Jewish Rome and the Torah
Torah can be studied “up close and personal” via art, architecture, sculpture, and mosaic in Rome and throughout Italy. Since everyone has a different history and a different way of looking at the world, no two persons, even if they are the same age, family, religion, or socio-economic background, have identical perceptions. Everyone has her or his own דבר אחר ( another perspective/interpretation/opinion).
Rome is an open museum, magically designed to celebrate, share and explore wisdom, art, and scholarship. It is an intertwining of the ancient biblical past, present, and future.
In this diverse and complex world in which we live, we must understand that people learn in many different ways.
There is no right or wrong answer in interpreting artworks or passages from the Torah. What is relevant is that we are all engaged in her/his דבר אחר (another perspective/interpretation/opinion) which is a learning experience to understand that there are various literary and visual interpretations (inspirations) of just one or two mediums that the artist creates.
Art and the Torah
We also learn from the interpretations by the artists of his/her contemporary society at the time and we build from that–be it literary or even through the medium of paint, marble, bronze, fresco, or mosaic that the artist creates in his/her artworks.
For example, when we examine the captivating figures from the Torah this helps us gain a full understanding of the scriptures. Just as Michelangelo and Bernini did over 500 years ago.
Michelangelo made Florence the city of David, Rome the city of Moses, and the Vatican the city of the Seven Hebrew Prophets looking down upon us from the inner sanctum of King Solomon’s Temple, known as the Sistine Chapel.
Bernini re-created the columns in bronze modeled after those in Solomon’s temple and the Keruvim from the Holy Ark. While His David captures the revelatory moment from I Samuel 17:49.
When we as an audience interpret works of art from the ancient or recent past, medieval, renaissance, baroque, up to modernity, and post-modern we open up the worlds of meaning and experience for ourselves and for those who listen, hear, read or see our interpretations. It is through various interpretations of scripture and art and through their fascinating, insightful, intellectual, and emotional worlds of the visual contemporary world of the artists of their time, showing us how ‘any audience’ interprets Hebrew scriptures that is different from a Christian perspective.
Rome has some of the best museums, art galleries, architecture, archaeological sites, villas, catacombs, churches, synagogues, wineries, olive groves, piazzas, and fountains in the world. It is impossible to see everything in a single visit. However, with a Jewish tour guide who can navigate through these famous landmarks and sites. One can see the best of everything from a Jewish perspective.
Interpreting artworks and reading passages from the Torah is successful and many good things occur. Viewers are engaged in thinking and talking about the artwork at hand, as its aesthetics applies to their personal interests. And it is through examining these fascinating artworks that we can take a moment to reflect, appreciate, and most importantly respect one another and there can be many different responses to the same artwork, as opposed to the biases constraining artworks of the recent past. Thus, a Jewish audience can leave with meanings relevant to their own lives. Hence, scripture and art, architecture, sculpture, and mosaic in Rome are really much more contemporary than people think—it’s a דבר אחר (another perspective/interpretation/opinion).
Brenda Lee Bohen
Brenda is a Latina and a proud Veteran of the United States Army Reserves. She holds dual citizenship in both the United States and Italy. She is a trained historic preservationist who tirelessly advocates the scholarship and history of the Jews of Rome. She has her certification in Jewish leadership and continues advanced studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. Brenda is also a licensed and accredited tour guide at the Jewish Museum of Rome and the Vatican Museums.
Read more blogs from Brenda: 3 Literary Treasures of The Jewish Museum of Rome, Astonishing Jewish Tour of the Sistine Chapel