Saturday, November 7, 2015

Illustrating The Jewish Calendar

Keeping Time

Hebrew Illuminations: Grafton writes: “In the 15th century and after, Jews produced calendars of every kind, from simple wall charts listing feasts for the year to come to ibburim and sifre evronot, technical treatises on the structure and meaning of the year and longer cycles. Like the rabbinic Bible and the Talmud, Hebrew works on the calendar were printed and reprinted, not only by Jews but also by Christians. Johann Froben, the great Basel printer who was Erasmus’ chief publisher for much of his life, brought out the first printed ibbur in 1527.”
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I love the look and the textural feel of illustrated Jewish art, especially the religious art of the early modern European period, which often found its place in calendars. A book review article, by Anthony Grafton, in Tablet explains both the history and early modern influences on how the Jews viewed and measured time.

In “About Time; How Early Modern European Calendars Changed Jewish Conceptions of Time” (April 14, 2011), Grafton, who is a professor of history at Princeton, writes:
If you’ve ever wondered about the Jewish year and its history, Elisheva Carlebach’s marvelous new book, Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe, has much to offer you. A preeminent specialist on the Jews of early modern Germany, Carlebach concentrates on what became of the calendar in the early modern period. In the 16th century and after, technical literature about time, which had once been treated as an esoteric knowledge reserved for an elite, became widely available to Jews for the first time, and Carlebach traces this process in detail. But as she reaches back to explain the distant origins of early modern debates and practices and sets the calendars into their larger contexts, Palaces of Time provides even more than it promises: a fascinating and provocative introduction, full of surprises, to the Jewish experience of time.

Richly documented and sumptuously illustrated, the book tells a sinuous and sometimes wild story, one in which books of many kinds, in all their grubby materiality, play central roles. Carlebach has long been known as a supremely skillful reader of texts—an approach long central to Jewish scholarship, and one sometimes combined with a reluctance to admit that readers actually encounter texts in the material form of books, where they often leave rich evidence about these encounters. From the 1970s on, historians of the book—Robert Darnton, Lisa Jardine, William Sherman—have shown how to enrich intellectual history by combining textual analysis with the study of books as material objects. Malachi Beit-Arie, Adam Shear, and others have successfully applied this method to Jewish texts. Carlebach too now attends, with great skill and sensitivity, to the material forms of the books she studies, to their sometimes-cheap paper and poor print, their complex and powerful illustrations, and their annotations. Reading in this new way, she can tell us not only what the calendar texts say, but what mattered most in them to the Jewish readers and thinkers who printed them, and copied them, and annotated them, and wore them out.
Time, it has been written in the Bible, was ordained by G-d, who by creating the world and separating the day from night (“light from darkness” (Genesis 1:4)), made time relevant for humanity. Shabbat, the seventh day, is considered a separate, holy day, set aside for religious and spiritual matters. It begins and ends at a certain time, and there are rituals dedicated to its arrival and to its leaving. The rest of the week is dedicated to the mundane, which includes earning a living—another use of time considered no less worthy. The Jewish festivals are all regulated by time; as are the days of the new moon (Rosh Chodesh), the times to don tephillin. the times when to say the three daily prayers, and so forth.

Today, for example, is the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Kislev, which, like all new moons, used to be proclaimed by the central court in Jerusalem (the Sanhedrin); in the absence of such a court, today it is announced during morning services:
Despite the existence of a fixed calendar, Rosh Chodesh is still announced in synagogues on the preceding Shabbat (called Shabbat Mevarchim — The Shabbat of Blessing [the new month]). The announcement is made after the reading of the sefer torah, before returning it to the aron kodesh, in a prayer beginning “May it be Your will... that You renew this month for us for good and for blessing”. The name of the new month, and the day of the week on which it falls, is given during the prayer. Some communities customarily precede the prayer by an announcement of the exact date and time of the new moon, referred to as the molad, or "birth".[5][6] Rosh Chodesh Tishrei (which is also Rosh HaShana) is never announced.
The new moon is important, because it fixes the dates of all festivals, all Jewish holidays. In the Jewish tradition, the calendar begins with creation, the month with the new moon and the day at sunset. It is no small matter to say that time has always been important to the Jewish People, that the Jews are regulated and dependent on time.

Such explains to a great degree why the calendars are given such appreciation, and why the physical object themselves are also worth studying, particularly when the physical objects themselves were a thing of beauty. The artwork and illustrations became in themselves an important part of the books. So, calendars do more than tell us time, the passing of days; they can tell us, when viewed in the future, what was important during a certain period in our history.

For the Jewish People, and in particular for those who are religiously observant, what is important has remained the same, a constant throughput the ages. The passing of time has not changed these central ideas; in some cases, when the Jewish People and its way of life feel threatened, these feelings become stronger and the people more united. The past becomes our stronghold.

For more, go to [Tablet]

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