Tosafot - Women Drawing Talmud

Museum of Art, Ein Harod 18965 Israel
Curator: Dvora Liss
Jacqueline Nicholls
Tosafot – an exhibition of the illustrated Talmud by Jacqueline Nicholls and Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli, is part of the Ein Harod Museum's renewed interest in engaging its visitors in meaningful dialogue with the content and values of the Judaica collection. The exhibition's title, "Tosafot", refers to the medieval commentary on the Talmud, printed in the outer margin of the Talmud page, opposite Rashi's commentary. Rashi (RAbbi SHlomo Itzhaki, 1040 –1105, France) was the foremost Talmudist of the Middle Ages, whose influential commentary forms the basis of all Talmud study to this day. Rashi's grandchildren undertook to expand and elaborate his commentary; their explanations (and of other of his students,12th-14th centuries, France and Germany) became known as "tosafot", literally, "additions"; hence the designation of the authors as "Tosafists". 

This show offers a continuation of the tradition of adding to the Talmudic text. The juxtaposition of the texts with the artists' interpretive drawings creates a unique form of visual commentary that is radically different from traditional, written commentary. The artists take the liberty to imagine the physical setting, the scenery, the clothing, and anything else that does not actually appear in the written text. They are free to imagine whatever they like.
Raised in Saskatchewan, Canada, and currently living in Sweden, Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli chooses the accessible medium of comics for her quirky, creative, and human narratives based on passages in tractate Berachot. 
Jacqueline Nicholls, a London-based artist, uses thought-provoking graphics to illuminate a world of Jewish law, storytelling, and contemplative thought. Her original drawings are exhibited in sketchbooks, with notes giving a summary of the text on one side and the drawing on the facing page.
Both women create a new visual language that integrates pop-culture sensibility with serious investigation of Talmudic dilemmas, challenging the viewer to imagine how these texts relate to one's own moral and spiritual predicament. Although these artists have never met, their work brings them together in creating a virtual "chevruta" (fellowship). "Chevruta" is the traditional method of studying Talmud - in pairs, struggling to understand each passage and perhaps applying it to one's own life. Most often the "chevruta" experience takes place in the bet midrash (study hall) together with other "chevrutot", in an atmosphere filled with sounds of discussion and debate. Our wish is to bring this same atmosphere into the pristine rooms of the Museum, encouraging spectators to grapple with the exhibited texts and illustrations.
Ancient Jewish texts serve as the basis for the artists' creations, yet their language is that of contemporary art. Their work includes details of contemporary life, transporting the classic Jewish sources to the 21st century and exposing elements in the text that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, eliciting questions and enriching our understanding. In both of their works there is a certain expectation that the spectators will first read the text featured, so as to better comprehend the image illustrating the words. Jacqueline Nicholls and Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli create with that same inner understanding and passion for the Jewish experience. Their artwork is a vehicle for their own personal journeys; through it they seek out and forge their Jewish identities.

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