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March 11, 1988 - Image 35

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I TORAH PORTION

M LTER

Of Harvard Row
Designers of Fine Furs
Complete Fur Service

Art Is An Expression
Of Jewish Experience

RABBI RICHARD C.- HERTZ

Special to The Jewish News

T

his week's Torah por-
tion takes us to the
final section of the
Book of Exodus and deals
with the actual construction
of the ancient Sanctuary.
Scripture describes in loving
detail how every aspect was to
be faithfully carried out.
Although this Sidrah does not
stand out because of its
ethical or spiritual qualities,
it is interesting because we
catch a glimpse of a tremen-
dously interesting personali-
ty, Bezalel, the architect of
the Sanctuary.
The Torah defines the re-
quirements that an architect
must have to build the Sanc-
tuary: "See the Lord hath
called by name Bezalel .. .
and He hath filled him with
the spirit of God and wisdom
and understanding and in

Shabbat Parah,
Parshiot
Vayakel-Pekudei:
Exodus 35:1-40:38,
Numbers 19:1 - 22,
Ezekiel 36:16 38

-

knowledge in every kind of
craft . . . and has inspired him
to make designs for work in
gold, silver and copper."
Bezalel was in charge of all
the artistic vessels of gold,
silver, copper, stones and
wood to be used in the
building of the tabernacle in
the ancient wilderness. He
was the first Jewish artist.
The question naturally
arises, What is Jewish Art?
One cannot read about
Bezalel without realizing the
immense influence of art
upon our people.
In a way, Jewish art
originated in the Bible. The
'Temple in Jerusalem, with its
rich ornamentation, its
sacred vessels and its
menorah, were succeeded in
the Diaspora by synagogues
where frescos, mural pain-
tings and mosaic floors are to
be found in the synagogues
excavated from antiquity, like
Dura-Europas. In the Middle
Ages, the multitude of
Hebrew illuminated
manuscripts and Haggadot as
well as various ceremonial ob-
jects, all attest to the age-old
use of art forms to express the

Dr. Hertz is rabbi emeritus at
Temple Beth El.

spirit of rituals in Jewish
liturgy.
Yet, it is widely assumed
that Judaism as a religion is
antagonistic to art. The
reason why Jews came so late
into the field of representa-
tional art is often ascribed to
the Ten Commandments,
where the second command-
ment specifically prohibits
the making of "graven im-
ages." The pagan environ-
ment where images were ob-
jects of worship for political
purposes, as in Greek and
Roman times, doubtlessly em-
phasized this prohibition.
The ancient Israelites found
art to have flourished in the
cultures and civilizations sur-
rounding them. The Egyp-
tians and the Mesopotamians
reached a high level of ar-
tistry in ancient times.
Solomon went to the Phoeni-
cians for his top artists in
building his Temple.
Later on, the Greeks, with
whom the ancient Jews were
in constant contact, did much
to spread art throughout the
Hellenistic 'Mediterranean
world.
For pre-emancipation
Diaspora Jews, the only art
that existed was the art found
in the synagogue: the Torah
mantles, decorated Torah
breastplates, often studded
with semi-precious stones,
Torah pointers, spice con-
tainers and Kiddush cups.
Jewish art was strictly ritual
art.
The Jewish peple con-
tributed a great deal to the
world in ethical culture, med-
icine, music and astronomy,
but were practically non-
existent in the arts of pain-
ting and sculpture until the
approach of the 20th Century.
abday we can boast of a great
many modern Jewish
painters from the School of
Paris like Modigliani,
Chagall, Mane-Katz and
Soutine. We have great
Jewish sculptures like Jacob
Epstein, Jacques Lipschiti
and Enrico Glicenstein.
In pre-state Palestine,
Jewish art had to start from
scratch. Boris Schatz founded
the School of Arts and Crafts
in Palestine, which he named
the Bezalel School. Schatz
discovered the artistic genius
of the Yemenites and en-
couraged them to produce
fine metal objects decorated
with silver and copper.
Jewish art has come full cir-
cle, especially in modern
Israel. Fittingly its major art
school bears the name of the
man first identified with ar-
tist creativity.

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