The newest study track in Judaism and the Arts at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies is off to a fantastic start. In partnership with the Kubiya Art School down the road from Schechter, this unique program holds joint courses in Jewish Art that combine theory and practice. The aim of the program is to expose the students to the wealth inherent in Jewish creativity throughout the generations, and to make them active partners in this work. The courses include hand-on experience in a variety of techniques: sculpture, drawing and painting, ceramics and more. The program also deals with the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the concepts of beauty and aesthetics in Judaism, while examining the boundaries of Jewish creativity then and today. The first cohort began in Fall 2017 and students are thoroughly excited about their learning and the exciting possibilities the program offers. Meet three students from the inaugural cohort: Na’ama, Dina and Tamar.
Na’ama Bartov holds a B.A. in Hebrew Literature and Islamic Studies and an M.A. in Mediterranean and North African Studies from Hebrew University. She works as a project coordinator at Hebrew University for the forthcoming edition of the Arabic-English Dictionary. Na’ama is an amateur ceramicist. She didn’t have any academic connection to Judaism or the arts and thought the program with the Kubiya was an amazing opportunity.
Dina Finkel lives in Efrat and was looking for a serious M.A. art program that was connected to Judaism. She trains teachers and is also an art teacher of students who are deaf and wanted to
deepen her own arts background. Dina comes from a Modern Orthodox background and did her first degree at a religious college. She has been thrilled with the pluralistic learning at Schechter: “It opens my eyes, we learn all sorts of things, how Christianity influences art and the impact of different theologies on Jewish art.”
Tamar Golan is a math and archaeology teacher and grade coordinator at the Masorti school in Talpiot. She said: “I looked for a place that combined hands-on art with theory and history, along with serious Jewish learning. Of all the places I investigated, Schechter offered the most options with the most flexibility.”
Tamar continued: “Studying here has helped me build a closer connection to Israel and to Jerusalem as someone who is secular. It’s not as if we see everything with rose-colored glasses. It is still with a critical eye. Each professor brings his or her perspective and ideas and allows us to develop our own. They give examples of how to be religious but also how to be a critical scholar.”
Na’ama, Dina and Tamar all particularly enjoyed the introductory course, The Second Commandment and its Application in Jewish Art, with the ceramic artist Shlomit Grant-Paldor from the Kubiya and Dr. Noa Yuval-Hacham, who serves as the Schechter M.A. track coordinator. The course examines the interpretative and practical aspects of the prohibition of creating a sculpture and a picture in Jewish visual work throughout the ages, and looks at the ways in which artists cope with the limitations imposed by Jewish tradition. Students examine the concepts of artistic prohibition and permission that each artist deals with in the course of their work, and are encouraged to create a personal approach to contemporary Jewish plastic works. The course takes place in a sculpture studio and offer three-dimensional work in a variety of techniques and materials.
Tamar enjoys “the connections between the courses. You feel the connection between the professors, that they are aware of how the different courses fit together. As a student, we get to meet students from all different backgrounds.”
Professors are “interested in everyone succeeding,” said Dina. “The studies are serious but in a very relaxed atmosphere. There is a family like atmosphere – everyone from the registrar to the librarian to the accountants are friendly and accessible.”
Dr. Yuval-Hacham is excited about the program and its growth: “The program is unique in that it is connected to sources, to theory and to creativity and it all comes from Jewish sources. There is no other program in the country that connects theory and practice in this unique Jewish way.”