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

Maintaining Security Cooperation with the PA Shouldn’t Require Ignoring Its Support for Terror

In accordance with legislation passed last year, the Israeli government has begun to deduct from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an amount proportional to what the PA pays to terrorists and their families. Last year, a similar law went into effect in the U.S., suspending all payments to the PA so long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, has retaliated by refusing to accept any tax revenue collected by Israel—raising concerns that the PA will become insolvent and collapse—while insisting that payments to terrorists and their families are sacrosanct. To Yossi Kuperwasser, Abbas’s behavior amounts to mere extortion—which has already worked on the Europeans to the tune of 35 million euros. He urges Israel and the U.S. not to submit:

Abbas [believes] that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. . . .

[T]he PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that . . . the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. . . . If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’être for the PA’s establishment, as Abbas seems to be saying, . . . one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, Israel cooperates on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. . . . The short-term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation, [however], are of less value than the benefits enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long-term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, the promotion of terror, and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA. Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion.

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More about: Israeli Security, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror