The figurative art in jewish, christian and islamic law by


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Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh1


Introduction 2

Chapiter I. Jewish norms 4

1) Historic precedent 4

2) Sources of Jewish norms 5

3) The Bible and figurative art 6

4) Mishnah, Talmud and figurative art 10

5) Interdiction between rigorists and liberals 12

6) Is there a modern Jewish art? 15

7) Maimonides, victim of his writings 16

Chapter II. Christian norms 18

1) Sources of Christian norms 18

2) Figurative art in the New Testament 18

3) Positions and practices of the first centuries 19

4) Byzantian iconoclasm (725-843) 22

5) Rehabilitation of art in Nicea II 23

6) Reform and figurative art 23

7) Sollicitudini Nostrae of Benedict XIV (1745) 25

8) Second Vatican Council and Code of Canon law 27

Chapter III. Islamic norms 29

1) Sources of Islamic norms 29

2) Koran and figurative art 29

3) Sunnah and the figurative art 30

4) Interpretation of the Koran and the Sunnah 33

5) Islamic figurative art today 42

6) Modern inventions: Photographs, movies, television and theatre 49

7) Extreme position of the Saudi scholars 58

Conclusion: Hibernation and wakening of the religious norms 61


In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the gigantic statues of Buddha and other objects of figurative art that were in the Afghan museums.

Statue of Buddha before2 and after 20013

Similar destructions took place through ancient and contemporary history. The fall of the Communist regime in the USSR and in the satellite countries led to the fall of the statues of the founding fathers of Communism and the dignitaries of these countries; and at the time of the occupation of Iraq, the Americans and their allies conducted the destruction of Saddam's statues and pictures.

Statues of Lenin4 and Saddam5 victims of modern iconoclasm

This attitude belongs to primary animal instinct of domination. However, contrary to animals, human beings try always to justify their acts.

This text aims to identify the Islamic norms concerning figurative art, comparing them to the Jewish and Christian norms. It could help predict and prevent gestures similar to those of the Taliban.

Chapiter I. Jewish norms

1) Historic precedent

Egyptian, as well as Mesopotamian civilization, put figurative art in the service of divinity and authorities. Statues and pictures brought them closer to the people. As all civilizations, Egyptian civilization had its temptations of iconoclasm. Thus, in the Museum of Cairo, we see the remains of statues of Pharaohs that were brocken and thrown into wells by their successors.

Hatshepsut (1490-1468 before J.-C.)6 Akhenaton (1372-1354 before J.-C.)7

In religion, Egypt had a rather tolerant attitude towards figurative art, judging by the large number of their paintings, relieves and statues. However, there is a case of religious iconoclasm, which occurred during the last three or five years of Akhenaton who reigned from about 1372 until 1354 before J-C. This Pharaoh, considered as the father of monotheism, declared the Sun, Aton, only and unique divinity, and commanded the closing down of the temples of other divinities and the destruction of their statues. An inscription found in his capital Akhet-Aton (Tell Al-Amarna) says that God Aton shapes himself with his hands, and no sculptor knows this shape. The only human form preserved from Aton is its hands at the end of the rays of the sun, giving sign of life to the king to maintain the creation. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh and his wife Nefertiti are depicted in company with solar disc. After his death, the city of Akhet-Aton was abandoned. Everything that related to this Pharaoh was destroyed and the cult of Amon and all other gods was restored. Akhenaton was indicated by his successors as being the criminal of Akhet-Aton8.

The Greek historian Strabo (died 21 or 25) thinks that Egyptians were the ancestors of the Jews9. Sigmund Freud (died 1939) identifies Moses as an Egyptian at the time of Akhenaton. An administrator/General or member of the royal family, or priest or all three. After the fall of Akhenaton, Moses, held to the faith, left to govern a new people and introduced the monotheism to them10. Could this explain the attitude of the Bible with regard to the figurative art?

Moses11 and Akhenaton12

2) Sources of Jewish norms

For the Jewish believer, the Bible imposes itself as a legal code to follow at all times and in all places. One reads:

Everything that I command you you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it13.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law14.

It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings15.

Quoting these verses, Maimonides (died 1204) writes, “It is clearly stated in the Torah that it contains the Law which stands for ever, that may not be changed, and nothing may be taken from it or added to it”. According to Maimonides, if one pretends the opposite, “he shall die by hanging”. This punishment is also foreseen for anyone who “uproots any of our verbal traditions or says that God had charged him to interpret the Law in such and such a way, he is a false prophet and is to be hanged even though he give a sign”16.

In addition of the Bible, the Jews assign a major importance to the Mishna and the Talmud which are considered the second source of Jewish law. What is the position of these sources concerning figurative art?

3) The Bible and figurative art

A) Interdiction of the figurative art

If the Bible is the first source of Jewish law, the famous Ten Commandments constitute the heart of this law.

The Ten Commandments17

The interdiction of figurative art is registered at the head of these commandments:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God18.

Other verses resume the same idea19, which is developed in the following passage:

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth20.

The interdiction of the pictures or statues does not limit itself to the Jews. Jews are ordered by the Bible to eliminate the representations of the divinities of dominated peoples. Moses instructs his coreligionists before entering in the "Promised Land":

When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you… you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favour to them… But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire21.

When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places22.

These norms seem to forbid the representation of any object, but in fact they only concern living beings, as the floral decoration did not pose any problems to Jews. On the other hand, they concern all representations of living beings, but some consider that they only concern the representation of living beings used as objects of cult. These two readings coexisted and continue to coexist even today, not only among Jews, but also among Muslims who are inspired by Jewish norms. Those who limit these rules to the objects of cult adopt a teleological interpretation according to which the goal of the prohibition is to prevent idolatry (of the Greek eidolon latreia, cult of the idols). On the other hand, those who extend them to all living beings consider that any picture is potentially an idol and must therefore be banned23.

Whatever the correct reading may be, there is a general problem: what is the reason behind the prohibition of idols and why could Moses (Jehovah for the believer) not accept that everyone had his small idol at home? Such a question presupposes the acceptance of individual freedom of religion, freedom contested even today. The principle Cujus regio, eius religio has the pre-eminence in history.

B) Contradictions in the Bible

If we examine the Bible, we note numerous violations of the interdiction of figurative art, even by Moses (Jehovah, for the believer) himself.

According to the Bible, Jehovah asks Moses for a tabernacle with an ark and gives him the descriptions: "You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. You shall make two cherubim of gold; make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat"24. Jehovah is supposed to sit above the ark and the cherubim in his invisible majesty25. The tabernacle should be made "with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skilful workman"26. This presence of the cherubim is explained by the fact that Jehovah uses them like a setting27. On the other hand, always by order of Jehovah, "Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived"28. The Jews ended up adoring this snake and offering him sacrifices; it was destroyed by Hosea29.

To solve the previously mentioned contradiction, it is considered that initially figurative art was barred, but to justify the decorations of the temple under Salomon, the editors of the Bible added the unlikely passages concerning the tabernacle of Jehovah in Moses' time. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the Jews in the desert preparing curtains of fine twisted linen. The scribes attempted to remedy to this difficulty by indicating that God has himself filled the artists "with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs"30.

Concerning Salomon's temple, the Bible indicates that it had two big cherubim. Other cherubim were sculpted on all its walls, outside and inside31. There was also a sea of bronze carried by twelve oxen32. The Bible indicates also that Salomon had a throne decorated with lions33 and that he constructed other temples for the gods of his 700 wives and 300 concubines34. Let us mention here that the eschatological temple of Ezekiel also comprises figurative ornaments, including cherubim with two faces: a man's face and a lion's face35.

The prophets repeatedly condemned the idols. This condemnation shows that the Jews did not stop having them and that monotheism was not unanimously accepted. The Bible indicates that the Jews made a molten calf from gold after the exodus from Egypt and made him offerings saying: "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt". Moses hurried to reduce it to dust and to massacre about three thousand men among those who adored it36. Two other molten calves were made by king Jeroboam (931-910 before J-C) who said to the people: "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt". He set one in Bethel, and the other in Dan37. 150 years later, the prophet Hosea fulminated against this representation: "He has rejected your calf, O Samaria, saying: 'My anger burns against them!' How long will they be incapable of innocence? For from Israel is even this! A craftsman made it, so it is not God, Surely the calf of Samaria will be broken to pieces"38. The Bible also indicates that Jews had statues and pictures representing divinities known as teraphim39 and ephod40. Under Antiochus, they introduced idols in the temple and presented them offerings41. These idols have been destroyed at the time of the revolt of the Maccabee. However, even the slain soldiers of Judas who fought this idolatry carried under their coats "things consecrated to the idols of the Jamnites, which is forbidden the Jews by the law. Then every man saw that this was the cause wherefore they were slain"42.

In a recent book, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman questioned the historicity of the books of the Bible initially attributed to Moses and the interdiction of the figurative art. They consider that these books have been written under the reign of king Josias (of 639 to 609 av. J-C) and revised by priests who invented persons and facts (as Abraham, Moses and the exodus of Egypt, David, Salomon and his temple, the queen of Saba, etc.) for political and theological reasons. These priests represented a monotheistic current opposed to figurative art and cult of the other divinities existing at all times among the Jewish population. Under the impulse of these priests, Josias undertook an iconoclastic movement described by chapter 23 of the 2nd Book of Kings43, which recalls the iconoclastic movement under Byzantium or the Reform. The two authors add that the archaeological discoveries show that Josias was far from eradicating the veneration of the images. They indicate that in dwelling quarters of all important sites of the end of the 7th century before J.-C., a large number of figurines have been discovered, representing a standing woman supporting her breasts with her hands (identified generally to goddess Asherah [wife of Jehovah44]). Therefore, at least for what concerns the private domain, this very popular cult appears to have continued, in spite of the instructions imposed by Jerusalem45.

The goddess Asherah wife of Jehovah 46

After the death of Josias, his successors put an end to the iconoclastic and monotheistic movement inspired by the priests of Jehovah and restored the idolatrous customs of the former kings of Judah47.

We can conclude therefore that in spite of the strict biblical interdiction (which was applied probably by the political authorities for a short period of about thirty years), figurative art and polytheism always existed among Jews, often provoking the anger of monotheistic Jewish religious groups.

4) Mishnah, Talmud and figurative art

The Mishnah comprises a tractate titled Aboda zara, foreign cult, taken over and commented by the Talmud. It insists on the interdiction of making a cult to the idols, either directly or indirectly. It indicates that it is necessary to avoid commercial relations with the pagans three days before and after their feasts, by fear that these relations serve to the pagan cult. The Talmud enters in casuistry to know for example if it is allowed to enjoy an income obtained accidentally from such a business48. The Mishnah makes an exception to this interdiction: "In a city where the idol is placed, interfering is forbidden inside, but not outside. And if outside, the inside is not forbidden. May one go to the city at that time? If the way leads to the idol only, it is forbidden, but if it leads also to another place, it is not". "If, during an idol festival in the city, some stores were there decorated, one must not buy from these stores, while he may from the others "49.

The Mishnah indicates the products that can be sold to pagans: "Fir-cones, white figs on their stems, frankincense, and a white cock. R. Jehudah, however, said: That a white cock may be sold among other cocks, and if singly, he has to cut off a finger of it, because the heathens do not sacrifice an animal of which an organ is missing. All other things may be sold anonymously, but if they say that they buy it for worshipping, one must not sell"50. Concerning construction, the Mishnah says: "One must not conjoin himself in building their court houses (from the roofs of which they usually throw the one who is sentenced to death, to be killed), gradus, arenas and scaffolds. However, in building monuments and bathhouses, one may. But when they reached that chamber in which their idols should be placed, he must stop"51. It indicates the objects (wine, vinegar, milk, cheese etc.) which are barred and the ones that are not allowed to be used if they concern idolatry52.

After these cautions, the Mishnah dedicates a chapter to the idols themselves as objects, either statues or pictures. It indicates that "all images are prohibited, for they are worshipped at least once a year", according to the recommendation of Rabbi Meir. But others affirm that are prohibited "only those that have in their hand a staff, a bird or a sphere". The Talmud explains: "This prohibition is based upon the following reasons: The staff in the hand of the idol is an indication that it submits itself to the whole world. The bird in the hand of the idol indicates that, like the bird, it sacrifices itself for the world. Finally, the sphere is to indicate that it sacrifices itself for the whole globe". It adds. "The rabbis allow only the use of city images, as these are but ornaments and not idols, but they prohibit the images of the villages which are worshipped idols". The Mishnah indicates the controversies of the rabbis: if the idol is adored in a city, is it barred everywhere or only in that city? Can one except the idols raised to decorate the places? Can one look at them when they are standing or on the ground? Can one read the inscription placed below them the day of Saturday or the other days of the week? The Talmud of Jerusalem reports in this regard that "When rabbi Nahum bar Simai died, they covered up the icons with mats. They said: 'Just as he did not set eyes upon them when he was alive, so let his eyes not set upon them after death." It adds that this rabbi "never gazed upon the face of a coin in his entire life [to avoid seeing the idol inscribed thereon]"53. The Talmud does not say what walls this concerns: those of a mortuary chamber? of a synagogue? or of a house belonging to a Jew?

The Mishnah says: "If one finds fragments of images, he is allowed to use them. However, if he finds fragments in form of a hand or a foot, they are prohibited, for such are worshipped"54. It adds: "If one finds vessels with the image of the sun, moon, or of a dragon on them, he must throw them into the salt lake. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: Only when these vessels are of a distinguished character they are forbidden, while insignificant vessels with such images on are allowed"55

Can one enter a bath where there is an idol? The Mishnah reports the following fact:

Peroklas, the son of a philosopher, asked once R. Gamaliel at Ako, who was then bathing in the bath of the goddess Aphrodite: Your law prescribes [Deut. xiii. 17]: "Let nothing of the devoted objects cleave to thy hands"; why, then, do you bathe in the bath of Aphrodite? And he answered: Such questions are not answered--at a bathing place. After he had left the bath he said: I am not come into her domain, but it is she that is come into mine; truly, people do not say: The bath is erected to adorn the Aphrodite, but the Aphrodite is to ornate the bath; moreover, you would not agree for any amount of money to appear before your idol when you are naked or urinating. The Aphrodite, however, stands on the channel, and everybody urinates in front of her. The law says their gods, i.e., to say such toward whom one behaves with dignity inspired by something divine; while whatever does not inspire such a behaviour, is allowed56.

The Mishnah indicates how an idol can be profaned, and thereafter its material used: "By cutting off the tip of its ear, the point of the nose, or the ends of the fingers, or by disfiguring its face with a hammer, even if thereby nothing is broken off. But if he only spat or urinated before it, dragged it about in the dirt, or cast such upon it, it is not profaned" 57. It adds: "An idol abandoned by its worshippers in time of peace is allowed, but is forbidden when abandoned in time of war. Altars erected for kings are allowed, for the idol is put on them only when the kings pass"58.

5) Interdiction between rigorists and liberals

The above stated passages of the Mishnah and the Talmud relate divergent opinions of the rabbis, oscillating between active rigorists and tolerant liberals. Rigorism is manifest in the first century. Speaking of the Jews, Tacit (died 120) writes:

Quite different is their faith about things divine. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperors59.

This rigorism is confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (died 100), who belonged to the Pharisians' sect. Josephus blames Salomon because "he sinned, and fell into an error about the observation of the laws, when he made the images of brazen oxen that supported the brazen sea, and the images of lions about his own throne; for these he made, although it was not agreeable to piety so to do"60. Named commander of Galilee, one of his first measures was to "demolish that house which Herod the tetrarch had built there, and which had the figures of living creatures in it, although our laws have forbidden us to make any such figures"61.

Replying to Apion who blames the Jews for not making statues of emperors, Josephus writes:

Accordingly, since the Grecians and some other nations think it a right thing to make images, nay, when they have painted the pictures of their parents, and wives, and children, they exult for joy; and some there are who take pictures for themselves of such persons as were no way related to them; nay, some take the pictures of such servants as they were fond of; what wonder is it then if such as these appear willing to pay the same respect to their princes and lords? But then our legislator hath forbidden us to make images, not by way of denunciation beforehand, that the Roman authority was not to be honoured, but as despising a thing that was neither necessary nor useful for either God or man; and he forbade them, as we shall prove hereafter, to make these images for any part of the animal creation, and much less for God himself, who is no part of such animal creation. Yet hath our legislator no where forbidden us to pay honours to worthy men, provided they be of another kind, and inferior to those we pay to God; with which honours we willingly testify our respect to our emperors, and to the people of Rome62.

Josephus reports in detail several events demonstrating the objection of the Jews to picture:

- When Emperor Caius (Caligula) decided, in spite of the warnings of a delegation led by Philo, to raise a statue of himself in the temple of Jerusalem, the people revolted. Only the emperor's sudden death allowed to give up the project and to calm the people63.

- Herod "had erected over the great gate of the temple a large golden eagle, of great value, and had dedicated it to the temple. Now the law forbids those that propose to live according to it, to erect images or representations of any living creature". Taking advantage of the rumour that the king had died, young men felt more audacious and wanted to demolish the eagle with axes. But they and their instigators were stopped and executed64.

- Pilate, the procurator of Judea, "removed the army from Cesarea to Jerusalem, to take their winter quarters there, in order to abolish the Jewish laws. So he introduced Caesar's effigies, which were upon the ensigns, and brought them into the city; whereas our law forbids us the very making of images; on which account the former procurators were wont to make their entry into the city with such ensigns as had not those ornaments. Pilate was the first who brought those images to Jerusalem, and set them up there; which was done without the knowledge of the people, because it was done in the night time; but as soon as they knew it, they came in multitudes to Cesarea, and interceded with Pilate many days that he would remove the images; and when he would not grant their requests, because it would tend to the injury of Caesar, while yet they persevered in their request, on the sixth day he ordered his soldiers to have their weapons privately, while he came and sat upon his judgment-seat, which seat was so prepared in the open place of the city, that it concealed the army that lay ready to oppress them; and when the Jews petitioned him again, he gave a signal to the soldiers to encompass them routed, and threatened that their punishment should be no less than immediate death, unless they would leave off disturbing him, and go their ways home. But they threw themselves upon the ground, and laid their necks bare, and said they would take their death very willingly, rather than the wisdom of their laws should be transgressed; upon which Pilate was deeply affected with their firm resolution to keep their laws inviolable, and presently commanded the images to be carried back from Jerusalem to Cesarea"65.

- Vitellus, governor of Syria, prepared to "make war with Aretas, having with him two legions of armed men; he also took with him all those of light armature, and of the horsemen which belonged to them, and were drawn out of those kingdoms which were under the Romans, and made haste for Petra, and came to Ptolemais. But as he was marching very busily, and leading his army through Judea, the principal men met him, and desired that he would not thus march through their land; for that the laws of their country would not permit them to overlook those images which were brought into it, of which there were a great many in their ensigns; so he was persuaded by what they said, and changed that resolution of his which he had before taken in this matter"66.

The texts of Josephus show that the civil authorities had a different attitude different from that of the religious authorities, to the point of installing an eagle above the big door of the temple. Josephus also reports in this regard that Alexandra, stepmother of Herod, made the portraits of her two children Cristobel and Marimbas and sent them to the emperor Antony67. The coins minted by Herod Philippe II, son of Herod the Great (4 before J.C-34 after J-C), carry on one side the emperor's effigy, and on the other the temple of Jerusalem; same with the currency of Agrippa I (37-44) and Agrippa II (48-100)68. The currency of the insurgents, however, comprise no human effigy, but a chalice on one side and a lily or a branch carrying three pomegranates on the other. One coin found shows a new mark that obviously replaced the original intolerable picture of Herod Agrippa69.

After the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 and the Pharisians' loss of power, the Jewish religious authorities tolerated the introduction of figurative art, either to preserve the livelihood of Jewish artisans and tradesmen, or to permit a dialog with contemporaries accustomed to this symbolic language70. This liberalism is manifest in the texts of the Mishnah and the Talmud that we quoted. It ended up penetrating even the synagogues. The archaeological excavations demonstrated that the walls of numerous Jewish synagogues have been decorated abundantly with frescos. The best known example is the synagogue, dating from the first part of the third century after Christ, discovered in Doura-Europos, a Syrian city on the western side of the Middle Euphrates. It shows the ark, the temple, Moses guiding the people, Esther, the resurrection of the deaths under the eyes of Ezekiel.

Scenes from the Book of Esther in Doura-Europos71

Several synagogues dating from the first centuries of our era have been discovered in Palestine. We see there pavements of mosaic, where the signs of the zodiac are represented72. This liberalism was vitiated by thrusts of rigorism. Some Jewish iconoclasts hammered the animal patterns of the relieves of Capharnaum, while the vegetable patterns were left unscathed; others demolished the mosaic of Ain Duk, close to Jericho, breaking the representation of zodiacal signs out of it without touching the Hebrew or Aramaic inscriptions; others reduced the signs of the zodiac in the synagogue of Ein Gedi to the Hebrew names73.

6) Is there a modern Jewish art?

The second Commandment maintains its strength even in our time, causing distrust with regard to art. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch said in the 19th century: "You must wherever and whenever you can, destroy all visible signs of idolatry. He who obtains possession of an idol… must destroy it, pulverize it and scatter in into wind or water"74. The American artist Maurice Sterne recalled that as a child living in a small Russian town he had been punished by his Rabbi for drawing a picture of the man on the ground with a stick. A great uncle of Chagall is said to have refused to give his hand to his young nephew on learning that he drew. Earlier in that century, a young sculptor, Joseph Engel, was instructed by his Rabbi to mutilate all the human faces that he had sculpted75. An opinion of rabbi Abraham Isaac haKohen Kook, dating 1930, says: "In regard to your question on a matter of Torah, namely the placement and making of an image of a man's head with half his body, i.e., a bust: indeed, from Shulkhan Arukh it is clear that the prohibition of either creating a human image or keeping a prexisting image applies only to a complete image with all its limbs, but there is no prohibition against forming or keeping a head, or a torso alone". But he adds: "The holy spirit of Judaism is opposed to all idols of humans, and happy is the lot of he who is able to deter… those who wish to erect an idol, even in the form of a bust"76.

Paraphrasing Emmanuel Levinas, Anthony Julius writes that "The image is an idol. Images bewitch the most lucid writer; as for the artist, he practices idolatry. Every art work is in the end a statue; every statue denies time, that is, the historicity of our world. The denial of historicity, which is an embracing of fate, is pagan. Art is pagan, and it is also Christianity's concession to paganism, a concession that Judaism itself is not required to make. Great art is non-Jewish art, accessible to Jews thanks to that they live among Christians"77.Quoting the Midrash: "Who is a Jew? One who testifies against idols", he thinks that the Jewish art is one that respects the second Commandment78. This attitude is seen in the following trends followed by Jewish artists:

1) Some prefer abstract art like Chagall, Soutine, Modigliani and Kitaj79. Three of the leading abstract expressionists were Jewish by origin: Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb80. The absence of human representation, or the presence of inadequate human forms characterize Jewish painting. It is what one calls aniconic art.

2) Some resort to irony. Shulkhan Arukh (work of Caro, d. 1575) says "All kinds of mockery are forbidden, except mockery of idols which is permitted". Maryan S. Maryan's Personage with donkey ears (1962) is a good example of just this kind of sanctioned mockery81.

3) Some practice creative iconoclasm. Instead of destroying the statues erected by the soviet system, they use them like artistic space. Marx's statue, rather than being evacuated, is put in a reversed position suspended from a crane. The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the soviet secret police, remains in front of the KGB headquarters, but is supplemented with bronze figures representing the people who climbed it, in 1991, to put a noose around its neck. It is therefore about making something new of what already exists. The goal is to retain the memory and to prevent that other gods come to replace them82. Julius estimates that leftist Israeli artists are developing a political iconoclasm while tackling the idolatry of the land83.

7) Maimonides, victim of his writings

May 25, 2005, the Israeli press84 reported a debate around installing a statue of Maimonides in Tiberias to mark the 800th anniversary of his death and burial in the city. The statue, created by an Israeli sculptor native of Fez in Morocco where Maimonides had lived for a certain time, was to be placed at Tiberias' "Cordoba Square". However, the plan for the statue in Tiberias was cancelled. The reason: objections on the part of local rabbis. "You shall not make for yourself any graven idol or any image", the rabbis ruled and threatened a political crisis. Maimonides himself, in his writings, prohibited the carving of graven images in a statue. Instead of erecting the statue in Tiberias, it was decided to place it in the city of Fez, with the blessing of the king of Morocco.

Statue of Maimonides85 replaced by his name on a wall in Tiberias86

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