In Praise of the Jewish Illustrated Manuscript

Sept. 3 2015

Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts, edited by Marc Epstein with essays by several experts, presents hundreds of examples of Jewish artistic creativity drawn mainly from the medieval period. As Sara Lipton notes, the volume gives the lie to the notion either that Jews have no appreciation for aesthetics or that Jewish art is “all caftans and camels or dancing violinists.” She writes (with images):

The gorgeously illustrated volume . . . should challenge almost all assumptions about Jewish identity, difference, or art. Its twelve instructive chapters and 287 full-color images survey a stunning array of illustrated books made for Jews from the 12th to the 21st centuries. There are legal works slathered in gold leaf, and haggadot and prayer books whose margins bloom with botanically accurate flora and fauna. Although such manuscripts served Jews’ religious needs, Epstein repeatedly emphasizes their similarity (in style, composition, quality, and cost) to books made for contemporary Christians and Muslims.

Skies of Parchment also contains a number of secular manuscripts that have nothing to do with the practice of Judaism. Only the Hebrew lettering tells us that the dashing, turban-wearing protagonist of the verse epic The Book of Conquest is a Jewish rather than Persian hero. . . .

In most cases, the figures depicted in these books share the clothing, habits, and surroundings of the majority culture. In a 13th-century French miscellany, King Solomon is arrayed like a Capetian king. A teacher chastising his pupil could be any university-educated Christian pedagogue, and an illustration from a Spanish Haggadah depicts Moses and his family returning from Midian in a way almost identical to (indeed, they are directly modeled on) Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Haggadah, Jewish art, Manuscripts, Middle Ages

Support for Terrorism, Not Ideas, Kept Omar Barghouti Out of the U.S.

April 18 2019

Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian activist who played the leading role in founding the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS), recently had to cancel a visit to America when he was refused permission to enter the country. Contrary to what one might read in outraged columns in the media, the immigration authorities’ decision was prompted not by what Barghouti might say but by what he has done. Noah Pollak writes:

In 2007, Barghouti founded, and runs to this day, a Ramallah-based umbrella group called the BDS National Committee that serves as the leading group organizing and promoting BDS outside the United States. The reason Barghouti was barred from entering the U.S. is not because he advocates BDS or Israel’s destruction. There is no speech issue here at all.

The reason he was barred is because the group Barghouti runs includes five U.S.-designated terrorist organizations in its membership, [among them], Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, [and] the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine]. Not only does Barghouti run a group whose membership includes U.S.-designated terrorists, he himself promotes terrorism. [He] has stated his support for terrorism dozens of times, plainly, openly, publicly, proudly, without euphemism. . . .

The only good part of the BDS movement is how it is exposing so many progressives as wishful, gullible, or dishonest in their need to paint the anti-Israel cause as respectable.

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More about: BDS, Palestinians, U.S. Politics