The iconic Rabbi Bayfield
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