaragoza, Saragossa.

 

“Saint Peter’s empty scroll indicates the artist’s ignorance of Latin, but that he was knowledgeable about Hebrew is shown by the Commandments inscribed on Moses’ tablets,” Mann writes. Never mind that the Hebrew inscription, though mostly correctly formed (some of the letters are inconsistent, and the tracking seems to indicate the artist could not anticipate the proper spacing), does not properly fill the two tablets. The commandments read from right to left across both tablets, so that the rightmost tablet gets commandments one, three, five, seven and nine, while the even-numbered commandments appear on the left tablet. Would an artist who knew Hebrew inscribe the letters as such?

 

The 1420 altarpiece is even worse. If one looks closely enough at the Hebrew inscriptions in the books held by the “doctors,” the Jewish elders, the letters are indeed properly formed, but the inscriptions are gibberish. Some of the vowels improperly appear above rather than below the letters, and the artist has represented just a handful of different letters. Unless the inscription is a Kabbalistic chant with which I am not familiar, the inscription contains true Hebraic letters, but cannot be said to be truly Hebraic.

 

Clearly, there is more work to be done in discovering ow much the artists actually knew of Jewish scripture and the Hebrew language. But the curators at the Museum of Biblical Art (and Mann in particular) deserve a lot of praise for this thought-provoking and very original exhibition.

 

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.  He lives in Washington, D.C.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/interfaith-medieval-artistic-collaborations-shed-light-on-spanish-jewish-christian-relations/2010/05/05/

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