Friday, July 01, 2005

On Faceless Men


There is an artist named Menachem Boas, who specializes in microcalligraphy (also called micography). One of his works is presented at right. The picture is made up of words - in this case, the entire text of the book of Joshua.

I happen to own this print. I came about it at a fundraising event at my children's school. They were selling several of his works there. However, this one wasn't on display. The person who was running the event (who is a friend of my wife) showed it to us anyway. We fell in love with it and took it home.

I asked her why this particular picture wasn't on display. I was informed that she was "not allowed" to show it because it represented a Biblical face. My first reaction to this was "Huh?" But it was explained to me that there are some people who object to having faces drawn on representations of people from Tanach, since we don't know what these people actually looked like. Interestingly enough, I seemed to remember seeing other drawings (including some that my kids brought back from school and in books and other publications) where Biblical personages are drawn either without faces (i.e. blank) or only visible from the back or from a 3/4 view from the back.

Now, I had never heard of this "prohibition," and, indeed, I can think of numerous examples where I *have* seen drawings of faces of Biblical personages. So, who knows what the case is. Is it one some silly "chumra" that someone thought up, or is there some substance to this "rule" (which doesn't seem to be too widely adhered to anyway...)

The Wolf

P.S. Another artist (who lives in Israel) who engages in this kind of work is Ellen Miller Braun. I own one of her works as well (specifically this one).

18 comments:

Enigma4U said...

Despite the possible existence of a prohibition to draw biblical figures, my kids bring home ridiculous arts and crafts projects they make in school which are comical in the way they are so removed from reality. I especially enjoy the ones which depict biblical characters, say King David, always with a long white beard (glued on cotton balls), dressed in chasidic garb and a big yarmulka, even when he’s busy herding his sheep. It seems that sometime after he became king, he adopted a 17th century Russian shtreimel as a preferred head covering.

BrooklynWolf said...

Yes, it always amused me too to see Yosef, Moshe, etc. dressed in shtreimels.

The Wolf

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

It's not a "prohibition". Some people have/ had this hakpada because, ultimately, if David Hamelech had a funny mole on his nose and crooked teeth we really don't need to know it. Arguably we would be the worse of it we would. I think that is the root of the distaste towards depicting personalities in Tanakh. I can understand that. I don't understand imposing this view on others though.

Avi said...

You think that Satmar Chasidims children in school dont bring home pictures of Moshe Rabbenu dresses as a chasid? I wonder what Moshe Rabbenu would think if he came back to life today? Woud he understand that Chasidim are a strange kind of Jew or would he mabye mistake them for being Amish?

AMSHINOVER said...

there is NO specific issur to draw biblical figures,its foward facing faces in general,the one you are showing,with the shofar blocking is 100% mutter by all standards.and Enigma4U i've figured out some of your riddle you're kids must go to vertski

Chana said...

So what is The Little Medrish Says? Heretical, because the men have faces?

I have heard of this "prohibition." I have also heard I was not allowed to draw a picture of the sun in art class, when I was about 7 years old.

I drew the sun.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

"Woud he understand that Chasidim are a strange kind of Jew or would he mabye mistake them for being Amish? "

You can ask that kasha about all types of Jews across the spectrum.

J said...

I've actually heard something regarding the sun thing. Apparently there is an issur to create an image of the sun, moon, etc... because sun-worshiping idolaters used to do the same thing (I remember learning it somewhere in gemarah avodah zara).

Orthoprax said...

http://www.come-and-hear.com/zarah/zarah_42.html

MISHNAH. IF ONE FINDS UTENSILS UPON WHICH IS THE FIGURE OF THE SUN OR MOON OR A DRAGON, HE CASTS THEM INTO THE SALT SEA. RABBAN SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAYS: IF IT IS UPON PRECIOUS UTENSILS THEY ARE PROHIBITED, BUT IF UPON COMMON UTENSILS THEY ARE PERMITTED.


GEMARA. Is this to say that [the heathens] worship these objects and no others? [Against such a conclusion] I cite the following: If one slaughters an animal in the name of seas, rivers, a desert, the sun, moon, stars and planets, Michael the great Prince or a tiny worm, behold these come within the category of 'sacrifices to dead objects'! — Abaye explained: As to worshipping they might worship whatever they take hold of; but in regard to the making of images for worship, they do so only of these three objects [enumerated in the Mishnah] which are specially honoured by them; but as for the other figures, they only make them for ornamental purposes.

R. Shesheth used to collect difficult extra-Mishnaic passages and expound them: [Pictures of] all the planets are permissible except that of the sun and moon; of all faces are permissible except that of a human face; and of all figures are permissible except that of the dragon.

The Master said: '[Pictures of] all the planets are permissible except that of the sun and moon.' With what are we dealing here? Shall I say with the making of them? If it is with the making of them, are any of the planets allowed, seeing that it is written, Ye shall not make with Me — i.e., ye shall not make according to the likeness of My attendants who serve before Me in the heights! Obviously, then, it must refer to finding them, and it is in accord with our Mishnah: IF ONE FINDS UTENSILS UPON WHICH IS THE FIGURE OF THE SUN OR MOON OR A DRAGON, HE CASTS THEM INTO THE SALT SEA. If, then, it refers to finding them, consider the middle clause: 'Of all faces are permissible except that of a human face.' Now if this refers to finding them, is the picture of a human face prohibited? Surely we have learnt: IF ONE FINDS UTENSILS UPON WHICH IS THE FIGURE OF THE SUN OR MOON OR A DRAGON, HE CASTS THEM INTO THE SALT SEA. Which implies that [he does this] to the figure of a dragon but not to the picture of a human face! Obviously, then, it must refer to making them, and it is in accord with the view of R. Huna the son of R. Joshua. If, then, it refers to making them, consider the last clause: 'Of all figures are permissible except that of the dragon.'

It goes on like that for awhile. See Avodah Zarah 42 and 43.

Jewish Atheist said...

Those are really beautiful.

I think the intent of the prohibition of images was to prevent deification. For example, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Or, for that matter, of Eminem.

AMSHINOVER said...

Rav Mosha has a teshuva where he poskens chidren drawing the sun should not make a full circle,but rather use the corner of the page,making a 1/4 of the suns image.

DarkBlueHat said...

That is one thing the Muslims stole from us. They are forbidden to draw pictures showing the face of "The Prophet". There was a cartoon about "The Prophet" that recently came out, and they solved the problem by showing everything from his point of view - You only see what he sees.

Krum as a bagel said...

I had a children's haggada with yiddish translation that was full of pictures. All of the humans in the pictures had no faces. Pretty spooky for a 5 year old.

ifuncused said...

I too have a painting from Boas, and won it in Derech Chaims Chinese auction a few years ago.
I do happen to "know" him, but really know his son....

BrooklynWolf said...

ifuncused,

I actually own three Boas works. I first saw one of his in my aunt and uncle's house years ago and fell in love with the work and the style.

I've heard that Menachem Boas no longer does microcalligraphy. Do you know if that's true?

The Wolf

ifuncused said...

Wolf,
I just asked..and am told he still does it....

BrooklynWolf said...

Wonderful! I had seen online that he was no longer doing this work. In addition, I haven't seen his work in seforim stores for a while, which I took for confirmation.

I wish he'd set up a website so that his fans can keep up with his work. (Could you please pass it along?)

The Wolf

ifuncused said...

wolf...is there a painting you wish to purchase? email me!