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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

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

Spirituality and Contemporary Art  

Rina Arya

The artworks under discussion detail the scope and breadth of art that can be described as spiritual by virtue of its revelatory, revitalizing and contemplative capacities. Rather than interrogating the relationship between art and religion, more pertinent questions in the contemporary age are: What is the nature of the dialogue between art and spirituality, how do the two come together, and what form does the meeting take? The range of multimedia brings novel forms of encounter that occur outside the gallery and other spaces and involve audio-visual and other means of articulating the spiritual. These new forms make different demands on viewers; they create greater intimacy (often through immersion), both physically and psychologically, and one of the consequences of having greater intimacy can be a heightened awareness that increases presentness and a sense of embodiment. What we learn is that there are potentially as many interpretations of spirituality as there are viewers.