Rylands Haggadah Part I

Written on March 11, 2001

This is the Bread of Affliction (f.21b) The Rylands Haggadah (mid-14th Century Catalonia)

The Rylands Haggadah A Cry from Catalonia

I want to take you on a journey to a land where Jews once flourished. They even felt secure enough to make this masterful illuminated manuscript, the Rylands Haggadah. This Jewish community had been fully legitimate citizens of the Iberian Peninsula for over three hundred years as a minority population under first the Moslems and then the Christians. They were valued members of society, acting as doctors, ministers, financiers and diplomats. They had developed a sophisticated literature and poetry, not to mention some of the greatest thinkers in the Jewish world. Maimonidies and Judah Halevi were the children of this tolerant civilization.

Esther Before Ahasuerus By Artemisia Gentileschi

Written on February 24, 2001

Esther Before Ahasuerus

Whether it is Purim or not, it’s always a good time to see Artemisia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Artemisia Gentileschi is the artist who painted Esther before Ahasuerus. And who exactly is this Artemisia Gentileschi? Why, she is the most famous, and perhaps only, serious woman painter of 17th Century Italy.

Charlotte Salomon: Life Or Theater?
At The Jewish Museum

Written on February 11, 2001

Bales of Wheat

Charlotte Salomon's Legacy

What would do if you knew there was a play, a play with text and music, that told the story of one whole life. A Jewish life. The story of a young woman, told from before she was was born until her life was about to be taken away by the cruel horror of the Holocaust. Now I warn you, this is a life you might not approve of. Would you be curious?

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
Retrospective At Yeshiva University Museum

Written on February 04, 2001

Ludwig Borne (1831) by Moritz Oppenheim; Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main


Many of these paintings I do not like. Some I do. All of them are very important for us to look at and understand since Oppenheim’s work represents the seminal encounter between Jewish tradition and the challenges of the modern world.

This exhibition, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim; Jewish Identity in Nineteenth Century Art, presents over 90 paintings of the first and perhaps most famous Jewish artist of the 19th century. It presents all aspects of his very successful career and for the first time shows his depth and skill as a portraitist and as a genre painter. The exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum on 16th Street is beautifully hung and designed by Oliver Hirsch of Hircsh & Associates Fine Art Services. The show was organized by the Judisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main under the patronage of the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and is accompanied by a definitive catalogue raisonne published by the Frankfurt Jewish Museum. It must be seen by anyone interested in Jewish Art.

Ita Aber

Written on January 20, 2001

Rabbi with Torah

55 Year Retrospective Exhibition

Ita Aber is a very unusual artist. Her work is in almost every major Jewish museum throughout the world. She is a master of the Fabric Arts, which is, by its very nature, an interdisciplinary field. As practiced by Ita Aber the fabric arts explodes in scale to include the diverse skills of embroidering, beadwork, sewing, appliqué, silkscreen, jewelry design, weaving, painting, sculpture and assemblage. The stunning range of her talents is reflected in the vast array of art work and Judaic objects she has produced. From wall hangings, jewelry and sculpture to Torah covers, ethrog boxes and purim masks, there is practically no area of Judaica or three dimensional art that is not represented here at the Broome Street Gallery in a retrospective covering 55 years of her very successful career. In addition, her diverse career is not limited to her work as an artist. She is also a conservator of textiles, an art historian, a curator, teacher and author of The Art of Judaic Needlework: Traditional and Contemporary Designs (Scribner 1979).

Itshak Holtz

Written on January 20, 2001

Rabbi with Torah

Jewish Genre Painting

Itshak Holtz is an artist totally immersed in the Jewish genre. He was born in Poland, grew up in Israel, mainly in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, and for the last thirty-five years he has maintained homes in both New York and Jerusalem. He is comfortably rooted in a Jewish life of religiosity, love of Israel and respect for the Jewish experience in the Diaspora. Holtz is a thoroughly modern Jew; a cosmopolitan with deep roots in Israel and America, who is also a highly successful painter specializing in one aspect of his own history and reality, Jewish genre painting.

Isidor Kaufmann - Shabbos

Written on October 23, 2000

Friday Evening, ca. 1920 Oil on canvas, 28” X 35” Jewish Museum; Gift of Mr. & Mrs. M. R. Schweitzer

We must be very quiet in front of this painting. It exudes a stillness and peace that envelopes us and makes us lower our voices. We whisper, “Shabbos has come!”

And as we stand in the special section of the Jewish Museum’s permanent collection devoted to Shabbos, we can see that this late and unfinished painting by Isidor Kaufmann has a special message for us to take home for Shabbos.

The Biblical Painters Journey

Written on September 12, 2000

Sodom Oil on Canvas by Richard McBee

Come on a journey with me, to a time when four artists were young, idealistic and filled with a passion to remake their world and create a new vision in response to a sterile and empty art world. It was the mid-70’s, the vibrancy of abstract expressionism was long gone and the art world was cranking out smaller and shorter ‘movements’ one after another with less visual interest and more intellectual cynicism. Painting was declared dead and media glitz was offered as an answer to our cultural malaise. A small group of artists in downtown Manhattan declared that it was still possible to do meaningful figurative painting and out of that group these four choose the subject matter of the Bible as their banner.

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
A Painting In Grisaille At The Jewish Museum

Written on August 26, 2000

Paschal Eve (1867) Oil on Canvas by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim Gift of Oscar and Regina Gruss Charitable and Educational Foundation, Inc. Photo John Parnell, New York


This image of the Passover Seder by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882) was found in almost every German Jewish 19th century home as part of the immensely popular graphic albums called “Pictures of Traditional Jewish Family Life”. In a previous Jewish Arts column I discussed the background and historical significance of Oppenheim’s work. Now I would like to look at one of these paintings in detail. The tools of our encounter with a work of art are an analysis of what we are seeing, how has the artist made this image and what meaning is communicated.

Inventing a Past: Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
Pictures Of Traditional Jewish Family Life At The Jewish Museum

Written on August 26, 2000

The Volunteer (Detail) Moritz Daniel Oppenheim

For Moritz Oppenheim (1800 - 1882) the world had changed irreparably since his childhood in Hanau, Germany. He grew up in a devout home in the ghetto, traditionally schooled in heder and Talmud Torah until 1806, when Napoleon’s army came and brought the French Revolution to Germany. The Jews were emancipated and the ghetto gates were torn down. Moritz went to secular school and soon after distinguished himself in the Hanau Drawing Academy. His world expanded beyond the ghetto and he studied art in Frankfurt, Munich, Paris and especially Rome. By 1825 he had returned to Frankfurt to begin a successful career as a painter of Old and New Testament scenes and society portraits. As the first a major Jewish artist of the new enlightened and Romantic age, he achieved a success that for a Jew would have been unthinkable 25 years before. He became known as the painter of the Rothschilds and the portraitist of the Jewish bourgeoisie and settled into an in upper middle class life in Frankfurt.

The Steinberger Succah
At The Museum of Jewish Heritage

Written on July 25, 2000

Text panel and biblical scene; Steinberger Succah; Museum of Jewish Heritage

The Museum of Jewish Heritage, located at the southern edge of Battery Park City in Manhattan, attempts (and largely succeeds) to make sense of the last century of Jewish life. The first floor, “Jewish Life a Century Ago”; presents the diverse and extensive Jewish world in Europe prior to the Holocaust.

The Wrestle in Steel by Grisha Bruskin at the Jewish Museum

Written on June 27, 2000

The Wrestle in Steel by Grisha Bruskin at the Jewish Museum

Focus. Focus is what you need as you enter the contemporary art section in the Jewish Museum’s permanent collection. In the previous room there is a constant video voice expressing opinions of contemporary Jews concerning a Jewish future. On the right wall there is a black and magenta painting of Barbara Streistand as Yentl, bright and big. On the left, some abstract sculpture. But you must focus on the stainless steel sculpture called The Wrestle right in the middle of the room. A flat cut out silhouette in dull steel. It is hard to see with all this visual and audio background noise and distraction.