Date(s) - 03/01/2017 - 02/28/2018
by Sasha Stern, C0-director of the Brooklyn Jewish Art Gallery at Congregation Kol Israel
The mission of the American Guild of Judaic Art is to “celebrate the rich diversity and sacred beauty of Judaic Art around the world, and to establish a community for those who are inspired to fulfill the commandment of Hiddur Mitzvah by creating, collecting and exhibiting Jewish Art.” Through a wide variety of media, technique, style, and symbol each artist in this year’s exhibition celebrates the commandments, ideals, and elementary units of Jewish thought and observance.
An exquisite object can elevate practice and a beautiful image will provoke reflection. All of the works in this exhibit exemplify the commandment of Hiddur Mitzvah (the beautification of a mitzvah); the capacity for aesthetics to transform and enhance actions and ideas.
Picture a congregant who walks into a synagogue and kisses an evocative mezuzah. She gazes at a striking ner tamid while donning a handwoven tallit. As she is called up to the torah, she chants out loud, using a sleek yad to maintain her pace. As she leaves the building she drops a few coins into an architectural tzdakah box.
For celebration and practice of the holidays she uses a Chanukkiah that sprouts from intricate botanical metalwork and a dreidel is enhanced with color and shine. The illustration on her seder plate reminds the user of the connection between the practice of Passover rituals and the biblical story behind the holiday. She excitedly puts on her sparkling Purim mask with baroque beading in preparation for megillah reading. At the conclusion of Shabbat or a holiday she celebrates the transition with a jewelry-like besamim box.
Ritual practice can easily become rote; the same prayers said many times a day, weekly observance of Shabbat, and the annual cycle of holidays. When an artist creates a ritual object that serves more than just a functional purpose, the revolution is arrested.
Artworks also engage with the practice of Hiddur Mitzvah by compelling the viewer to reevaluate their connection to, and understanding of, Jewish beliefs and values. This exhibition includes abstract depictions of fundamental Jewish concepts such as lashon hara, Aliyah, and sanctuary and representational illustrations of the joy at a wedding celebration, tenants of faith, and biblical stories. The building blocks of Hebrew language, mystical meanings of Hebrew letters, life, birth, renewal, and faith are also portrayed symbolically and literally. These works enthrall the viewer and spur internal dialogue. Complicated and difficult foundational Jewish concepts are often most easily expressed aesthetically. These interpretations act as mirrors for the viewer to consider her own Jewish life.
The concept of Hiddur Mitzvah compels the reciprocal relationship between beauty and Jewish belief and practice. Each of the artists in this exhibition demonstrate how their Judaism has spurred them to create beauty. These artworks, in turn, enhance the Jewish belief and practice of their audience.