1-10 of 33 Results  for:

  • Judaism and Jewish Studies x
Clear all

Article

Holocaust Art  

Chloë Julius

The category of Holocaust art has been established by asking questions, the most vital of which is whether it should be a category of art at all. This question pursued Holocaust art long before it was categorized as such. Indeed, as a means of describing the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945, the word Holocaust itself only came into use belatedly in the 1960s. The category Holocaust art followed at an even further delay. The first major survey was published in 1993 by American art historian Ziva Amishai-Maisels. Although Amishai-Maisels did not provide an answer, her book attests to the manifold attempts by artists since the 1930s to grapple with this most fundamental question of Holocaust art. Other, related questions about the form, style, and temporality of Holocaust art have swirled around the category since its inception. In this new survey, those questions will provide the organizing framework. After the primary question of the viability of Holocaust art as a category is addressed, the subsequent five sections will move through a series of questions framed as either-or propositions: Life or theatre? Sacred or banal? Then or now? Figuration or abstraction? Painting or photography? Each section will pivot around a single instance of Holocaust art, chosen for the artwork’s ability to illuminate the problematics of the given proposition. While these propositions will not be resolved, as a set of questions they will offer a far more coherent narrative for the development of Holocaust art than one provided by chronology or region. But this is only fitting for a category that is as much involved with the art it has named as the questions it has provoked.

Article

The Book of Hosea  

Brad E. Kelle

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) book of Hosea presents the messages associated with Hosea the son of Beeri, a prophet active in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the second half of the 8th century bce. Hosea is the first book in the Book of the Twelve (Minor Prophets) and is canonical for Jews and Christians. The book contains a vast diversity of metaphors that describe Yhwh and Israel in multiple, sometimes paradoxical, ways, and it features (often negative) imagery drawn from realms such as family, sexuality, nature, wildlife, and farming. The book is best known for the portrayal of the prophet’s marriage to a sexually promiscuous woman (Gomer) and their tumultuous family life as a metaphor for Yhwh’s relationship with Israel, especially its rulers (chs. 1–3). However, debate surrounds most issues related to the book’s origins, composition, setting, and relationship to history (and to any biographical information about Hosea and Gomer), as well the interpretation of its depictions of gender and violence and its portrayals of women. Often thought to be concerned solely with Israel’s religious life (perhaps especially the people’s abandonment of Yhwh for other gods), Hosea shows a broader interest in Israel’s political, social, and economic realities. Set against the backdrop of the growing imperialism of the Neo-Assyrian Empire across the ancient Near East in the mid-8th century bce, Hosea’s messages advocate a particular understanding of Israel’s identity as Yhwh’s people (and the political, socioeconomic, and religious practices that should accompany it). Israel should be exclusively devoted to Yhwh and resist seeking other gods, religious practices, economic systems, and political alliances for their provision and protection. Major theological themes include the people’s abandonment of Yhwh, judgment, repentance, and hope for restoration. The rhetoric and language with which these messages are presented call for the ongoing use of metaphor theory; gender analysis; feminist criticism; masculinity studies; trauma interpretation; and violence studies; alongside more traditional historical, literary, and theological inquiries.

Article

The Book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet)  

Thomas M. Bolin

Multiple questions surrounding the book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet or Qoheleth in Hebrew)—including the identity of the book’s author and how it fits with other biblical texts—have long fascinated and confounded readers. In regard to authorship, scholarship since the late 19th century has dispensed with the tradition that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, but exactly who is responsible for the present form of the text and why he chooses to call himself “Qohelet” remains unknown. Multiple voices in the book appear to compete over theological and religious questions concerning divine justice and the efficacy of ethical behavior. The voice that frames the words of Qohelet both cites Qohelet’s teaching with approval and appears to undermine them in the book’s epilogue. The linguistic and lexical features of the book are late biblical Hebrew but contain several repeating keywords, each with connotations whose meanings shade into others and which cannot be understood with facile one-to-one renderings. Ecclesiastes contains no undisputed allusions or citations of other biblical material, despite its being one of the latest compositions in the Hebrew Bible, but it does reference material found in the Old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, a work over a millennium older than Ecclesiastes. The book resists the attempt to reduce its message to coherent themes, and modern critical scholarship sees in Ecclesiastes a mirror that shows the field’s own methodological flaws. The book’s aphoristic quality, vivid description of life’s joys and sorrows, and unflinching engagement with the limits of religion have insured its influence as a cultural touchstone.

Article

Jewish Art in the Modern Era  

Larry Silver and Samantha Baskind

Before the 19th century, most artistic productions by Jewish makers were aligned with religious observance (“Judaica”) or consisted of printing Jewish texts after the development of the printing press and publishing houses. Over the course of the 19th century, coinciding with increasing Jewish political and intellectual emancipation, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists began to make contributions to visual culture, sometimes with markedly Jewish content, such as biblical subjects or imagery of Jewish life, but also with original contributions to favored artistic movements, such as Impressionism or 20th-century abstract art. Zionism generated a range of energetic contributions to an emerging culture, and Holocaust traumas produced powerful artistic responses. At the turn of the 20th century, leading centers of Jewish art centered on America and Israel but included the wider Diaspora.

Article

Kabbalah in Art and Architecture  

Batsheva Goldman-Ida

Kabbalah (literally “the receiving” [of tradition]) is an early form of Jewish mysticism. Key concepts include the ten sefirot (heavenly spheres), the Hebrew alphabet, Shiur Qomah (dimensions of the divine body), the archangel Metatron, and the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of the Godhead). The main books of the Kabbalah, written in early antiquity, include Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), an early and major source, thought to be from the 3rd century ce, whose commentaries constitute most subsequent Kabbalistic literature and Sefer ha’Bahir (Book of Enlightenment), first published in the early 12th century. Both works discuss the ten sefirot and the Hebrew letters. Other works are the Hekhalot (Palace) literature, which includes the ritual praxis of “descending to the Chariot” and hymns recited in a celestial Temple, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the book of Enoch, and sections of the Dead Sea scrolls. In the Mishnah Hagigah (220 ce), two variants of Kabbalah are mentioned: the study of Creation and the study of the Heavenly Chariot. These two categories are linked to biblical prooftexts: the study of creation to the first chapter of Genesis, and the study of the Heavenly Chariot to the first chapter of the book of Prophet Ezekiel. Of the Kabbalistic treatises and texts written in the medieval period, the most important ones are the book of the Zohar (Splendor) by Moses de Leon (c. 1240–1305) and possibly other authors, and the writings of Abraham Abulafia (1240–c. 1291) and that of his student Joseph Gikatilla. The book of the Zohar is distinguished by a reliance on the ten sefirot, although couched in esoteric references, while the many books by Abulafia present linguistic mysticism with permutations of divine names. The former emphasis on the sefirot is also known from the ‘Iyyun (Study) Group in Provence, and Azriel of Gerona (1160–1238), whereas in works by the Hasidei Ashkenaz (German Pietists), led by Judah the Pious (1150–1217) and Eleazar of Worms (c. 1176–1238), numerology and angelology are basic tools.

Article

Book of Job  

Brian Doak

The book of Job is the longest and most thematically and linguistically challenging of the “wisdom books” in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In the book’s prologue (Job 1–2) the narrator introduces readers to a man named Job (Hebrew ‘iyyōb; etymology unclear). Job’s prosperity extends into all areas of his life, and seems at least potentially linked to his moral status as completely righteous and blameless before God. The earthly scene then gives way to a heavenly setting, where a figure called “the accuser” (literally “the satan”; haśśātān) appears before God. God boasts about Job’s righteousness, but the accuser counters, suggesting that Job’s moral achievement has been merely the byproduct of God’s protection. The accuser and God enter into a bet: Job’s children will be killed, Job’s possessions stripped, and Job’s body afflicted with a painful disease—all to see whether Job will curse God. Job initially responds to the distress with pious statements, affirming God’s authority over his life. In a state of intense suffering, Job is joined by three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and then eventually a fourth, Elihu—who offer rounds of speeches debating the reasons for Job’s situation (Job 3–37). Job responds to the friends in turn, alternately lamenting his situation and pleading for a chance to address God directly and argue his case as an innocent man. The friends accuse Job of committing some great sin to deserve his fate; they urge repentance, and defend God as a just ruler. God enters the dispute in a forceful whirlwind (Job 38), and proceeds for several chapters (Job 38–41) to overwhelm Job with resounding statements on creation (38:1–38), animal life (38:39–40:14), and visions of two powerful creatures, Behemoth (40:15–24) and Leviathan (41:1–11). The book ends with Job acknowledging to God the fact that he is overmatched in the face of divine power. God condemns the friends for not speaking “what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7), and then restores Job’s lost possessions and children (42:10–17). Job has enjoyed a rich reception history in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and, perhaps more than any other book in the Bible except Genesis, as a world literary classic in its own right. Within the Bible, it is the most bracing statement on the problem of suffering, as it presents a situation wherein a clearly righteous person suffers immensely—putting it at odds with more straightforward descriptions of why people suffer in Proverbs, Deuteronomy, and other texts. Scholarly research on Job has focused on the book’s place among other ancient Near Eastern wisdom materials, on questions of language (given the large amount of difficult Hebrew terms in the book), on historical-critical concerns about authorship and the way the book may have come together in its present form, and on the history of the translation of the text into Greek and other ancient languages. In the 21st century, interpreters have increasingly taken up readings of Job that situate it among concerns related to economics, disability, gender, and the history of its reception in many different eras and communities.

Article

Religious Syncretism and Art in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries  

Ori Soltes

Religious and cultural syncretism, particularly in visual art in the Jewish and Christian traditions since the 19th century, has expressed itself in diverse ways and reflects a broad and layered series of contexts. These are at once chronological—arising out of developments that may be charted over several centuries before arriving into the 19th and 20th centuries—and political, spiritual, and cultural, as well as often extending beyond the Jewish–Christian matrix. The specific directions taken by syncretism in art is also varied: it may be limited to the interweave of two religious traditions—most often Jewish and Christian—in which most often it is the minority artist seeking ways to create along lines consistent with what is created by the majority. It may also interweave three or more traditions. It may be a matter of religion alone, or it may be a matter of other issues, such as culture or gender, which may or may not be obviously intertwined with religion. The term “syncretism” has, in certain specifically anthropological and theological circles, acquired a negative connotation. This has grown out of the increasing consciousness, since the 1960s, of the political implications of that term in the course of Western history, in which hegemonic European Christianity has addressed non-Christian religious perspectives. This process intensified in the Colonial era when the West expanded its dominance over much of the globe. An obvious and particularly negative instance of this is the history of the Inquisition as it first affected Jews in late-15th-century Spain and later encompassed indigenous peoples in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. While this issue is noted—after all, art has always been interwoven with politics—it is not the focus of this article. Instead “syncretism” will not be treated as a concept that needs to be distinguished from “hybridization” or “hybridity,” although different modes of syncretism will be distinguished. Syncretistic preludes to visual artists in the 19th and 20th centuries, suggesting some of the breadth of possibility, include Pico della Mirandola, Kabir, and Baruch/Benedict Spinoza. Specific religious developments and crises in Europe from the 16th century to the 18th century brought on the emancipation of the Jews in some places on the one hand, and a contradictory continuation of anti-Jewish prejudice on the other, the latter shifting from a religious to a racial basis. This, together with evident paradoxes regarding secular and spiritual perspectives in the work of key figures in the visual arts, led to a particularly rich array of efforts from Jewish artists who revision Jesus as a subject, applying a new, Jewishly humanistic perspective to transform this most traditional of Christian subjects. Such a direction continued to spread more broadly across the 20th century. The Holocaust not only raised new visual questions and possibilities for Jewish artists, but also did so from the opposite direction for the occasional Christian—particularly German—artist. Cultural syncretism sometimes interweaves religious syncretism—which can connect and has connected Christianity or Judaism to Eastern religions—and a profusion of women artists in the last quarter of the century has added gender issues to the matrix. The discussion culminates with Siona Benjamin: a Jewish female artist who grew up in Hindu and Muslim India, attended Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, and has lived in America for many decades—all these aspects of her life resonate in her often very syncretistic paintings.

Article

Secularization and Sacred Space  

David Bains

Secularization, or the decline in the authority of religious institutions, became a pronounced feature of Western culture in the 20th century, especially in its latter half. Secularization has affected the history of Western sacred space in four ways: (a) It has helped to shape the concept of “sacred space” so that it designates a space that helps generate a personal religious experience independent of religious rituals and teachings. (b) It has caused many houses of worship to use architectural forms not previously associated with religion in order to link their religious communities to the respected realms of business, science, and entertainment. And it has motivated religious communities to craft spaces that encourage worshipers to recognize God at work in the secular world and to demonstrate to others the continued relevance of religion. (c) Many former houses of worship have been destroyed or converted to other uses. Sometimes this occurred not because of declining membership but in order to relocate to a more favorable building or location. Nonetheless, these changes have created a more secular cityscape. Other times destruction and conversion have been the product of state-sponsored regimes of secularization or a decline in the number of clergy or church supporters. The reuse of these former houses of worship often results in the association of religious symbols with commercial or personal endeavors. It also raises challenges for maintaining public space in dense urban environments and for preserving artistic and cultural heritage. Given the increasing closure of churches, in 2018 the Pontifical Council of Culture issued guidelines to guide Roman Catholics in determining best uses for buildings no longer needed for worship. (d) Spaces which are not linked to religious communities, especially museums and monuments, came to be frequently designed in ways similar to historic sacred spaces. For this reason and others, they are esteemed by many people as places to encounter the sacred in a secularized world.

Article

Israelite Religion  

Richard S. Hess

Emerging from the academic study of the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures during the Enlightenment and Reformation, Israelite religion became a topic of study in terms of the presentation in the Bible of Israel’s worship of its God. Gradually this separated into a synthesis of biblical teachings on worship and its prescribed practices, on the one hand, and a study of the history of biblical Israel in terms of beliefs and practices toward one or more deities, on the other. The former branch evolved into biblical theology, while the latter developed into the topic of Israelite religion. Beginning in the nineteenth century, archaeological excavations and the interpretation of ancient Near Eastern texts preceding and contemporaneous with the period of the Bible broadened the picture. Comparing and contrasting archaeological and textual sources with the application of anthropological models derived from comparative religious studies led to modern syntheses of the subject. Initially these were heavily based upon the biblical text, often with the application of theories of literary and historical criticism. Since the 1980s, however, a focus on texts from the same time and region, as well as interpretation of artifacts with religious significance, has challenged older models of Israelite religion. Influences and the interactions of believers and their deities appear increasingly complex. No longer is there an understanding of a mere one or two religions in Israel (e.g., worshippers of Yahweh and worshippers of Baal). It now seems clear that various religious practices and texts attest to the presence of multiple religions followed by people in the region of ancient Israel, sometimes reflecting differences in gender, culture, ethnicity, and other factors. While a form of worship as described in biblical accounts may have been followed, there were other forms which, in various ways, syncretized Yahweh with other goddesses and gods. This has led scholars to question the factors that led to, and the time of emergence of, belief in a single deity in Israel, as well as to question the nature of that deity. Answers and models remain in a state of flux; evidence remains to be reviewed and interpretations demand critical interpretation.

Article

Nazism and Religion  

Eric Kurlander

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) always had a complicated relationship with religion, emblematic of the diverse völkisch movement out of which the NSDAP emerged. This relationship became even more complicated during the later years of the Weimar Republic as the party grew larger and attracted millions of new supporters from Protestant as well as Catholic regions. The NSDAP’s attitude toward the Christian churches was nonetheless ambivalent, swinging from co-optation to outright hostility. This ambivalence was founded in part on a pragmatic recognition of Church power and the influence of Christianity across the German population, but it simultaneously reflected an ideological rejection of Judeo-Christian values that a number of Nazi leaders saw as antithetical to National Socialism. Many Nazis therefore sought religious alternatives, from Nordic paganism and a “religion of nature” to a German Christianity led by a blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus. This complex mélange of Christian and alternative faiths included an abiding interest in “Indo-Aryan” (Eastern) religion, tied to broader ideological assumptions regarding the origins of the Aryan race in South Asia. Ultimately, there was no such thing as an official “Nazi religion.” To the contrary, the regime explored, embraced, and exploited diverse elements of (Germanic) Christianity, Ario-Germanic paganism, and Indo-Aryan religions endemic to the völkisch movement and broader supernatural imaginary of the Wilhelmine and Weimar period.