We are delighted to see that a book about Jewish built heritage — The Carved Wooden Torah Arks of Eastern Europe by Bracha Yaniv — was named one of the finalists in the National Jewish Book Awards.
The winners and finalists in the annual awards, which are presented by the New York-based Jewish Book Council, were announced Wednesday (Jan. 10). Carved Wooden Torah Arks was a finalist in the Visual Arts category — the winner in this category was Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art by Irvin Ungar.
We posted about Carved Wooden Torah Arks — which was published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization in association with Liverpool University Press — in November 2017. Bracha Yaniv is Professor Emerita of Jewish Art History, Bar Ilan University.
The Awards announcement describes the book thus:
The carved wooden Torah arks found in Eastern Europe from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were magnificent structures, unparalleled in their beauty and mystical significance. The work of Jewish artisans, they dominated the synagogues of numerous towns both large and small throughout the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, inspiring worshippers with their monumental scale and intricate motifs. Virtually none of these superb pieces survived the devastation of the two world wars. Bracha Yaniv’s pioneering work therefore breathes new life into a lost genre, making it accessible to scholars and students of Jewish art, Jewish heritage, and religious art more generally. Making use of hundreds of pre-war photographs housed in local archives, she develops a vivid portrait of the history and artistic development of these arks, the scope and depth of her meticulous research successfully compensating for the absence of physical remains. In this way she has succeeded in producing a richly illustrated and comprehensive overview of a classic Jewish religious art form.
Professor Yaniv’s analysis of the historical context in which these arks emerged includes a broad survey of the traditions that characterized the local workshops of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. She also provides a detailed analysis of the motifs carved into the Torah arks and explains their mystical significance, among them representations of Temple imagery and messianic themes-and even daring visual metaphors for God. Fourteen arks are discussed in particular detail, with full supporting documentation; appendices relating to the inscriptions on the arks and to the artisans’ names will further facilitate future research. This seminal work throws new light on long-forgotten traditions of Jewish craftsmanship and religious understanding.
Mazel tov to all concerned!