Visu­al Arts

The Illu­mi­nat­ed Torah: Paint­ings and Essays on the Week­ly Portions

Avn­er Mori­ah and Shu­lamit Laderman
  • Review
By – February 1, 2016

The Illu­mi­nat­ed Torah is the col­lab­o­ra­tive work of con­tem­po­rary Israeli artist Avn­er Mori­ah and art his­to­ri­an Shu­lamit Lader­man. One feels phys­i­cal­ly engulfed in the illus­trat­ed sto­ries upon open­ing this large for­mat, col­or-burst­ing book. At first glance each image seems to relay an over­all expla­na­tion of one of the 54 Bib­li­cal sto­ries. How­ev­er, with a sec­ond look the view­er begins to notice whim­si­cal details, placed by Mori­ah per­haps to express an ele­ment of the sto­ry that is not usu­al­ly con­sid­ered or to express a lay­er of the sto­ry that Mori­ah relates to in a per­son­al man­ner. Through vary­ing his choice of col­or, com­po­si­tion, sub­jects and whim­sy, Mori­ah takes the role of com­men­ta­tor, with Lader­man on his side as our trans­la­tor of his visu­al lan­guage. Mori­ah does not shy away from express­ing his own under­stand­ing of Bib­li­cal sto­ries that may seem con­trary to tra­di­tion­al expla­na­tions. For the sto­ry of Va-yera, the artist great­ly sym­pa­thizes with Abra­ham when he is told to sac­ri­fice his son. He choos­es to express Abra­ham and Isaac respond­ing to the test that God had put before them in a touch­ing yet dis­traught human way. Isaac is not por­trayed as the coop­er­a­tive son as we were taught to believe, will­ing­ly going along with God’s plan. Rather, Mori­ah por­trays Abra­ham, knife in at hand, lead­ing a fear­ful Isaac along the path. The marks cre­at­ing the moun­tains that these two fore­fa­thers climb are ren­dered in a jar­ring style, build­ing a feel­ing of sus­pense. But there are also sto­ries which Mori­ah choos­es to express accord­ing to a tra­di­tion­al understanding,yet they still radi­ate a vibrant ener­gy. This is true for the illus­tra­tions of the break­ing of the tablets, in which fiery oranges and blues dom­i­nate the page and exude tragedy, or the sto­ry of Moses barred from enter­ing Israel. Even for these inci­dents, which seem to have very clear expla­na­tions, Lader­man sheds light on the moments and on details of Moriah’s work that we might not have tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion. Lader­man pre­cise­ly nav­i­gates the view­er through this com­plex art­work with sim­plic­i­ty and ease. It is dif­fi­cult to avoid the temp­ta­tion of flip­ping through the images of The Illu­mi­nat­ed Torah, for the images alone cre­ate a thought­ful­ly paced visu­al nar­ra­tive of the 54 sto­ries pre­sent­ed. Mori­ah’s sense of pac­ing seems intu­itive, and it is clear that while each page was giv­en close atten­tion upon their cre­ation, he also took into con­sid­er­a­tion how the images as a col­lec­tion would flow. While there are grand­ly craft­ed full page illus­tra­tions, such as the cre­ation sto­ry, or the giv­ing of the Torah, Mori­ah includes pre­cious small­er yet incred­i­bly ele­gant illus­tra­tions that give off just as much ener­gy as the full page pieces. For those well versed in all 54 sto­ries of the Torah and those who are not, The Illu­mi­nat­ed Torah is sure to bring fresh insight to all who choose this as a guide to accom­pa­ny their Torah study.

Relat­ed Content:

Jes­si­ca Deutsch is a New York based artist. She earned a BFA in illus­tra­tion at Par­sons school of Design. Her work explores the inter­sec­tion of lofty spir­i­tu­al teach­ings and mod­ern life.

Discussion Questions