web analytics
April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Theological Seminary’

At Conservative Judaism Convention, Leaders Focus on Shrinkage

Monday, October 14th, 2013

At their biennial convention, Conservative Jewish leaders called for renewing the “vital religious center” of American Judaism in the wake of numerous studies showing their movement is shrinking.

Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, called for a return to the principles articulated a century ago by Solomon Schechter, founder of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

“Our aim must be to emulate the boldness and daring of the strategies he chose, to adapt them for our day, so as to carry Torah forward,” Eisen said at the opening day of the centennial conference of United Synagogue, the synagogue arm of the Conservative movement.

Eisen proposed a threefold strategy to confront what he called this “time of unprecedented challenge and change” for Conservative Judaism: being as welcoming as possible to bring in more Jews; taking Conservative Judaism beyond the bounds of the synagogue; and providing more money and time to the movement.

“Over the next two days, we’ll be questioning who we are, what we stand for and what we contribute to the Jewish landscape,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue, said in his opening address. ”We aspire to rewrite our narrative from decline to renewal, energy, optimism, transcendence and transformation.”

Delivering the keynote address at the evening gala on Sunday, Rabbi Harold Kushner lamented the loss of many of the movement’s most promising students, who have defected to other movements or started their own nondenominational communities.

“I don’t begrudge my Orthodox colleagues the growth of Orthodox Judaism,” Kushner said. “I don’t begrudge my Reform colleagues the growth of Reform Judaism, fueled in large measure by intermarriage and conversion.

“What does bother me is when the best and brightest of our movement leave our synagogues,” Kushner said. “We can’t hold onto them — that more than anything else is what concerns me.”

Princeton’s Rabbi James Diamond Killed in Traffic Accident

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Rabbi James Diamond, the retired director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life, has died in a traffic accident after leaving a breakfast Talmud study group.

Rabbi Diamond, 73, who retired from the center 10 years ago, was killed when a speeding car crashed into a parked car which the rabbi was entering on the passenger side. The driver of the parked car, Rabbi Robert Freedman, who also attended the study group, was hospitalized. He is expected to recover from his injuries.

Diamond was the director of the Center for Jewish Life from 1995 to 2003. He also served as executive director of the Hillel at Washington University in St, Louis from 1972 to 1995, and at Indiana University from 1968 to 1972.

He was ordained in 1963 by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and later taught courses in modern Hebrew literature and Judaic Studies at Washington University, Princeton University, and in the Princeton community.

Diamond was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Judy, three children and six grandchildren.

“If I’ve touched lives and given some people an idea that Judaism is broad and deep and a source of great meaning, and that being a Jew is a great gift, then I’ve succeeded,” Diamond said of his work with Jewish students in an interview with the New Jersey Jewish News after announcing his retirement in 2003.

Camp Ramah Founder Sylvia Ettenberg, 95

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Sylvia Cuttler Ettenberg, a veteran Jewish educator and founder of Camp Ramah, has died at age 95

Ettenberg was the first female senior administrator at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and was recognized as a dean emerita.

The Brooklyn native was at the forefront of many Conservative Jewish educational initiatives, including the Prozdor Hebrew High School program and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS.

Ettenberg was best recognized as a founder of Camp Ramah and for incorporating the institution into JTS, a move that helped it grow from a single camp in Wisconsin into a network of a dozen camps and several informal education programs in the United States and Israel.

The Politics Of Jewish Calendars

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe

By Elisheva Carlebach

304 pages, $35, Harvard University Press, April 2011

 

 

Although jokes abound about how punctual German Jews (Yekes) are, the concept of “Jewish Standard Time,” presumably mocking the non-Germanic segments of the Jewish population, has earned an entry in Urban Dictionary for “15 minutes late to everything” or “being late to an important event.”

 

Whether or not the jokes have a foundation, Elisheva Carlebach’s new book, Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe, shows that Jews developed some of the most important theories and discovered some of the most fundamental mathematical underpinnings of early calendar setting. They did this often to the chagrin of Christian leaders, who sought to liberate their calendar from its ties to Judaism, primarily the Passover meal that was their Last Supper.

 

 

Angel giving calendar secrets to Issachar. Sefer Evronot, 1716.

National Library of Israel. Ms Heb 8 2380, fol. 104.

 

 

The story that Carlebach, Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture and Society at Columbia University, tells focuses on the calendar as a “living” document rather than a static one. Instead of simply documenting the march of time at a set rate, calendars were often created in the image of their makers, who often embedded propaganda inside them, Carlebach explains.

 

Surely, most calendar users today take the medium for granted because it is so pervasive. In the age of Google, calendars can be embedded into websites, layered on top of one another and shared among users. If you position your mouse appropriately, your computer’s calendar will pop up, and many readers probably have calendars attached to their work email clients, or Outlook programs. If you’ve got a smart phone or a tablet computer, chances are you program your appointments right into that device.

 

The most low-tech calendars we might encounter are giveaways from supermarkets or from charities we donate to. When I interviewed Marc Winkelman, president of the Austin, Texes-based company Calendar Holdings, in August 2010, he differentiated between calendars that feature images specifically created for the calendars, and others which have artworks that “perhaps better satisfy the sensibilities of art historians.” Both fulfill needs, he said, though “There will always be art snobs.”

 

 

 

Rabbi (Simon ben) Gamliel receives Jewish calendar formulae. Sefer Evronot, 1552.

Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Ms 9487, fol. 3r.

 

 

The calendars Winkelman’s company sells are a far cry from the manuscripts and early printed calendars Carlebach explores, so it’s not surprising that medieval and early renaissance calendar users and makers were more passionate about all things calendar-related. The religious and political elite ensured that calendars were as much tools for controlling the masses, as they were an effort to organize an individual’s life.

 

One particularly fierce debate played out in the 17th century, when the calendar was “at the center of the struggle for the soul of England,” Carlebach writes. After the Reformation, England grew isolated from Denmark, Protestant German states and the Netherlands when it clung to the Julian calendar, while the latter states used the Gregorian calendar. An 11-day gap existed between the two calendars.

 

As early as the 12th century, calendars had a way of teasing out insolence. Abraham bar Hiyya Savasorda (1065-1136), who lived in Christian Spain, argued that only Muslims and Jews had a lunar calendar that wasn’t impacted by solar measurements. “We say that in the kingdom of the Ishmaelites they began this computing from the beginning of the sin of the mad evildoer who misled them,” he wrote.

The Jewish Art Enthusiast’s Guide To WNET/Channel Thirteen’s ‘Art Through Time: A Global View’

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Art Through Time: A Global View


A 13-part series produced by Thirteen (WNET) for Annenberg Media


Premiered Oct. 10


Jill Peters (exec. producer), Suzanne Rose (series producer), Jennifer Hallam (managing editor, writer producer), and Eva Zelig, Arash Hoda and Gail Levin (producers)



 

 


Jewish art buffs might be disappointed by channel Thirteen’s new 13-part series, Art Through Time: A Global View. It takes two entire episodes (one half an hour each) and part of the third episode for a reference to Jewish art to surface. This comes in the person of Shimon Attie (born in Los Angeles, 1957), whose The Writing on the Wall (1991-3) projected pre-Holocaust photographs onto the walls of buildings in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, the Scheunenviertel. Attie’s projections, which were effectively before-and-after photos of particular buildings, are particularly haunting because they reveal how much the neighborhood has changed. Another work of Attie’s that is discussed in the episode is Portrait of Exile (1995), which involved submerging light boxes with portraits of Danish refugees (who fled to Sweden during the Holocaust) in a canal in Copenhagen.

 

There is nothing wrong with Attie and his work – though it’s not clear that he should be the first representative of Jewish art, as opposed to Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro, Marc Chagall, Max Liebermann, Amedeo Modigliani and a slew of more contemporary artists like Larry Rivers, R.B. Kitaj or Judy Chicago, though photographer Richard Avedon’s work appears (but is not discussed in a Jewish context at all). One might also argue that opening the discussion about Jewish art with works about Holocaust memory could give the wrong impression about the larger genre of Jewish art, which often deals with much happier and affirmative times in Jewish history and experience, as readers of this column are well aware.

 

But what is perhaps most troubling is that there was no room to discuss Jewish art in the first episode (Converging Cultures) or the second (Dreams and Visions), particularly since viewers hear about plenty of Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Latin American, African, Asian and Indonesian Aborigine art in those two episodes.

 

 


Unknown artist, Haggadah, Spain, c. 1300. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. From Art Through Time: A Global View.

 

 

After Attie, viewers can carry on watching the rest of episode three (History and Memory) – where Attie returns and gets the final word – four (Ceremony and Society, which offers a quick glimpse of a bar mitzvah amidst a larger mosaic of snapshots), and six minutes of five (Cosmology and Belief) before hearing from another Jewish artist, this time Vitaly Komar, of the Russian artist-born duo Komar and Melamid, famous for, amongst other things, teaching elephants in Thailand to paint.

 

Like Attie, Komar is hardly a representative of Jewish art worth complaining about. Komar’s work, which is very edgy, particularly in its politics, often draws upon Jewish (and other faiths’) symbols, as well as Kabbalah. “Art can create [an] image, which has no equivalent in language,” Komar says later on in the episode, which also addresses the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, showcasing the work of Jewish painter Mark Rothko. But Komar and his colleague Alexander Melamid, have a particular political criticism of the Soviet Union in mind, and is not necessarily the best work to choose if only two Jewish artists are going to be discussed in the entire series.

 

 


The Egyptian Book of the Dead from chapter six, Death. Credit:

Unknown artist, Egypt. New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1567 BCE-320 BCE Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy. © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS, The Picture Desk Limited.

 

 

The next two episodes (Death, Domestic Life) do not address anything Jewish – though to be fair, one cannot address art and death without devoting significant air time to the Egyptian Book of the Dead – but episode eight (Writing) opens with Sharon Lieberman Mintz, curator of Jewish art at the library at the Jewish Theological Seminary, talking about a Haggadah. Mintz says Jewish illuminated manuscripts first emerged in the 9th or 10th century, in part because Jewish artists were excluded from the guilds, which held the secrets of mixing pigments close and literally did not know the trade secrets.

 

Though Jewish art is not discussed again in episodes nine (Portraits), 10 (The Natural World), 11 (The Urban Experience), 12 (Conflict and Resistance) or 13 (The Body) – and indeed seems mostly uninvited to the Art Through Time party – I do not believe that Thirteen or WNET should be criticized for negligence (or avoidance) for several reasons.

 

First, though viewers who do not realize that Jewish art is a stop on the train – and who erroneously think that the Second Commandment has effectively banned art making for Jewish artists for centuries – will not learn a whole lot more about the subject, there is a tremendous opportunity for Jews to learn about art of other faiths and from regions across the globe. One of the buzzwords of the series is “hybridity,” and as Ori Soltes (who would have made a great addition to the series) argues in Our Sacred Signs: How Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source, Jewish art must be seen in a larger context. Art Through Time provides that larger context and a sophisticated vocabulary with which to examine it.  

 

Second, the directors clearly decided that anthropologists were going to be at least as much a part of the series as art historians and artists. This is a very good thing, in my opinion. The anthropological approaches to most of the works in the series ensure that the discussion transcends “inside baseball” references to art historical motifs, techniques and movements, and focuses on the cultural motivations that inform (and are simultaneously are shaped by) the works.

 

 

 


Art Through Time: A Global View. Pictured (clockwise from top left): HYENA, a work by Angelo Filomeno, featured in Death (episode 6); PINK AND BLUE CAR, a work by Sandy Skoglund, featured in Dreams and Visions (episode 2); detail of tapestry depicting Hindu god, Yama, featured in Cosmology and Belief (episode 5); detail of rug featured in Converging Cultures (episode 1).

 

 

This series is not only accessible to non-experts (which is why I haven’t picked it apart too much; I encourage readers to watch it for themselves, perhaps with this article as a guide), but it succeeds in teaching a lot about art and art history, despite its relatively short span of six and a half hours. Some of the sequences seem overly ambitious (like explaining Impressionism while standing on one foot), but the series is more an Art Through Time 101 survey than an in-depth seminar.

 

It would be interesting to see what the anthropologists would say about how Judaism and Jewish art are portrayed in the series, but I suspect it would be much more prudent to sincerely applaud Art Through Time for all of its successes, rather than dwelling on what is not there. There just might be a need to create a new series on Jewish art specifically.

 


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

Tobi Kahn’s New Harmony

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Shalev at New Harmony, Indiana;
Thresholds at The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary
3080 Broadway, New York, N.Y.   (212) 678 8082
Sunday through Friday; 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Free Admission
Until June 30, 2009



        Imagine if we could all work and live together in harmony.  We ask for this three times a day, “May it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel at every time, in every hour, with Your peace.”   This ancient plea, harmony between us and our G-d, harmony between us and our fellow Jews and mankind, is one of the most fundamental yearnings we experience.  We are not alone in this deeply human quest.  In 1814 a group of Separatists from the German Lutheran Church led by Johann Georg Rapp came to Indiana’s frontier to find religious freedom and establish a utopian communal society in a new town named New Harmony. The community lasted barely 10 years before moving back to Pennsylvania but in that short time was a successful enterprise of cooperation and pious living.   The town is still there and at the New Harmony Inn that 185 years ago used to welcome seekers, Tobi Kahn’s monumental sculpture, Shalev, stands, promising a kind of refuge from the struggles of daily life that still besets us all.


       The rough-hewn granite sculpture commissioned by Jane Owen and the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust in 1993 stands close to 13 feet high and is composed of three colossal blocks; two rectangular pillars that support a massive lintel. Paradoxically, the monument itself cannot itself give shelter, since the “sanctuary” space is occupied by an abstract bronze figure, a sculptural everyman.  The giant stone lintel seems to loom out at anyone who approaches the sculpture.  This elemental quality radiates a sense of welcoming but primitive protection, a hope of shelter.  Its idiosyncratic title, “Shalev,” a contraction of shalom (peace) and lev (heart), echoes this sentiment.  Indeed the attempt to find a harmony between the viewer and the surrounding uncertain world is exemplified by the adjacent landscape.  While most of the year bucolic fields stretch beyond the sculpture the rainy season brings a flood from the Wabash River right up to the foot of the monument, sorely testing our faith in the artwork’s message.   We identify with the protected figure and feel a strange kind of comfort in its safety.

 

 


Shalev (1993) granite & bronze monumental sculpture by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy New Harmony Inn, New Harmony, Indiana

 


      Why?  Why do many of Tobi Kahn’s works evoke this response?  Kahn, an observant Jew who has exhibited, taught and created these kinds of works of art for his entire professional career, believes in the redemptive power of art.   He sees the making, viewing and teaching about art as an act of prayer, an appeal to G-d that, if we approach 
these artworks with the proper intention and concentration, can actually alter our consciousness.  For Kahn, art is a primary step in tikkun olam.

 

 


Shalev (1993) Flood Season; granite and bronze monumental sculpture by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy New Harmony Inn, New Harmony, Indiana

 


      Thresholds, an exhibition of Kahn’s work at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, presents additional examples of the redemptive possibilities of visual art.  Surprisingly the works that evoke this sense of protection are diminutive in scale, quite the opposite of the New Harmony monument.  Nonetheless they radiate a comfort and 
reassurance well beyond their modest proportions.


      In one of the display cases we find three ceremonial boxes, each colorfully painted and uniquely shaped.  Two are titled “Zedek” and function as tzedakah boxes with thin rectangular openings ready to receive charity donations.  But there the similarity ends.  One turquoise box resembles a small altar with a gently curved roof meeting curved sides that enclose the sacred treasury.  The other box, cobalt blue with front and back painted panel inserts, is more business-like, a confident little monument to our expected generosity to those in need.  Both of these exhibit, by their carefully considered forms, surfaces and colors, the seriousness of the mitzvah of charity.   Their monumentality, small in size but with large intent, express a determination to repair the world in a most concrete manner.

 

 


Zedek, Hadahr, Zedek (2006 – 2007) Tzedakah and Esrog containers by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 


      Perhaps to balance the act of giving, the third box is titled  “Hadahr,” literally meaning beautiful and fulfilling its function as an esrog box.  In its way it is more decorative than its neighbors, exhibiting an illustrative panel showing the esrog tree with its fruit, hanging ready for the picking.  Its gold cover communicates that this fruit is indeed the object of one very special mitzvah.


      All three of these objects provide a safe enclosure, a kind of sanctuary, each provoking a positive act that affects the world either by literally making it better; helping another human being; or by affirming G-d’s sovereignty in obeying his commandments.


      The simple and yet monumental character of these works is similarly reflected in other objects in the exhibition.  “Lahav,” a rather impressive memorial light, again plays upon the altar motif that reflects the traditional Jewish respect in honoring and remembering our dead.  Kahn seems to be saying that we do much more than recall our loved ones; we must hold them up and honor them as a blazing flame that will enlighten our lives as we attempt to move forward without them.  In Kahn’s hands a yarzheit becomes a celebration that allows us to live yet another year emulating our departed.


      Shifting from the personal to the familial, the Seder plate, “Erhu II,” proclaims its grand message in the simplest sculptural form.  Atop deep blue square shelves for the three ceremonial matzoth, six cups frame the six small plates necessary for the ritual objects central to the Seder itself.  Additionally these six cups reflect the mandatory four cups of wine plus a possibility of both a cup for Eliyahu and Miriam, a thoroughly modern and progressive gesture consistent with Kahn’s belief in a wide-ranging tikkun olam.

 

 


Erhu II (2007) Seder plate by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 


      There are many other objects and paintings to be seen at Kahn’s JTS exhibition that is part of the 2009 Artist-in-Residence Program directed by Vivian B. Mann, a number of which I have previously reviewed.  One major new work, “Ashkaf,” is a site-specific installation of 8 abandoned card catalogs, each housing 72 drawers that once contained literally thousands upon thousands of library cards, now totally rendered obsolete by their digital replacement.  Kahn has, at seemingly random intervals, opened the drawers and allowed us to see small abstract objects placed therein.  Unfortunately the aesthetic effect is fractured and puzzling, at best creating a sense of loss and the opposite of the works I have been discussing.

 

 


Lahav (2006) Memorial Lamp by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 


      Tobi Kahn’s work presents us with a subtle paradox.  From “Shalev” to ”Zedek,” a yarzheit lamp to a Seder plate, the more monumental the forms he uses the more intimate and comforting his aesthetic operates.  It is perhaps because in each work he provides us with a way in, a visual passage that symbolically provides us with shelter and protection either literally or metaphorically.  That passage is an essential fundamental premise of his work; art must be a prayer to provoke an action to do good in the world. New Harmony has just become a bit closer to becoming a reality.

Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/tobi-kahns-new-harmony/2009/06/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: