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.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish art, Moroccan Jewry

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform