The iconic Rabbi Bay­field

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

THE LEO BAECK COL­LEGE com­mu­nity is proud that its room of prayer was se­lected as the set­ting for the Na­tional Por­trait pho­to­graph of Rabbi Tony Bay­field ( JC, Jan­uary 12).

I was dis­turbed, how­ever, by the front-page “teaser”: “The rabbi who be­came a Chris­tian icon”, which nour­ishes of­fen­sive stereo­types of affini­ties be­tween Pro­gres­sive Ju­daism and Chris­tian­ity. This seems in­ap­pro­pri­ate as I am in­formed by Rabbi Bay­field that the pose was de­ter­mined by the pho­tog­ra­pher, who took dozens of pho­to­graphs and then chose, with­out con­sul­ta­tion, the one fea­tured. Marc Saper­stein, Prin­ci­pal, Leo Baeck Col­lege Sternberg Cen­tre for Ju­daism RABBI BAY­FIELD’S pho­to­graph does not bear any re­sem­blance to Chris­tian icons, as sug­gested by the critic Andrew Ren­ton, and in my opin­ion is closer to Dutch iconog­ra­phy.

Let’s, as Andrew Ren­ton sug­gests, choose a Re­nais­sance paint­ing where the light il­lu­mi­nates a fig­ure. Fra An­gelico’s An­nun­ci­a­tion de­picts an an­gelic fig­ure high­lighted by the realm of light stream­ing in from the left. Apart from this sim­i­lar­ity, Rabbi Bay­field does not have a halo around his head, it is not a trip­tych, nor is the paint­ing or­dained in the gold leaf com­mon in Re­nais­sance paint­ings.

The photo of Rabbi Bay­field is linked to paint­ings by old Dutch masters, such as Van Eyck, spir­i­tual paint­ings that il­lus­trate re­li­gious fig­ures in a genre set­ting. Such paint­ings re­veal that ob­jects have con­cealed sig­nif­i­cance, eg a ta­ble laden with bread, fruit and wine may carry hid­den mean­ings in the way that Rabbi Bay­field’s photo dis­plays sym­bols of Ju­daism. Th­ese sym­bols only serve to un­ravel the mys­tery of the sit­ter. Caro­line Berger Ken­ton, Har­row, Middx IN OUR Shab­bat pre-b’nei mitz­vah dis­cus­sion group on “Do first im­pres­sions count?”, I showed the por­trait pho­to­graphs of Rab­bis Sacks and Bay­field to the class.

Al­though a cou­ple recog­nised them, sadly none knew who th­ese rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Bri­tish Jewry were. Some of the 11-year-olds thought the rab­bis were ac­tors su­per­im­posed onto the back­grounds. Rabbi Sacks was seen as “in your face” (au­thor­i­tar­ian) and rep­re­sent­ing Jewish learn­ing; while Rabbi Bay­field was seen to be ap­proach­able, spir­i­tual and rep­re­sent­ing Jewish cul­ture. The young­sters asked: “Was this their in­ten­tion?” Dani Korn­hauser Hill Cres­cent, Lon­don N20

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