JEWISH ART THROUGH HEBREW ALPHABET
- The significance of the Hebrew language in Judaism
The Men of the Great Assembly established the order of prayers used to this day. Among other things, we tell G-d: “You chose us from every people and language.” The Sages explain that out of sheer persistence, the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish people never abandoned their ancient tongue.
- Origin of the Hebrew alphabet
Hebrew is called Holy Tongue (Lashon HaKodesh), in which because – our Sages tell us – it is the language in which G-d Himself created the universe.
While the language is very ancient, for very important reasons, the writing of the alphabet changed throughout history, differing when the Jewish People were settled in Israel during the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem, changing during the Babylonian and Persian Exiles, changing again during the Second Temple period in Israel and Babylonia, and finally assuming its current form during the Roman Exile that continues to this day.
- The philosophy
Before and during the period of Egyptian slavery, when the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and his henchmen first sought to absorb and then attempted to totally subjugate the Jews in backbreaking slavery, the Jewish People’s stalwart adherence to their ancient tongue – Hebrew – was one of the three factors that prevented assimilation and destruction of peoplehood. (the others were that the Jewish People kept their dress and their traditional names).
- Facts about the Hebrew language
Each letter, and each configuration of multiple letters, contains within it layers of deeper meanings. Each Hebrew letter and letter combination also has layers of numerological meanings as well. Thus, Hebrew is indeed a deep and beautiful language.
- Role of Hebrew alphabet in the art
While Menucha Page has abstract pieces, in her various works the Hebrew letters play a central role and confer deeper meaning on her work . Menucha ties the deeper meanings of the letters to the art itself, thus harnessing ancient wisdom to modern artistic techniques.
- Difference between an ancient and modern Jewish art
Much of the ancient Jewish art has been lost. It is said that Betzalel, who crafted the beautiful ritual objects for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the Wilderness, later taken and incorporated into the Temple in Jerusalem, was above all a Torah scholar, understanding the Hidden Torah that allowed him to tie Heaven and Earth to one another. With the long Roman Exile, the Jewish People devoted their artistic techniques into lovely illuminated holy works, such as the Pesach Haggadas that emerged from every corner of the Diaspora. In addition, they lovingly crated the objects and fixtures of their Synagogues and Study Halls.
Jewish art was also influenced by the non-Jewish culture surrounding them, most signfiicantly in the development of artistic techniques. Thus, for example, the Moroccan Jewish art differs markedly from German Jewish art. The Jewish sections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem reflects these cultural differences.
Today, there are traditional themes that repeat themselves quite often – the Jewish marital canopy (Chuppah), dancing Chassidim, the faces of great Rabbinical figures, etc.
Menucha Page seeks to bring contemporary techniques back to the ancient themes of the Torah, and her works are quite unique in that synergy on today’s Jewish and Torah art scenes.
- Where can you find Jew values imbibed contemporary Israeli art?
Contemporary Israeli art varies tremendously, some of it not containing particularly Jewish themes, but rather universal and universalist themes (sadness, alienation, love, etc.). More traditional art in Israel often focuses on beloved Holy sites in the Land of Israel, or scenes of Jewish weddings, learning Torah, etc. This has become a popular genre among Torah observant Jews the world over.
Yet contemporary mixed media works, incorporating painting, drawing, plastic arts, and photography together with ancient Jewish themes and subject matter is still rare.