David Gelernter on the Hebraic Spirit in Medieval Christian Art

In a conversation with David Gelernter, the groundbreaking computer scientist, artist, and polymath, David Mikics learns what’s Jewish about Gothic cathedrals:

Gelernter and I agreed that Jewishness is in political peril these days, at least in Europe. Jeremy Corbyn is a “bigot,” he told me, “the most revolting kind of human being.” According to Gelernter, “anti-Semitism comes naturally to Europeans,” but thankfully not to Americans. That wasn’t always the case: the great medieval cathedrals were infused with Hebraic inspiration; Jewishness was, he said, the “hand inside the puppet” of Christian Europe.

“My parents took me to Sainte-Chapelle when I was five years old, and it knocked my socks off,” Gelernter told me. “I’ve never had a day since when I haven’t thought about medieval art.” The art of the cathedrals, Gelernter argued, is Hebraic, with a vast empty space at the center that resembles the emptiness in the Temple’s Holy of Holies, the most fitting image of a transcendent God. And there’s the medieval idea of gallantry, which combines military bravery with piety in a way reminiscent of the Hebrew Bible. Judah Maccabee, Gelernter reminded me, was a central example of chivalry for the Middle Ages.

Gelernter loves the Basilica of Saint-Denis, “where Gothic art was invented in 1144.” “One late afternoon the gisants [tomb effigies] were eloquent, articulate; that’s how I decided to do the Jewish paintings I modeled after them.” He said, “I didn’t set out to be a Jewish painter like Marc Chagall, but one like Amedeo Modigliani or Chaim Soutine.” But, he added, Jewish themes are a bad idea for a painter, commercially speaking. “The Israeli art market is aggressively secular; there’s more interest in my paintings in Germany.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Architecture, Art, Arts & Culture, Christianity, Judaism, Middle Ages

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror