Judaica, Jewish Art, Jewish Ephemera and More

 

Art at the Center has been in existence for many years as a physical site and as a website. We are revising our website and will include a blog to discuss relevant topics that deal with selling Judaica, Jewish Art, Jewish Ephemera and anything of Jewish cultural interest.

 

Judaica

Judaica is any object or text used to practice and observe Jewish commandments, or to celebrate and portray its customs, philosophy and way of life. (taken from Judaica-guide.com) – a good definition that covers not only ceremonial objects, but all culturally interesting items. Two examples that the definition covers well are the Judenshtern and the decorative papercut:

18th C Yuden ShternShadur papercut - Psalm-122

 

The Judenshtern is not a ritual item but it was culturally important for celebrating Shabbes in a European orthodox home. The Shadur papercut is an attractive illumination of the text of Psalm 121 – culturally interesting as well a work of art, although not used ritually.

 

But this next poster is not covered within the definition. An Asian boy eating a sandwich made with Levy’s rye does not truly portray Jewish customs, philosophy or way of life.


Levy's Rye Bread Poster - Japanese boy

 

Jews do eat rye bread, as do many others. But Levy’s Rye, at least in the 60’s when this poster was published, was only a pale approximation of real Jewish rye. And the poster was directed primarily to a non-Jewish audience. However, the poster and six others in the series, were designed to advertise the Levy’s Bread Company in the the New York City subway system. The ad campaign was sociologically significant at the time. Before then, the Jewish community,when possible, kept out of the spotlight for fear of rousing the anti-semitism that still existed in the U.S. This and other historically significant items we want included in our gallery; and so we need a more expansive definition of items for our gallery.

 

Jewish Art

Discussions on Jewish art have been ongoing over the past two centuries – whether there is such a thing as Jewish art; and if so, whether that art is iconic or aniconic. For a full discussion see, “The Artless Jew – Medieval and Modern Affirmations and Denials of the Visuals” by Kalman P. Bland, Princeton University Press, 2000). The comments here are my brief restatement of sections in Bland’s book.
Both Jewish and non-Jewish scholars have argued that the commandment Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image is a prohibition against iconic art – any representation of humans or animals. Or, Jewish art is aniconic. Some have gone even further, suggesting there is no viable Jewish art. Often this denial has been a theme among anti-semites. For example, Richard Wagner ( The Art Work of the Future, 1849) praised the ancient Greeks who created visual beauty for its “humanistic significance” and criticized contemporary Jews for producing art only for its “commercial, pragmatic value”. Other 19th century Germans proposed that art was a national endeavor; and since Jews were not a nation, they could not be artists. But even some Jews would argue against a Jewish art. Harold Rosenberg, an important New York art critic proposed that “while Jews produce art, they don’t produce Jewish art” (Commentary, 1966). And Cynthia Ozick wrote:

They (gifted Jews) have never, up until times so recent that they scarcely begin to count, been plastic artists. Where is the Jewish Michelangelo, the Jewish Rembrandt, the Jewish Rodin?…Well there have been artists among the Jews – artisans, we should more likely call them, decorators of trivial ceremonial objects, a wine cup here, a scroll cover there. Talented a bit, but nothing great.

Presumably Cynthia Ozick, who wrote this in 1971, knew about the Jewish abstract impressionists, among whom were the great artists Lee Krasner and her husband Jackson Pollack, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, Mark Rothko, Phillip Guston. Did she really mean to dismiss them so glibly, or maybe they were just too recent to be considered at all. It is ,thus, ironic that later Sid Chafetz, a Jewish artist, illustrated, with decidedly Jewish themes, a book of her poems, Epodes.

 

Chafetz Epodes print - Couple

Kalman Bland spends considerable effort in his text to point out that there is and has been significant Jewish art, both iconic and aniconic, dating from at least Byzantine times. We certainly believe this thesis and include among the many items in our store Jewish art produced by Jewish artists . For example, these sensitive portraits by the German artist Herman Struck.

 

 

Jewish Ephemera

In Wikipedia Ephemera (singular: ephemeron) is defined as “any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved. The word derives from the Greek, meaning things lasting no more than a day.” But no matter how ephemeral an article is meant to be, someone will want to collect it; for example –  catalogues, greeting cards, letters, pamphlets, postcards posters, tickets of all kinds, and even paper wrapped sugar cubes. Just one example of Jewish ephemera is this store card from Israel advertising Telma tea.

Telma - store card
But ephemera is also in the mind’s eye. Posters in particular can be seen as a form of art and not just ephemeral. For example, the 19th c. French artists Bonnard and Toulouse Lautrec designed posters that are highly collectible. But this is a topic that I hope to come back to at a later time since we specialize in Jewish posters.

 

Jewish Items   everything else

Certainly, there are more more types of items, that would add interest, and some of these these you will also find in our inventory. For example, books; we admire “picture” books and you will find a number of these in the gallery.

So, if you haven’t yet, please come in, visit us, and leave any comments that may help us.