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.

Read more at Tradition

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


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict