Jacob El-Hanani’s Deeply Jewish Abstract Art

Born in Casablanca but raised and educated in Israel, the artist Jacob El Hanani has lived most of his life in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, which when he arrived was a leading center of artistic minimalism. Adam Kirsch describes El Hanani’s work, and the Jewish influences that shaped it:

Jacob El Hanani often uses Hebrew letters in his work, though he is neither a mystic nor a scribe. His abstract minimalist drawings conjure wavering networks and textures through the accretion of minute, hand-drawn lines. . . . While Jewish themes and titles appear in the work of other minimalists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, El Hanani’s upbringing gives him access to a tradition that runs deeper than the occasional allusion.

Circle-Drawer (Ḥoni ha-M’aggel), which is one of El Hanani’s most ambitious and profound works, was completed just last year. From a distance, the canvas looks like a wash of grays, delicately transitioning between shades like patches of cloudy sky. Seen more closely, it reveals itself as an enormously complex mesh of tiny circles. Hand drawn, like all of El Hanani’s work, these circles are not perfectly round—not ball bearings from a machine but packed cells seen under a microscope.

The title, however, opens up a new, specifically Jewish dimension of meaning. Ḥoni ha-M’aggel—in English, Ḥoni the Circle-Drawer—is the subject of a famous, theologically provocative story in the Talmud. During a serious drought, Ḥoni issued a challenge to God: drawing a circle around himself in the dirt, he declared, “I take an oath by Your great name that I will not move from here until you have mercy upon Your children.” When a little rain began to fall, Ḥoni complained that God wasn’t sending enough; when the rain grew dangerously strong, he complained that it was too much. Finally, God got it right, and the rain continued until Ḥoni told God to stop.

What does El Hanani mean by titling his own circle drawing after Ḥoni? Is it only a witty allusion? Or is there a deeper similarity between the ancient sage and the modern artist, whose practice also rests on audacity, persistence, and faith? If El Hanani draws countless circles while Ḥoni had to make only one, perhaps it’s a sign that God has become exponentially harder to reach.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish art, Moroccan Jewry

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University