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.

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Read more at Tradition

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

 

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism