Conventional wisdom holds that Judaism is indifferent or even suspiciously hostile to the visual arts due to the Second Commandment's prohibition on creating "graven images," the dictates of monotheism, and historical happenstance. This intellectual history of medieval and modern Jewish attitudes toward art and representation overturns the modern assumption of Jewish iconophobia that denies to Jewish culture a visual dimension.
Kalman Bland synthesizes evidence from medieval Jewish philosophy, mysticism, poetry, biblical commentaries, travelogues, and law, concluding that premodern Jewish intellectuals held a positive, liberal understanding of the Second Commandment and did, in fact, articulate a certain Jewish aesthetic. He draws on this insight to consider modern ideas of Jewish art, revealing how they are inextricably linked to diverse notions about modern Jewish identity that are themselves entwined with arguments over Zionism, integration, and anti-Semitism.
Through its use of the past to illuminate the present and its analysis of how the present informs our readings of the past, this book establishes a new assessment of Jewish aesthetic theory rooted in historical analysis. Authoritative and original in its identification of authentic Jewish traditions of painting, sculpture, and architecture, this volume will ripple the waters of several disciplines, including Jewish studies, art history, medieval and modern history, and philosophy.
"The research for this work reflects a great and careful scholarly effort...Highly recommended."--Choice "Bland has shown that the whole question of whether Jews are 'rtless' is a construction of modern thought, and has little to do with pre-modern Jews... An excellent counterweight to the vast literature that claims that Jews and Judaism are visually handicapped."--Steven Fine, Baltimore Hebrew University and the University of Cincinnati, for CAA.Reviews "A highly recommended building-block text for further study into the relationship between Judaism and visual art."--Religious Studies Review "Bland's carefully researched book offers an erudite riposte to post-Kantian aesthetic theory and an unusually useful account of the image in Medieval and Renaissance Jewish culture... [It] unsettles many received ideas and unearths many buried texts that change our notions of Jewish visual culture."--Adam Bresnick, Times Literary Supplement "Bland does an excellent job of convincing us ... of the high status of visual production in ancient, medieval and early modern Jewish societies."--Pamela Kachurin, The Art Book