He has taken his love of Torah and his love of art to create breathtaking illuminated manuscripts that tell the story of his people through the interplay of imagery and text.
Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange welcomed Rabbi Yonah Weinrib, the internationally renowned artist/calligrapher, as its scholar-in-residence this past Shabbat, Parshat Vayera. Rabbi Weinrib gave several shiurim on topics which included “Secular Art and Jewish Art: Comfortable Co-existence or Clash of Cultures?,” “Illumination: Artistry or Inspiration” and “The Jewish Life Cycle: A Tapestry of Tradition.” The weekend concluded on Saturday evening with a successful art exhibition and sale with wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres.
Rabbi Weinrib’s artistic life began as a very young boy, immortalized in the kindergarten report card his mother lovingly saved. Today he is world famous for his elaborate, research-based manuscript illumination that combines a wide array of art techniques and media that enhance his exquisite calligraphy.
His many works of art and scholarship include “The Illuminated Torah,” “The Illuminated Megillah,” “The Bar Mitzvah Treasury,” the “Manuscript Shiron Series” (Grace After Meals) and his edition of Pirkei Avot/Ethics Of the Fathers. He has exhibited and lectured internationally, and has been commissioned to design presentation awards for numerous Jewish organizations and heads of state. His work is found in prestigious museums, galleries and private collections around the world.
“Every artist really brings to the table his specific technique and style. I am very fortunate to be able to combine my love of Torah and love of art,” said Rabbi Weinrib. “My hope is to bring to the world, through artistry and interpretation, a rich tapestry of information on who we are as a people and the messages for life we can take away.” Before putting pen to parchment, Rabbi Weinrib turns to traditional texts for inspiration. The messages of the text add a profound dimension—intellectual and spiritual—to his artwork.
The rabbi rejects the notion that appreciation of art is incompatible with Torah Judaism. He does believe, however, that there is a disparity between how secular and Jewish art are interpreted. “It’s important to distinguish between art for art’s sake and Jewish art as art for a higher purpose. The Talmud says there is no poverty where there is wealth in service of God. Jewish art is an expression of that service.”
Rabbi Weinrib’s first major work was the “Manuscript Shiron,” produced 30 years ago. Tens of thousands of editions later, perhaps the most unusual version is “The Gourmet Shabbat,” which combines some of the highlights of the Shabbat meal experience with traditional and contemporary recipes. His “Bar/Bat Mitzvah Treasury” is a staple in many classrooms and homes. He considers “The Illuminated Torah” his “magnum opus” because of the scope of the project and its many, many details. Together, the books of Exodus and Genesis total nearly 900 pages with close to 380 art pages and include every verse in both books. Working with a team of artists and craftsmen, this monumental undertaking took eight years.
“Every artist has a drawing board, either actual or mental,” said Rabbi Weinrib. Current projects include an illuminated version of the famous NCSY bencher and the completion of Shir Hashirim. The Book of Leviticus, part of “The Illuminated Torah” series, is also in progress. Recent releases include two beautiful art pieces. “Acheinu,” Our Brothers, joins Jews from different walks of life in a celebration of Jewish unity. “Vichol Mi” acknowledges individuals who assist their communities with dedication and acts of chesed.
“I have met with individuals in wonderful Jewish communities around the country and beyond, and it’s exciting to share the imagery and the messages of Jewish art,” concluded the rabbi.
By Sherry S. Kirschenbaum