The­co­ca­co­la­m­ag­nate THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK and the Song of Songs

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism -

AN EX­HI­BI­TION of sa­cred t exts in the Vat­i­can fea­tures a sec­tion of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dis­played in a mock-up cave. Most vis­i­tors prob­a­bly as­sume the ex­hibits were brought from Jerusalem. But they are not orig­i­nals: they are faith­ful recre­ations, pro­duced by a London com­pany, Fac­sim­ile Edi­tions.

Fac­sim­ile have made their name with col­lec­tor-qual­ity copies of il­lus­trated me­dieval sa­cred texts. Now hus­band and wife team, Michael and Linda Fal­ter, have em­barked on their most com­plex chal­lenge yet, re­pro­duc­ing a con­tem­po­rary artis­tic edi­tion of the Song of Songs.

It came at the in­vi­ta­tion of Muzi Wertheim, a man in whom the ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion of il­lu­mi­nated manuscripts lives on. Now in his 80s, he is one of Is­rael’s best-known in­dus­tri­al­ists, who helped bring Coca Cola to the coun­try. Like the pa­trons of old, he com­mis­sioned new ver­sions of two of the five megillot, Es­ther and Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, cre­ated on parch­ment scrolls by Is­raeli artist Leela Ganin. He turned to the Fal­ters to make limited edi­tions of the work in book form.

Hav­ing com­pleted Es­ther — as a fold­ing con­certina-like book — they are in the midst of work on the Song. “Leila Ganin’s Shir Hashirim is il­lu­mi­nated in the style of the best Mughal artists of the 16th cen­tury, fit­ting per­fectly with its ro­man­tic text,” said Michael Fal­ter.

But re­pro­duc­ing its in­tri­cately-lay­ered tex­tures is tax­ing. “The golden back­ground of many of the minia­tures is over­laid with del­i­cate sparkling gold and sil­ver,” he said. “Each of the in­tri­cate borders fea­tures a wealth of vi­brant colours in­ter­twined with gold, sil­ver, bronze and cop­per, some raised and some flat. The cal­lig­ra­phy of the mas­ter scribe is raised within those borders.”

Leela Ganin her­self ar­rived in Is­rael 11 years ago. She was born in Siberia to a Chi­nese fa­ther and a Jewish mother. When she tried to find work in Com­mu­nist Len­ingrad as a young woman in the early 80s, her Asian fea­tures pre­vented her from se­cur­ing a res­i­dence per­mit. You could stay as a stu­dent, a lawyer ad­vised her, “but as a Jew, you would have cer­tain prob­lems.”

She came to Is­rael for the sake of her daugh­ter, who has a be­havioural dis­or­der, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of a doc­tor. “She was a nice, young woman who had just re­turned home from some sort of pro­fes­sional train­ing in Is­rael,” Ganin re­called. “‘If you want to help your daugh­ter, you must go to Is­rael’ — that was her pre­scrip­tion.”

Hav­ing done jew­ellery, com­mer­cial de­sign and il­lus­tra­tion in Rus­sia, she be­gan to spe­cialise more in Ju­daica in her new home. She has il­lus­trated a com­plete Five Megillot for Koren pub­lish­ers. But the tech- nical de­mands of the Wertheim com­mis­sions were in a dif­fer­ent league.

“It takes a few months — up to a year — to il­lu­mi­nate a scroll,” she said. “Parch­ment is a very spe­cial and ex­pen­sive ma­te­rial. No mis­takes are al­lowed. It takes a lot of time to trans­fer the draw­ings on parch­ment. Water-based colours make the scroll’s sur­face wavy, so it’s not easy to ex­e­cute small de­tails. Hu­mid­ity makes it longer and softer, dry and hot weather makes it hard and in­flex­i­ble, ev­ery mi­cro piece of dust tries to stick it­self to the white sur­face.”

At­trib­uted to King Solomon, the Song of Songs ex­presses a young cou­ple’s yearn­ing for each other but is read by the rab­bis as an al­le­gory of God’s bond with Is­rael. Some re­li­gious peo­ple have “very strict de­mands,” Ganin said. “If they com­mis­sion an il­lu­mi­nated Song of Songs, only sym­bolic il­lus­tra­tions are al­lowed such as deers, pea­cocks, flow­ers and so on. Koren did not mind the sight of a man and woman but dressed prop­erly and be­hav­ing re­spect­fully.”

But the im­agery she has used for Muzi Wertheim re­flects the sen­sual na­ture of the po­etry. “He expressed di­rectly that the as­pect of hu­man love must be shown and that’s what I tried to do.”

As for her sources of in­spi­ra­tion, she ad­mit­ted “I hardly know what it is, to tell you the truth. I think the same things that give in­spi­ra­tion for liv­ing — na­ture, peo­ple, art, just the world by it­self.”

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