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Sculpture of Jewish Ritual and Jewish Values

Hosted By: Orange County Community Scholar Program (CSP)

In this series of three lectures, art historian Dr. Samuel Gruber explores the uneasy relationship between Jews, Judaism, and the art of sculpture. Mostly, he will introduce a wide variety of sculpted ritual metalwork from the 16th through the 21st centuries, and an even larger selection of representational and abstract sculpture made by dozens of Jewish artists from the late 19th century until today. Dr. Gruber will introduce us to works by little known but influential and inspired Jewish artists and to some of the major names in 20th century art (who just happen to be Jewish).

Part 1:
Hiddur Mitzvah: Sculpture of Jewish Ritual and Jewish Values
A strict and traditional interpretation of the Second Commandment would seem to indicate that Jews would avoid most forms of sculpture or at least representational sculpture altogether, yet we have biblical descriptions of the cherubim on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, and bronze bulls supporting a giant basin in front of Solomon’s temple. Knowledge of these ancient examples provided Jews with ritual loopholes that allowed some forms of sculpture at different times and different places. By the 16th century we find small representational figures of animals and humans decorating ritual objects that adorn the Torah scrolls themselves, and slowly Jews seemed to accustom themselves to other types of figurative decoration, and even three-dimensional art. By the end of the 19th century a new generation Zionist sculptors adopt figurative sculpture for ideological – not religious – purpose.

3:30 ET/ 12:30 PT

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Samuel D. Gruber, Ph.D

Dr. Gruber is an accomplished researcher, author, curator and consultant, is the founder and managing director of Gruber Heritage Global (GHG) - a cultural resources consulting firm. For more than twenty years he has been a leader in the documentation, protection, preservation and presentation of Jewish cultural heritage sites around the world. He was written two books about synagogue architecture; American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community (2003) and Synagogues (1999), and has contributed numerous chapters, articles and conference papers to other publications. Since 2008 he has written a popular blog "Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art and Monuments." Dr. Gruber has a B.A, in Medieval Studies from Princeton University, and M.A, M.Phil. and Ph.D. Degrees from Columbia University in Art History and Archeology; with a specialization in the history of architecture. He is a Rome Prize winner and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome and has received numerous research grants and has participated in many grant-funded team projects. Dr. Gruber has taught in the Jewish Studies Program at Syracuse University since 1994 and has given courses at Binghamton, Colgate, Columbia, Cornell and Temple Universities and LeMoyne College where he has taught about medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Jewish art and architecture; Holocaust art and memory; and the history of plastics. Dr. Gruber lives in Syracuse, NY where he is an active member of Temple Concord, is past president of the Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY) and is active in local art, history, and architecture efforts.
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