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Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Annual Report
ne year ago, eleven rabbinical students enrolled
in a quadmester class on
Homiletic Midrashim
taught by Dr. Lewis M. Barth, Professor of Midrash
and Related Literature at HUC-JIR/Los Angeles.
The class studied the 16th chapter of the
Pesikta de
Rav Kahana
a fifth-century collection of rabbinic
homilies (sermons).
is a homily on the
for Shabbat Nachamu, “
Nachamu, Nachamu,
Comfort, Comfort, My People, Isaiah 40:1).”
Just as the class was commencing, Nancy Berman,
Director Emeritus of the HUC-JIR Skirball Museum,
began to discuss the possibility of piloting an Artist’s
Beit Midrash
Program with Dr. Barth. She felt strongly
that “the time was right to invent something new, to
go beyond recreating a public museum space for Jewish
art exhibitions, and to do something that would engage
the HUC-JIR learning community with art and artists.”
Each day, Jewish texts are taught, learned, argued,
digested in HUC-JIR’s classrooms,” said Berman.
Why shouldn’t the ideas and images found in the
texts directly inform the art that could be created in
those very rooms – art that would speak to the
many cohorts of students and educators who would
use the space?” She suggested that “by collaborating
with a professional artist, the students and faculty
would begin to feel comfortable employing art as
another avenue of accessing and interpreting the
content of the literature they were studying.”
Two weeks into the course, Dr. Barth informed his
students that this was not to be an ordinary
class. “Through the generosity of Nancy Berman and
Alan Bloch, the
class is going to be transformed
into an opportunity to expand our understanding of
this ancient sermon on consolation through the visual
images created by an artist,” explained Dr. Barth.
Guest lecturers who do not typically teach rabbinical
students were invited to the class. Dr. Ruth Weisberg,
Dean of the Roski School of Fine Arts at the University
of Southern California, provided students with an
overview of contemporary Jewish art and practical
information on the responsibilities of working with
an artist. Victor Raphael, the artist-in-residence,
studied alongside the students. He shared his own
background as a Sephardic American Jew and pre-
sented examples of his art works.
Art Meets Text in