Philosophers still discuss if such a phenomenon as Jewish Art exists; and if so, how it can be recognized.
Let me give you two extremely different definitions : Number one – There is no such thing as “Jewish Art.” Because according to Websters Dictionary, the term “people” referes toa group of persons who share a common culture, language or inherited condition of life in their own territory. The Jews lacked all this for 2000 years. Currently, the modern state of Israel has been officially in existence for sixty years. Therefore, according to these same philosophers, 60 years is much too short a time for the Jews of Israel to develop their own distinctive culture and art. So, no people, no problem.
Number two: Everything created by a Jewish Artist is Jewish art! If so, then Levi Strauss jeans and the film “Jaws” by Steven Spielberg are typical examples of Jewish Art of the 20th century.
Given these two erroneous extremes, is such a concept as Jewish Art relevant at all? Absolutely!!! Jewish art has its own name, given to it by the Creator, the God of Abraham, Yitzhak and Yacob.
To receive a name from God is a great thing! Let’s turn to the most authoritative source – The Torah (the Bible), and see what it says on this subject
We read in the book “Be-Midbar” (Numbers): ”I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations”.
So the people of Israel are not of this world. Therefore it follows that the art of this people does not belong to this world either. I would say that this art has a heavenly source and is directed towards the heavens…
There is a name that represents this art – Bezalel. Bezalel is the name given to the father of the Jewish Arts by the Creator Himself.
Who is this man – Bezalel? He was born in Egypt in a Jewish family approximately 35 centuries ago. In spite of his origins in the remote past, his name is well known in modern Israel – this is the name of the Academy of Arts in Jerusalem; and streets in some cities are named after him. This Art Midrash is dedicated to his name.
So, who was Bezalel? What is he famous for? Why does the Jewish tradition say that the Eternal God from the very beginning had written his name in the book together with the names of the kings and the prophets of Israel?
The 2nd book of Torah – “Exodus” or in Hebrew, “Shemot” (Names), begins with these words: “here are the names of the sons of Israel” – (ve elu a shemot bney israel). This shows us the importance of the message that is hidden within these names.
“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Ex. 31:2),
In calling Bezalel by name, God declared His calling to the artist whom He chose to create the sanctuary – (mishckan), for God.
Mishkan, by means of it’s appearance, was designed to express and to proclaim God’s presence or shechina. In the book of Exodus God says: “Ve asu li mickdash ve shahanti betoham”. “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”
The Tabernacle was built by Bezalel as a reflection of God’s temple in the heavens, and was a work of art of the highest quality.
God Himself had filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts… (in other words, God himself was the source of all of Bezalel’s abilities. The Holy One of Israel was Bezalel’s inspiration). There had been nothing like this project in the whole history of mankind, because God Himself had ordered it.
The LORD said to Moses and to all Israel, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Ex. 31:2), This is not just one of the numerous genealogies found in Torah. This is a special list of names. As we ponder the meanings of these names we discover something important.
Bezalel – Son of Uri
The full genealogy of Bezalel is written in the Scriptures 4 times! Four times – the Artist’s full genealogy! “Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah…”
Why does God pay so much attention to names? Because in the beginning, God created all things by giving them their names. To bestow a name means to create.
Torah starts with these specific words: “In the beginning God created…”. “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” (Ps.33:9)
“Ve ata ke omar adonai, bora-aha yaakov ve yozereha Israel, al tira ki gaaltiha, karati be shimha, li ata”. “But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Is.43:1).
In another words, “I am the One, who has said this word about you, and by doing this, I’ve created you, I’ve formed you, I’ve given you the name Israel, and by doing so I’ve declared my authority over you, and therefore you are mine. By giving you a name, I’ve made you to be Mine.
For artists and for each believer it is very important to delve into the meaning of these words and to understand God’s principle of creation through bestowing of names. As David said: “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” (Ps. 33:6).
This is the process of God’s creation. A name is a determination; it establishes a law of definition for the thing so named. By naming His creation, God establishes laws and decrees, and determines the boundaries for everything He creates.
When God gave the Levites His laws and decrees for ministering in the sanctuary and for serving as priests in the temple, He gave the law of creativity for the omanim – the Artists of Israel. This law is contained in the name “Bezalel”.
Footage from the Movie “Bezalel – Son of Light”
Each letter and each word combined to form the name Bezalel is a practical instruction. He gives this name Bezalel to a man, and by doing so, He establishes in him the foundation and forerunner of all Jewish Art. God created Jewish art and He gave His instructions for it.
The law of creativity or as I call it, the law of Bezalel, has the same importance for artists as do the laws of purity and sacrifices for the priests serving in the temple. This law is interpreted and explained in the full name of Bezalel – in his genealogy.
Let’s look at the genealogy of Bezalel, name by name, word by word, taking into account that the meaning and the essence of these names will give us the key to understanding what Jewish Art is. It will also help us to see the qualities of the Artist from God’s point of view.
to be continued..
DONATE to TORAH-ART PROJECT through Return to Zion Community