Reading Johannes Vermeer Midrashically

The 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, unlike his contemporaries Rembrandt and Jan Steen, did not leave behind renderings of Old Testament scenes—with one partial exception. But Chaim Brovender nonetheless finds much for a rabbi to love about Vermeer’s work, focusing on two paintings in particular:

Johannes Vermeer’s The Geographer (1669) depicts a man who is trying to map the world in which he lives. . . . In The Astronomer (c. 1668), the surveyor of the heavens holds in his hand the globe with the constellations, indicating his yearning to be part of the greater expanse of creation. . . . On the wall behind him is a painting depicting the finding of Moses by [Pharoah’s daughter]. This is one of the great moments of salvation in world history. The Jewish people were saved because the child Moses was drawn from the river. Art historians have pointed out that the inclusion of this “painting within a painting” was meant for allegorical purposes, reinforcing the artist’s underlying meaning—God’s divine providence in the finding of Moses, symbolizing that spiritual guidance in man’s attempt to discover His world.

We may read these paintings midrashically, as it were. They introduce us to the two aspects of human wonder. The geographer tries to measure and describe the world in which he lives; the astronomer tries to understand things that transcend our immediate sphere of creation, to grasp our position in the vast cosmos. We understand salvation as being an act of God’s love, enabling us to reciprocate that love.

Surely these ideas can be stated in religious language and are found in the words of [the talmudic sages]. But not everyone can appreciate the wonder in the world through the word, and not everyone can appreciate the love that is expressed in creation through the use of language.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Tradition

More about: Art history, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy