Visu­al Arts

500 Judaica: Inno­v­a­tive Con­tem­po­rary Rit­u­al Art

Ray Hemachan­dra, ed.; Daniel Belas­co, fwd.
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Exem­plary pho­tographs of 500 con­tem­po­rary cer­e­mo­ni­al art and rit­u­al objects, this book is a pure­ly visu­al record, accom­pa­nied by a min­i­mum of text, most­ly just the mate­r­i­al spec­i­fi­ca­tions relat­ing to the image. The select­ed works are the cre­ations of 180 artists, the major­i­ty of whom are from the Unit­ed States and Israel, but also includ­ed are artists from Aus­tralia, Cana­da, sev­er­al Euro­pean cities, New Zealand, and South Amer­i­ca.

The intro­duc­tion, writ­ten by Daniel Belas­co, out­lines three main areas of artis­tic influ­ences that are reflect­ed in the objects: the craft tra­di­tion which uti­lizes folk motifs and local orna­men­ta­tion, abstract forms of the inter­na­tion­al style (sim­ple unor­na­ment­ed lines) that orig­i­nat­ed in the post World War I peri­od in Europe, and Post Mod­ernism, which Belas­co describes as a style begun in the 1970’s with artists inter­est­ed in reen­gag­ing mod­ernism with the past…and expand­ing the ref­er­ences of Jew­ish rit­u­al objects to con­nect the sacred to every­day life.”

Objects that are includ­ed run the usu­al gamut of Hanukkiot (meno­rahs) Sab­bath can­dle­sticks, Yads (Torah point­ers) Mezu­zot, Seder Plates, Spice Box­es, Etrog box­es, Drei­dels, Purim Grog­gers (noise­mak­ers), syn­a­gogue rit­u­al objects such as arks, eter­nal lamps, and torah finials and man­tles. More unusu­al objects are the fem­i­nist inspired items and some one-of-a-kind pieces such as the lulav hold­er or the kad­dish stones. Mate­ri­als used by the var­i­ous artists include pris­tine as well as indus­tri­al met­als, wood, ceram­ic, beads and stones, and found objects.

Fab­ric and paper art are also rep­re­sent­ed in chal­lah cov­ers, tefill­in and tal­it bags and ketub­bot (mar­riage con­tracts).

 Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there is no rec­og­niz­able order in which the pho­tographs are orga­nized— not the­mat­ic, chrono­log­ic, alpha­bet­i­cal nor styl­is­tic. An index to the artists is found at the end but no bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion is giv­en, no descrip­tion of the tech­nique employed, nor an expla­na­tion about the func­tion­al­i­ty of the objects is includ­ed. Rather, not­ing that the glos­sary con­tains only very basic def­i­n­i­tions of the objects Belas­co dis­miss­es the omis­sions with Addi­tion­al resources are also eas­i­ly avail­able on the Inter­net.”

Belas­co, an assis­tant cura­tor at the Jew­ish Muse­um in New York, is list­ed as a juror.” He doesn’t divulge what the cri­te­ria for selec­tion in this vol­ume were, which in our era of full dis­clo­sure” can cause dis­trust.

Despite this caveat, peo­ple inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing their own Judaica or sim­ply know­ing what is avail­able for the enhance­ment of Jew­ish rit­u­al will find this a use­ful ref­er­ence work. Glossary.
Esther Nuss­baum, the head librar­i­an of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now edu­ca­tion and spe­cial projects coor­di­na­tor of the Halachic Organ Donor Soci­ety. A past edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World, she con­tin­ues to review for this and oth­er publications.

Discussion Questions