2012 Conference
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Marc Michael Epstein

Vassar College

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Marc Michael Epstein is a Professor at Vassar College. He has written on various topics in visual and material culture produced by, for, and about Jews. His most recent book, published by Yale University Press, is titled The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination (2011). During the '80s, Epstein worked for Sotheby's Judaica department, and continues to serve as consultant to various libraries, auction houses, and museums throughout the world.

The Mystery of the Birds’ Head Haggadah

Arts & Performance, Sacred Text & Thought

One of the most mysterious legacies of the Jewish Middle Ages is a haggadah, created in Franco-Germany around 1300 and now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, in which the heads of most of the human figures are replaced with the countenances of what appear to be sharp-beaked and sharp-eyed birds. What is the meaning of this bizarre manuscript? A fascinating journey into the relationship between religion, art and politics at a crucial juncture in Jewish history.

The Jewish Body in Art

Arts & Performance, Sacred Text & Thought

Twin taboos—Jewish reticence regarding a focus on the body, and the apparent prohibition on visual representation—will be discussed and dismantled as we consider the fact that visual culture produced by and for Jews was very much involved with the portrayal of the body. How is the Jewish body represented by Jews and non-Jews? What is the relationship between body, soul and spirit in art and how are these connections reflected back into the culture in complicated and fascinating ways?

The Secret Language of Jewish Art

Arts & Performance, Sacred Text & Thought

Jewish visual tradition is extensive and diverse. But “Jewish art” speaks a secret and often subversive language of its own although it appears to be deceptively similar to the art of the cultures in which it emerges. In this extensively and beautifully illustrated lecture, we will learn to “read” Jewish art in a very different way than that to which we may have been previously accustomed.

Radical Jewish Art and Community

Presented by Art Kibbutz NYC

Marc Michael Epstein, Frank London, Patricia Eszter Margit, Greg Wall, Yona Verwer

Arts & Performance

Three Jewish cultural organization’s leaders discuss how their work creates community and encourages diversity, understanding, action, outstanding artistic expression, collaboration and new ways to connect to Jewish identity through art. Panelists share their experiences about inspiring, innovative and relevant projects that foster 21st century Jewish culture and creativity. Highlights include Art Kibbutz’s Shofar FlashMob, Jewish Art Salon’s Dura Europos, and a Jewish literacy project at The Sixth Street Community Synagogue, plus Pioneers for Cure.

Esther: Revealed and Hidden in Jewish Art

Arts & Performance, Sacred Text & Thought

We all feel we are familiar with the story of Esther. And it is acknowledged that visual culture— from illustrated megillot (scrolls) to creative costuming— is an essential part of the holiday of Purim. But how does Jewish art transform the image of Esther as it appears in Christian art? And how does contemporary ultra-Orthodox art cope with the image of this important woman, so prominent in midrash (commentary) and rabbinic sources? The answers are surprising!

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