A New England Museum’s Exquisite Gallery of Jewish Art

On December 8, Intentional Beauty, Jewish Ritual Art from the Collection opened at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). Laura Hodes writes in her review of the exhibition:

The MFA is one of only four U.S. art museums (as opposed to Jewish museums) that include Judaica galleries. . . . The majority of the objects in the new gallery are now on display for the first time. The masterpiece in the center of the room is a silver Torah shield from Galicia, probably from Lvov, (now Lviv) in Ukraine, created in 1781–82.

As is the case with many of the objects in the gallery, you need to look closely to appreciate its mastery. A Torah shield is usually designed to be seen only from the front, but this one is intricately carved on both sides. On the front you can see a layer of gilded silver, with sinuous, swirling intertwined plants and animals, some real, some fantastical.

There are also three-dimensional figures of Moses and Aaron on it, flanking a jeweled crown (representing the Torah), and a replica of the Ten Commandments over a shield of silver.

The back of the shield is minutely engraved with the story of the binding of Isaac, with details impossible to see with the naked eye, a level of detail only usually seen in book engravings. Luckily, an interactive display screen actually allows you to magnify the image to catch the details, including the proud inscription on the back, in Hebrew: “This is the work of my hands, Elimelekh Tzoref of Stanislav, in the year 5542.”

Tsoref is the Hebrew word for silversmith.

Read more at Forward

More about: East European Jewry, Jewish art, Museums

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy