My friend Talia sent me this cute widget thing. It’s a quiz that tests one’s knowledge of Judaica Art. Take it for a spin:

The quiz is brought to you by Judaica Art, a Web site that sells… uhm, Jewish and Judaica themed art (and oil painting replicas!). There are only 5 questions, the answers are kind of interesting and then at the end there’s a special deal!

I don’t usually put stuff like this up but Talia was pretty persuasive and you got to give these people props – this campaign of theirs is a little more creative than the usual “here’s a banner you can put on your Web site” business. For the record, we were offered a commission on sales and I declined because it’s much cooler as a post than as a thinly veiled commercial transaction. Good luck Judaica Art people!

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Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Actually, they sell reproductions of Jewish, Israeli and Judaica themed art. The reproductions, if I’m reading their site correctly, are actual oil paintings painted on the customer’s behalf and request by “experienced” artists. I assume these artists are in China because I’ve read business stories about this industry of reproducing masters. What is great about Judaica Art is that for $300 they’ll reproduce the works of artists like Nahum Gutman or Reuven Rubin. Enter Rubin’s name into the Google site search box here to see who is a big fan and who was lamenting that the best he could ever afford would be a poster or litho. Well, there’s now another option. For 300 dollars only! Very cool.

    And no, I also have no connection to these folks and would never have known about them if ck hadn’t posted.

  • Three for five. Not too bad.

    Beware Western-style oil paintings and soccer kits from China.

    I wonder how ‘Judaica’ emerged as an art-world genre, and whether Chagall and other Jewish artists who saw themselves as part of the Western art tradition (Pissarro, say, or Modigliani or Ludwig Meidner) would feel comfortable with such a designation.

  • Tom, it’s worth trying. In the stories I’ve read, the China oil painters are pretty good at their craft. I mean, I’d love the original, but it’s selling for $200k+.

  • Aw, c’mon. Call the guy who gave you that subprime mortgage.

  • Tom, Tom, Tom, you read my stuff for years and you still haven’t gotten that I’m your 30 year fixed customer?

  • I got 400 out of 600, not so bad for a half shiksa half shaina maidl I guess.

    I have a few pieces of Judaic art in my home, the most meaningful is an Albert Goldman I got in Safed.

    Interesting quiz and great blog.

  • Tom, Judaica actually refers to objects used in Jewish rite / cult / liturgy (whatever term offends the individual MOT less), which, thanks to their purpose, ended up heavily ornated, particularly when it came to silver and gold smithing, both crafts Jews didn’t need to join a guild for. The extension to Jewish-themed artwork, toys, kitschy gifts etc. is more of a novelty.

    Chagall had a Jewish way of painting though. Brought up in a religious home and only just barely convinced by his mother not to pursue rabbinical studies, he all through his life abided by the concept of not portraying, thus “creating”, perfect humans; typically, his depictions of humans only feature four fingers.

  • Hmm, apparently he got that ‘Jewish way of painting’ from El Greco. Little bit of Kokoschka there as well.

  • Tom forced me to go and do some reading. I don’t think Kokoschka is in there, although there was a Russia school (Supremacists?) that had these supernatural images in their work and they did influence him. A couple of the bios I found listed a visit in 1937 to view El Greco’s work so there may be some strong influence there.

    Here’s an interesting bio, particularly because it links to his works as it describes his personal history and influences.

    Maybe Froylein put it indelicately by using the phrase “Jewish way,” but I think there’s no question that Jewish themes influenced him and his work greatly. I actually think his bios miss literary influences on him which may be just as important as painterly ones.

  • Check out ol’ Oskar’s ‘Knight Errant’ (1915) in the online Guggs collection (four fingers per hand, no less). El Greco generally is viewed as a forefather of Expressionism: the vertiginous, fantasized approach to space, the dematerialized, floating bodies, the expressive deformation of the figure, all of which Expressionists (and Post-Impressionists like Gauguin) drew upon.

  • I’ve looked at my art collection– lots of work by Jewish artists but zero Judaica…. What’s wrong with those people? Can I get my money back?

  • Tom, you should have asked for a price quote among friends from the start. Just refer to “Joel from Brooklyn” (there are gazillions of Joels in Brooklyn). πŸ™‚

  • Just as an aside, while Jews figure prominently in the visual medium of cinema, other than as dealers, we seem to figure far less prominently in painting, sculpting and other forms of visual and tactile arts. This is probably due to the prohibition on graven images. We are, I guess, people of the book. πŸ˜‰

  • Until recently, anyway, Middle. Jews are much more numerous among leading artists now, dating from roughly, I suppose, first-generation Ab Ex (Guston, Rothko, Barnett Newman). Not to mention the heavy Jewish representation in that declasse medium, photography (Frank, Lisette Model (I think), Arbus, Man Ray, Winogrand, Friedlander, Avedon, Goldin, Faurer et al.).

    It’s also true that much contemporary art proves the wisdom of the ban on graven images, but not to worry– Jeff Koons isn’t Jewish.

  • Okay, I looked at Kokoschka again and I still don’t see it. Go back to the bio and look at the Chagall paintings dated post 1915. Chagall has his own thing going. I can see El Greco in a couple ofp pieces, but no Kokoschka.

  • Photography and cinema emanate from a similar source. They are different than putting a brush to canvas or a hand to clay. I agree that we’ve got better representation these past few decades (you may recall this post: but if you compare Jewish representation in cinema, music, literature, painting and the like are just not in the same league.

  • “…if you compare Jewish representation in cinema, music, literature, painting and the like are just not in the same league.”

    “This is probably due to the prohibition on graven images. We are, I guess, people of the book.”

    Middle – interesting point, how historical Judaism influenced what mediums Jews would be more represented in is a good study. The Old Testament is based on music, poetry and storytelling. But unless I missed a couple editions, they didn’t provide a lot of illustrations.

    Here’s another aspect (which I was thinking of after watching “The Pianist” again: (After the Sp. Inquisition) What medium served more of a utilitarian need for the cloistered Diaspora Jewish communities – painting or music? Painters and sculptors were either itinerant or landed enough to be able to afford to wait for long periods between selling a painting. Or have a rich patron, which would be a long shot for most Jews then. To an economically repressed community, art was a luxury.

    Music, on the other hand, is a craft, a viable profession. Like jewelers and bakers, musicians provided a service. As much as the bible frowned on graven images, making them served no utilitarian purpose to the family or community. That’s not to say Jewish musicians didn’t use music as a form of self-expression; the distinction between art and craft in my opinion is blurriest when it comes to music. But there’s no denying it’s there to serve the listener more than the creator.

    Maybe as the social economics of Jewish society changed (for the better, and in time for the advent of cinema and photography), Jews were in a better position to use different mediums for self-expression and make a living off it. But before there was Leonard Cohen there was Leonard Bernstein (IMHO the perfect marriage of the craft and art of music), and before Dylan there was Irving Berlin.

    Literature is a different story (did I just write that?) in many ways but also about purpose. but – as painting may not be part of the Jewish historical fabric (graven images), storytelling was and will always be. But, again, for utilitarian more than artistic reasons – which is central to the debate about Hebrew poetry and even if the Psalms, Lamentations and the such are considered poetry (I think so, many scholars don’t).

    If Thom Yorke were Jewish and living in 19th century Poland, would he have formed Radiohead? Even if he had the idea? There, I got Radiohead into another comment.

  • TM – they took it down… but I’m guessing it’s Coachella? We here in the land of Joel and Ethan Prince Franken got wind of that right away. I think the headline was “Coachella Is Now Prince’s House”. Seriously. I think Prince said that.

    I’ve seen Prince’s house here. It ain’t like Coachella (or however you spell it). It was more like a rambler.

    Froylein – don’t wait too long dear.

    BTW – sorry about the rambling comment.

  • Interesting comment, ramon– your point about the relationship bet. music and craft put me in mind of griot culture in Manding W. Africa, where musicians were classified as craftspeople (with no more than middling social status at that– no Guinean Idol for them).

    Jewlicious obviously lacks Jewish jazz fans, who surely would have taken me on about Stan Getz, Paul Desmond et al.

  • Ramon, it was the Coachella show and the video has been taken down from Youtube “due to copyright violations.” Bastards!

  • Ooooh, gentlemen, the ties between jazz and klezmer are close, (indelicacy alert:) just that bad klezmorim these days receive more attention than they deserve.

    Back to the visual arts; we need to consider a few premises:
    a) during the Middle Ages, the artwork that sold was mostly religious as in work-on-demand paid for by the Church or someone donating a piece of artwork to a church.
    b) since Jews were not permitted to join guilds, they couldn’t be chisellers, hence sculptors (if you look at medieval sculptures, you’ll notice that the artist is hardly ever known; artists – as in specialized skilled craftsmen – considered themselves a divine tool; an attitude that only changed with the Renaissance).
    c) Jews (Ashkenazi as well as Sefardi and Yemenite) have produced some fine gold- and silversmiths (the world’s biggest jeweller currently is Ch. Abramowicz from Stuttgart). It was not uncommon that reliquaries were crafted – and even designed – by Jews, but the Middle Ages aren’t too well documented in that field. Reliquaries provided a solid income though, but their history is quite another story. With diamond cutting emerging as a Jewish trade, jewellery design and craftsmanship became a Jewishly dominated terrain.
    d) Guggenheim

    Maybe we should categorize what Jewish art can be:
    1) Jewishly themed art produced by a Jew;
    2) non-Jewishly themed art produced by a Jew;
    3) Jewishly themed art produced by a non-Jew (which then would also include purposedly anti-Semite works);
    4) anything painted on a matzah.

    BTW, I painted a portrait of Middle – using only my middlefinger at that. He didn’t like it. πŸ™

  • It was terrible. Your portrait of me reflected Jewish culture’s paucity when it comes to painting talent.

  • froylein – great insight in framing the discussion – especially prior to the 18th century. The reason I was focusing on that time (and early 19th century) was that it wasn’t until then that Rabbis were loosening up on the graven image thing and Jews started getting their paint on. So while they were maybe behind the grade, as Middle pointed out, it was still a hobby. Except, maybe, in England where Jews were more assimilated into mainstream society. (And blurred the line between your definitions of Jewish-themed art created by Jews and non-Jewish themed art created by Jews.)

    I could’ve summed that previous bloated comment above in a more succinct manner: In the shtetel, you always need a wedding band. Not so much a wedding photographer.

    Middle, you’re right about Goodman vs. Armstrong. No contest. Shouldn’t be one. Not a fair comparison. Maybe Goodman vs. Harry James. Funny thing, when I was growing up the only jazz fans I knew were Jewish.

  • Goodman’s clearly the greatest jazz clarinetist ever. There haven’t even been very many since he left the scene, which may be a measure of his success. As for Armstrong– he invented jazz, basically.

    froylein, you should know by now that Middle can’t handle the truth, which explains his reaction to your portrait.

  • Anyhow, back to visual arts.

    Ramon, you’re right; there was a need for liturgical objects. Plus there probably was a demand for jewellery as a means of investment that could easily be taken along in case of an expulsion. (Seamen would turn their pay into gold earrings as a form of solid currency.) Later it supposedly just was more or less traditional. (A fifth- or sixth degree uncle of mine was considered the finest goldsmith and jeweller in Düsseldorf during the turn of the previous centuries and the times leading up to WW2. I’ve still got a ring he made.) I suppose family pictures were taken as soon as photography was available (hardly ever were they particularly artistic though), but, like many personal documents, many got lost during WW2 / the Holocaust. The oldest photographies of members of my family that I know of (i.e. that are still in family possession) are from about the middle / second half of the 19th century. An anecdotal by-note, my great-grandmother grew up in a frum neighbourhood; her mother wanted her photograph taken. She wanted it taken with her hair open as she was known for her gorgeous curls, but the photographer insisted she should cover her head. In the end, they compromised on a bun. The photograph’s still in my grandmother’s bedroom; I should have a copy of it made.

  • I’m running a bit of a hug deficit myself these days. My solution is to self-hug. Not sure if the Torah is cool with that, but getting a good ol’ grip on myself in the corner of my living room really seems to do wonders. And remember– it doesn’t have to be about sex.

  • froylein – have you read Noah Gordon’s “The Last Jew”? I know his books do well in Germany. The beginning illustrates most of what you write regarding craft, art and liturgical objects.

  • Ramon, I have. Fact books I’ve got (e.g. Monumenta Judaica) provide more examples of Jewish artisanship / craftship linked to liturgical objects. Occasionally medieval Jewish wedding rings (highly decorated often with depictions of buildings) go on sale on eBay, so, with the expropriation laws on the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder how many descendants of Nazi officials now dig those items out among the heirloom of their grandfathers.

  • Just took the quiz and enjoyed it, but some info you should know from an emerging i.e. struggling Judaic artist. I have been studying painting under another artist for two years and paying out of pocket and due to the current economy and finding my art budget shrinking into non -existence.

    Have tried unsuccessfully for weeks to find grant money to continue my studies in the Jewish community and have determined that there is no support system out there what-so-ever.

    Just a guess, but that is probably why there are so few Judaic fine artists.

    Any advice would be appreciated.


  • Michelle, the same applies to non-Jewish aspiring artists. My advice is: get a day-job and use the painting as a hobby until it may eventually take off to pay for your living. Remember, van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. Not everybody is as lucky as Beuys, Liechtenstein, Chagall etc. I know an Israeli artist who has resorted to producing the touristy art stuff in order to pay for his living and his art projects that are dear to him. That, or sleep with the right people.

  • thanks for the advice, now how about some advice on meeting the “right people”. Just kidding.