Typographic Art in Jewish Ritual and Service

זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ
This is my God and I will glorify Him.
—Exodus 15:2 (Song of the Sea)

Growing up, I was largely unimpressed with Judaica. I got four kiddush cups for my bar mitzvah, every one of them baroque. Once I saw someone use a pair of elegant blue blown glass candlesticks for Shabbat and wondered why everything at the Judaica store was either straight out of 19th century Vienna or totally kitschy. During the course of my research into Hebrew typography, I discovered a lost world of Jewish arts and craft, one that inspires me in my quest to make Jewish work that is rooted in history but is still new and relevant today. There’s so much history here, and so much wonderful typography!1
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Notes   [ + ]

1. This essay is adapted from a lecture given at Temple Aliyah on March 26, 2015 as part of their Experiments in Spiritual Expression Adult Learning Series.

Hebrew Murals: Writing on the Wall

At that moment, the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lamp on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s color changed and his thoughts terrified him so that his hips became weak and his knees knocked together.
—Daniel 5:5-6

I’d like to apologize for leaving this blog for as long as I did. I’ve been busy. I spent the months of February and March coordinating and then painting murals around Los Angeles with my collaborator, Itamar Paloge (a.k.a. Faluja). Hebrew street art? Jewish graffiti? Sounds pretty awesome, right?

dura-europos synagogue

The western wall of the Dura-Europos synagogue with an ark facing Jerusalem. Photo credit unknown.

The roots of Jewish mural arts go way back to the earliest days of the Diaspora, if not earlier. The Dura-Europos synagogue in eastern Syria, completed in 244 AD, is famous not only for being one of the oldest synagogues yet found — and so well preserved — but for the paintings covering its walls. A whole collection of synagogues in northern Israel dating from the third to sixth centuries feature vivid mosaics of biblical and historical events. It’s even been proposed that the tradition of Christian iconography and manuscript illumination has its roots in this Jewish art form. Continue reading