Sunday, 26 December 2010

James I, Sport, and Unity

The Queen's Christmas speech this year touched briefly upon James I's commissioning of the Authorised Translation, as a means of preserving unity in the rapidly fragmenting Church of England. This translation, the queen notes, will be 4oo years old this coming year. Though she doesn't make the connection between James and sport (despite the latter's Book of Sport), the queen manages to tie in sports with a sense of community that needn't be bound by differing religious faiths. 'People are capable of belonging to many communities, including a religious faith,' according to the queen. I won't speculate as to whether or not she has a particular faith in mind, but it seems that the English values of fair play, rules, and even toleration of difference, are still alive and relevant. As for the statement that James probably couldn't have anticipated how important sport and games are to the promotion of unity, the sad thing is that though these age-old values are indeed relevant, their history--and intention--seems to have been misconstrued at the highest level. That is to say, i think James had every idea what he was doing when he issued the Book of Sports.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Westerkerk Rimonim (Finials)

DSCN0001The Israel Museum just underwent a $100 million renovation. One of the highlights of the visit i took with my mum was the Tzedek VeShalom Synagogue, built in 1734 in Paramaribo, Suriname. For the woodworkers out there, the ark is made of Cyprus wood and mahogany. Below is a video about the synagogue and some really cool footage of the restoration. Just some brief history of the settlement of Jews in the area. According to our tour guide, in 1630, about 500 Jews came to Suriname to establish sugar plantations. They named them after cities in the land of Israel: Hebron, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Beersheba, to name a few of the plantations that existed in Suriname. The name of the Jewish settlement was actually the Jodensavanne, or the Jewish Savannah. To read more about the Jewish community in Suriname, click here.

DSCN0011 In addition to paying homage to their biblical roots, the Jews of Suriname paid tribute to their Spanish-Portugese Dutch roots. Whilst having a peek around the synagogue, we noticed that one of the finials for the Torah scrolls was an unmistakable nod to the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. You know--the one that Anne Frank mentions? Pretty cool, eh? How many synagogues today would commission, let alone tolerate, a Torah adornment in the style of a church? Pretty remarkable...

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Grey Water Fail

Wow. So it's not quite been a year since the grey-water system has been functioning. It went through a few phases. But today was a new one. Occasionally, if i space out after turning on the CIMG1084pump to get the water from the holding tank (bin--let's be honest) to the outfeed tank (that giant plastic box on a shelf), sometimes, the water overflows a bit. I usually catch it and it's ok. Today that happened. I caught it, and thankfully left the area, only to hear about 60 litres of water come crashing down with the shelf that was holding it. My floor was flooded, and only as i stood ankle deep trying to open the drain holes to release the water did i become aware that the pump's extension cord and power bar were partially submerged. Everything is (mostly) under control now. So it's back to the drawing board.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Coopers Versus Joyners

In this English folk-song (1681) coopers and joyners are compared and contrasted. Apparently, the cooper is 'the man,' as well as 'the white boy'. Some of the lyrics could be oddly contemporary! But as the song progresses, the religious and political overtones of the time grow and become more humorous. I definitely need to check into the background. I wonder if this has anything to do with Stephen Colledge, alias: The Protestant Joyner...
Cooper Joyner

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Revius and Donne: Poets of the Bible

Revius In the past, we have noted the parallel developments in biblical scholarship and politics in the Netherlands and England (link), specifically the Authorised Version and the Statenvertaling. We have also noted the influence of Hugo De Groot (Grotius) on John Milton. Recently, i came across a poem by Jakob Reefsen (Jacobus Revius), a Hebrew scholar who worked on the Statenvertaling and who also composed religious as well as secular poetry. It reminded me of a poem by Donne, and, when taken together, there are some similarities, but overall, Revius' seems like a lesson in how not to write poetry. But i'll let you decide for yourself:

'Hy Droegh Onse Smerten' (1630 in Over-Ysselsche Sangen en Dichten)

T'en sijn de Joden niet, Heer Jesu, die u cruysten,
Noch die verradelijck u togen voort gericht,
Noch die versmadelijck u spogen int gesicht,
Noch die u knevelden, en stieten u vol puysten,

T'en sijn de crijghs-luy niet die met haer felle vuysten
Den rietstock hebben of den hamer opgelicht,
Of het vervloecte hout op Golgotha gesticht,
Of over uwen rock tsaem dobbelden en tuyschten:

Ick bent, ô Heer, ick bent die u dit hebt gedaen,
Ick ben den swaren boom die u had overlaen,
Ick ben de taeye streng daermee ghy ginct gebonden,

De nagel, en de speer, de geessel die u sloech,
De bloet-bedropen croon die uwen schedel droech:
Want dit is al geschiet, eylaes! om mijne sonden.

In English ( i grabbed the translation here):

He carried our sorrows. It is not the Jews
alone, Lord Jesus, that had you crucified;
betraying you, dragging you to the court,
hating your guts, spitting in your face,
binding you, tattooing you with bruises.
Nor only the soldiers
who with their ready fists
raised the reed, lifted the hammer high,
fixed the cursed wood at the place of the skull
and squabbled, dicing for your coat.

It's me, my God, me who did this to you.
I am the heavy tree that bore you down,
the cord that cut you mercilessly. Me.
The nail and spear. The whip they slashed you with.
The crown of blood you wore upon your brow.
Oh, all this happened on account of my own sin.

And here is of course Donne's Holy Sonnet XI (written 1609-1611?):

Spit in my face, you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinn'd, and sinne', and only He,
Who could do no iniquity, hath died.
But by my death can not be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews' impiety.
They kill'd once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
O let me then His strange love still admire ;
Kings pardon, but He bore our punishment ;
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire,
But to supplant, and with gainful intent ;
God clothed Himself in vile man's flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Yes Minister on the Church of England

I can't believe i have been putting all this effort into researching the Church of England when my new favourite programme (new fave, not new programme) Yes Minister explains it all in a few minutes! Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne--such quality!

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Character of Holland...According to the English

In a previous post, we have referred to English hatred of the Dutch, and it's no secret that during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the English launched some pretty nasty anti-Dutch propaganda that would have made Goebbels proud. Below is a poem by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), a friend of Milton's in the service of Cromwell. It's pretty rude, but some of it is quite funny! Lest any Dutchies get offended, Marvell also used anti-Semitic stereotypes to berate his opponent, Samuel Parker:
who but such an Hebrew Jew as you, would, after an honest man hade made so full and voluntary Restitution, not yet have been satisfied without so many pounds of his flesh over into the bargain.
This is actually in the context of a debate rooted in Hebraism, so the insults get way more interesting than that (check out Rosenblatt's book on Selden, chapter 5).

Unsurprisingly, in the early modern period, religion was a source of conflict. The English disapproved of the Dutch pluralistic society, which was rooted in Republican sensibilities; this disregard for order and hierarchy was dangerous. The Dutch took the reformist call for personal autonomy in interpreting Scripture too far:
They are generally so bred up to the Bible that almost every Cobbler is a Dutch doctor of divinity...yet fall those inward illuminations so different that sometimes seven religions are found in one family.' (Schama)
And finally, here is the poem. Incidentally, if you're Dutch and Jewish, well, Marvell will offend you in one form or another! ;-)

Monday, 14 June 2010

Parashat Korach and Early Modern Polemics

The story of Korach, which we read this week, was a popular epithet used by seventeenth century theologians for their adversaries. Amusingly, it would seem that everyone called everyone else 'Korach'.

Richard Hooker uses the term to describe the Presbyterians' desire to democratise ecclesiastical power amongst the laymen

Launcelot Andrewes made use of it from his earliest sermons at Cambridge in the late 1580s and throughout his career at court (the sermon that comes to mind is his 'Sacrilege a Snare', which is difficult to find online, so uploaded it here. Below is a different example of Andrewes alluding to Korach), as well as in his Catechism as an anti-Puritan polemical device.

As a royalist, Jeremy Taylor made frequent use of the story of Korach

Taylor also brings Korach in order to discuss the importance of purity of intention:

But, since everyone was vying to portray their masoret as the spiritual heir of Israel (Catholics, Protestants, and amongst the Protestant factions, Presbyterians, Conformers, Calvinists, Arminians, etc., etc.), republicans like John Milton compared royalists with Korach and his followers:

And of course, in his unfortunately-timed 'Brief Notes Upon a Late Sermon' we have an example of a Puritan responding to the charge of being like Korach with a seventeenth-century scholarly version of 'I know you are but what am I?'

Milton also identified Satan's rebellion against God with Korah in Paradise Lost.
The examples are endless--i haven't even thrown in Hobbes!--and would make for an interesting survey, some day....

Friday, 11 June 2010

Eliav Digs Dutch Designers

EliavchairOne day, whilst pretending to work with my friend and esteemed colleague Hoffy (she's the one i tricked into taking me to get the lumber for my Roubo), i stumbled upon this guy Juan's blog post in which he describes his 1/2 scale build of Rietveld's classic Red and Blue Chair for his son Hugo. That was it. Hoffy and i knew we had to make one for either the kid on the way (Oria, a beautiful baby girl, now two months old), or her son Eliav (he's two and gorgeous). It seemed logical that Eliav should be compensated for the traumatic experience awaiting him, (and it will be a while before Oria can sit!) so the chair was scaled to 2/3 size. Despite its appearance, the chair is rumoured to be quite comfortable, but because it tilts back, i did not expect Eliav to want to sit in it for longer than it took to take a photo to appease his mother and myself. But apparently, if Hoffy is to be believed, he loves his little chair! As they might say in their family, der Apfel fellt nicht gerne weit vom Baume.

Below is a CGI animation of the chair:

Gerrit Rietveld chair from Max Philip on Vimeo.

This chair had huge implications for design, and we have discussed the unique Dutch conception of space in the context of football (link).

For Anthony C. Romeo's interesting article on Rietveld's chair and the unification of motion and rest, click here. It's a great, short read. Andries van Onck's site has a very in-depth analysis of Rietveld's chair, including some fascinating sections about the various kabbalistic sephirot; it will blow your mind.

On a personal level, i definitely learnt a lot more about the ideas of De Stijl from building the piece. When all the components were laid out on the floor, it seemed hard to believe that they would eventually constitute a chair (though i must confess, i did have some doubts!). It seemed so...abstract! I wasn't so struck by the design until i started making the piece. Then, and i apologise for the vagueness, i just seemed to fall into the piece; it had some hypnotic effect; the more i looked at it and interacted with it, the more entranced i was. I know that sounds totally fruity, but it's true. I also came away with an appreciation for just how strong the joints are. There--that was a more rational, concrete comment. It was like creating a 3D Mondrian painting. The symmetry of the piece always amazed me; the way the overhang on every intersecting point was the same, and how the piece seemed so mathematically...uniform (I'm easily impressed in maths, since i have little to no understanding of it). Some concepts cannot be conveyed with words, and there is an understanding that you cannot come by through books. Indeed, Rietveld himself regarded his furniture design as experimentation with ideas, as studies. David Pye wrote about this, and for a frequent blog on this topic, Doug Stowe's blog (Wisdom of the Hands) is a must-read. Those interested in the technical execution of the piece can view the building process on this little slideshow:

Friday, 4 June 2010

De Stijl (1917-1931) 'Truth is the Overall Unity of Opposites'

Schroder-House Floor PlanDe Stijl has been capturing my imagination for quite some time now. But it wasn't until fairly recently that i have been able to contextualise it. After the first world war, there were two main avant-garde Dutch movements in architecture and decorative arts. There was The Amsterdam School and De Stijl, also known as Neo-Plasticism. Both were related to Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts, and German Expressionism. They were into a unified style, and definitely subscribed to Morris's idea that art could change society. But that is about where these two movements go their own ways. As Alan Colquhoun explains it,
Each inherited a different strand of the earlier movements--the vitalistic, individualistic strand in the case of the Amsterdam School and the rationalist, impersonal strand in the case of De Stijl. Each movement condemned the other, ignoring their shared aims and origins. (Modern Architecture, Oxford History of Art)
Mondrianikes Jammer. Hopefully we'll come back to the A'dam School, but just some short background on them: Michel de Klerk (1884-1923) would be the main name to associate with the movement. They were into taking traditional architecture and tweaking it into fantastical, weird design, and they held dear the craftsman relationship to materials. Personally, of the two, the A'dam school's ethos is more to my liking, but i think De Stijl has loads to offer. So let's get back to them!

The main names (or best-known) associated with the movement are:
Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931)
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)--some of my friends had no idea he was Dutch based on his surname. It was originally Mondriaan, but he omitted the second 'a' to make himself sound less Dutch. Mission accomplished, i guess.
Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964)

In 1924, Van Doesburg published the manifesto of De Stijl in the eponymously named magazine he founded with Mondrian and other artists of the movement in 1917. You can read it here. De Stijl rejected craftsmanship, favouring geometrical anti-naturalism, and, according to some, was a misinterpretation and an extreme form of the abstraction of Cubism. But what was up with all the abstraction? Could they just not paint or draw? What were they getting at? Basically, according to Carsten-Peter Warncke, Mondrian, Vantongerloo, van Doesburg, and Huszar were all trying to get back to the basic principles of art; colours, shapes, planes, and lines. They wished to create a metaphorical language, and create an ideal world counter to reality, transcending language barriers. You can see Neo-Platonism's influence on Mondrian's obsession with the purity of art and spirit, and its aim for the absolute. Style was a manifestation of a particular age's attempt to express the absolute. Therefore, Mondrian felt that the best possible style was one in which 'the individual was most strongly subjected to the universal.'

This was the rational approach to the arts that favoured the machine above the craftsman, the empiricism of maths over the romance of nature (part of the Constructivism movement). Yet, the influences on De Stijl were as disparate as van Gogh for the colour schemes and the geometrising of Baruch Spinoza (whose Ethics had considerable influence on Mondrian and Vantongerloo).

Indeed the contradiction inherent in the movement is summed up by Mondrian himself:
The universal in style must be expressed by the individual, i.e. the way in which style is formed
I like contradiction and paradox. That's why i like Donne. There's something about paradox that makes it seem truthful, if that makes sense. And there is something about mechanics that can sometimes be very spiritual. Whilst perusing Warncke's book on De Stijl (seriously, what is up with Taschen? They normally do every art form. It was so bloody hard to get this book--it's 20 years old!), it became clear to me what i find attractive about this art:
It remains remarkable that Mondrian should have succeeded in combining the disparate parts of the painting in such a harmonious structure. Again, he could only have achieved this through the multifaceted ambiguity that pervades the various elements of the painting. [...] a perfect harmony of opposites [...] Nothing is fixed in this system , except for the basic elements and the aim of balancing the different forces. This presupposes that all our seemingly secure assumptions should be questioned again and again. (Warncke, p.20)
And, in explaining the differences between Mondrian and van Doesburg, we are surely reminded of different poetic schools of thought:
Mondrian's construction of squares and lines is a process that leads to harmony and rest to the extent that we forget everything that might be reminiscent of processes, while van Doesburg's pictures show a completely different approach to dynamics, with colour squares that border on each other harshly and are right next to each other. This dynamic has the rank of an elementary force which can only be tamed with great difficulty and changed in such a way that the well-balanced painting oscillates in its visual impact, paradoxically demonstrating harmony as vibrating restfulness. (Warncke, p.26)
Milton and Donne, anyone?

Mondrian and van Doesburg had a big split (think Simon and Garfunkel) over De Stijl doctrine. And the jury is still out regarding the philosophical underpinnings of the movement. Either way, De Stijl continues to exert its influence over current design (and had an impact on Bauhaus). 2008 saw the introduction of Mondrian Nikes (pictured above), and in April of this year, the Italian jewelry house Fope introduced their Mondrian Collection . Last week, designers looked to Mondrian for decoration inspiration, and within the past few years, designers have created Mondrian lines of handbags and dresses. Jack White was an upholsterer himself (he used to write poetry on the inside of furniture!) and an admirer of Rietveld. His band, the White Stripes released an album named after the movement.

I'm still (enjoying) struggling to understand De Stijl (erm, Hegel, Kant, Plotinus, Blavatsky, Vedas, Pali books--Jutakas?, Paracelsus, Bohme, Kabbalah, Rosicrucians...should i go on?!), which is probably evident by this rambling, rubbish post. For a better source, I would definitely recommend Colquhoun's book; he boils everything down nicely. It will be quite difficult to find a more fascinating piece on the subject than Runette Kruger's MA (linked below).

Additional links:

Jakob van Domselaer was the only musician associated with the movement. Here you can listen to his Proeven van Stijlkunst, inspired by Mondrian's paintings
Dada to Pop--cool essay
Artlex Entry on De Stijl
To read De Stijl magazine, click here
Interesting article (or MA thesis) by Runette Kruger about the integrative tendency of the movement, unparalleled in Modern art, in which the artists of De Stijl equally evoked the technological as well as the transcendent as indicators of humanity's spiritual and cultural progress
James Presley-- Mondrian van Doesburg

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

In the Library

I always thought it would be cool to open a bar called 'The Library'. It would improve the quality of many people's lives. Frequent imbibers could pass themselves off as the studious types, and nerds could appear slightly cool and social when in fact they were headed to...the library. But this is actually real. Here is how the website describes its fragrance:

The Scent

In the Library is a warm blend of English Novel*, Russian & Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish

*The main note in this scent was copied from one of my favorite novels originally published in 1927. I happened to find a signed first edition in pristine condition many years ago in London. I was more than a little excited because there were only ever a hundred of these in the first place. It had a marvelous warm woody slightly sweet smell and I set about immediately to bottle it.

I think it's a fair assumption that Ron Burgundy was the inspiration for this fragrance. It seems preferable to his colleague Champ Kind's Sex Panther.

The Story

I have always loved books. I am told this was the case even before I could read for myself. When I was very small, I loved the bedtime story and being read to by my mother. As a child, books provided a fantastic escape from boredom and a rather dreary daily life. As I grew older, I began to read voraciously and spent as much time as possible in the school library. I borrowed books with wild abandon and I read every one.

As an adult in New York, my reading increased further and I began to cover a much wider group of topics - possibly a rather strange group but fascinating to me nonetheless. Now I can say that reading has been perhaps the most important element of my life. So much of who I am, what I've discovered and what I know began with a book. Indeed even becoming a perfumer started in the main reading room of the New York Public Library.

In my time, I've acquired an enormous number of books. When I was very young, my parents subscribed me to a book club and they came every month in the mail. I got books regularly as birthday presents and Christmas gifts. When I was about thirteen and earning a bit of money of my own, I began to buy them for myself. One of the first was a collection of James Thurber stories, which I have to this day. I have spent countless hours of my life in bookshops large and small perusing titles carefully and hunting for the interesting. I have bought books like groceries and for much the same purpose - except instead of food for the body, books are nourishment for the spirit.

Now collecting books is one of my greatest passions. Many years ago I began hunting first editions of my favorite authors. I have learned that these can be found in the oddest places and I find few things more thrilling that stumbling across an unexpected treasure. I cannot pass a second hand bookshop and rarely come away without at least one additional volume. I now have quite a collection...

Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. There are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book. Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. Their ink is so crisp though the odor of their paper is so faint. Older books smell riper and often sweeter. Illustrated books have a very different odor from those with straight text and this smell often speaks of their quality. I've also noticed that books from different countries and different periods have very individual scents too. These speak not only of their origin, but of their history to this moment. I can distinguish books that were well cared for from those that were neglected. I can often tell books that lived in libraries where pipes or cigars were regularly smoked. Occasionally I run across one that I am certain belonged to an older woman fond of powdery scent. Books from California smell very different from those I buy in New York, London or Paris. I can tell books that have come from humid places - these have a musty richness in the scent of their pages.

And then of course there are the scents of different bindings: the glues, the leathers, the cloths and boards, even the paperbacks all have very unique characteristics and, to my mind, add an extra dash of personality to an otherwise mundane object. And yes, sometimes if a book has had the misfortune of being very poorly kept, I can detect a faint whiff of mildew. This doesn't bother me in the least. It means this book has survived.

To many of course, these various bookish odors mean nothing. But to an avid reader and collector like myself, these smells are as magical as the bouquet of a great wine is to a connoisseur - a sort of literary terroir. These scents mean Excitement, Adventure, Discovery, Enlightenment and Knowledge. Of course my deep love of reading is exactly what lead me in the first place to begin capturing the scent of books and of the libraries where they live. That's what this perfume is all about.

Now, whenever I have the chance, I read aloud to my nieces and nephews. I am delighted they so enjoy this and are so eager to listen. I love sharing with them some of my own childhood favorites. There have been some very interesting discussions afterward about some of these...

But before I begin to read to the children, I always take a moment to open the book and encourage them to take a whiff. I hope for them, as it has been for me, this smell will mark the beginning of a long and wondrous journey.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Suck it Up or _____ it Up

A very long time ago, i mentioned that Rousseau said something like 'Put a young man in a workshop, his hands will work to the benefit of his brain, and he will become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman.' It's something i think about at least weekly. Now, i just want to warn anyone reading this that this is more of a personal post. Anyway, i learnt a valuable lesson through my woodworking that i really hope will translate into my other work habits; my progress on the doctorate. I have noticed that these habits are one in the same, as i am the same person when i do both. Simple enough. The doctorate, or at least writing the doctorate has been a real challenge. I keep wanting to recheck my notes, to downplay the risks i am taking in some of the ideas i set forth. The well-known expression in the woodworking world 'measure twice, cut once' was something i seemed (i am writing in past tense because i hope to leave this behind) to take to the extreme. And i noticed i had the same issue of avoidance or fear with my woodworking. I have wanted to build for myself a proper workbench at which i could really perfect my craft. One's work can only turn out so well when one must assume contorted positions on the floor or kitchen counter in order to stabilise workpieces. So i obviously bought the Schwarz's book on workbenches and resolved to make myself the 18th century French workbench, known by the name of its designer, Roubo (pictured).Of course, i went over and over and over the book, debated on the lumber to order, the dimensions, etc. It took a lot of energy. Finally i took the plunge and ordered the wood. I was very happy!Roubo2

Then the wood had to acclimate to my house and i flew to the States to visit my family. When i returned, i was struck with fear. Oh, crap. There's a giant pile of wood in my house. How am i going to dimension all the lumber for the top with only hand tools and no workbench?! What if i mess this up? It's going to be so much money and time wasted and i will be stuck with all this messed up lumber! So i let it sit for a while. And then a little more. Wow--the lumber is for sure acclimated to my house now! Last week, i decided to just go for it. The situation was beginning to look a bit ridiculous. I decided to glue up the top to the best of my limited abilities, and i would just deal with gaps, should they form. There's always epoxy. I took the plunge and glued up the top. To those of you reading who don't know about woodworking, glue-ups are the most stressful aspect of projects. But, i had forced myself the point of just not caring anymore. F-it. How bad can it turn out? I just want the wood off my floor! So i glued it up--in sections, over a few days, and i am pleased (and still surprised) to say that it turned out pretty ok. It's not perfect, but it wasn't as bad as i feared, and now i am well on my way to my goal, and i feel emboldened. I think the same attitude can be put towards academics. I am definitely at the point where i am saying F-it. How bad can it turn out? But i think there's a lesson here. Either suck it up, or you will f- it up. In other words, your best effort may fall short of perfection (God forbid!), but it will not be as bad as being stuck with loads of lumber on your floor or loads of notes and unfinished chapter drafts. As you can see, my bench top needs some work, but at least i have something to work on:

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Religious Tolerance Continued

In the last post, we mentioned Tayor's attributing of a story about Abraham by the Persian poet Saadi to rabbinic sources. This we can trace to Taylor's reading of Gentius's (who, as did other scholars of the era-such as Grotius-Latinised his name. Gentius's given name was Georg Gentze) Historia Judaica, a translation of Rabbi Solomon Ibn Verga's Shevet Yehuda (or Scepter of Judah). One reader mentioned that George Alexander Kohut offers a plausible explanation for Gentius's interesting scholarly oversight in inserting the Saadi story into Historia Judaica. The article is reproduced below.

For information on Gentius which was well nigh impossible to find online, i turned to one of the definitive books on Early Modern Hebraism: Aaron L. Katchen's Christian Hebraists and Dutch Rabbis: Seventeenth Century Apologetics and the Study of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. It's seriously one of my favourite books!

Another reader expressed curiosity about Gentius, which i found in Katchen's book. I've (rather poorly) scanned some biographical information that Katchen provides about Gentius, which can read here. Katchen also discusses the Abraham story, which is also available here.

Below is the article by Kohut, published in 1902:
Abraham's Lesson in Tolerance

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Early Modern Hebraism as an Antecedent for Religious Toleration? Jeremy Taylor, John Locke, and Benjamin Franklin

Over forty years before Locke published his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), Jeremy Taylor's A Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying (1646) was a pioneering Protestant work on the subject of religious liberty. Interestingly, Taylor ends this treatise with a story he found in the 'Jews' books'; a story of Abraham being chastened by God for not being tolerant enough to an idolator! Below is Taylor's rendering of the story:

About a century later, Ben Franklin would paraphrase Taylor's story in order to argue in favour of religious toleration.

But from which of the 'Jews' books' did this story come? Surprisingly, from none; not the Talmud, Midrash, or any other mifarshim (commentators). Richard J. Newman, identifies the source of Taylor's story as Saadi's Bustan-a work which he has translated-in this post (header beginning with 'Benjamin Franklin').

But why did Taylor think that a medieval Persian poet was a 'Jewish doctor'? And what does a German Hebraist named Georg Gentze have to do with it? Stay tuned...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Jeremy Taylor, שמות רבה, and Going for the Gold

It's pretty cool to see midrash, specifically שמות רבה quoted by Jeremy Taylor. Since I like to keep my blog fairly apolitical, so i will try and resist from relating the idea of grabbing at shiny coal and getting burnt to some recent political developments:

And then, a few lines later, Taylor references another midrash, this time, i think it's from Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer:

Absalom, caught by his hair in the tree felt as if he was dangling directly over hell, and to cut himself down would be to effectively hasten his death. Therefore, he saw his painful
predicamentas buying him time, effectively. That's according to Rashi, who brings the midrash. Taylor continues:

Although doing the right thing is pretty clear, we tend to get our priorities a bit mixed up, so to speak. Perhaps Absalom was also entangled in his own delusions that he thought he wouldn't be caught. Hopefully on a personal level we won't sink that low. But as a voting population, hopefully
we'll know when to cut down our entangled, corrupt leadership. For a more politically explicit rendering of this story, see Dryden's 1681 poem 'Absalom and Achitophel,' by clicking here.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Doing Da Vinci

I know the title sounds a bit suggestive, but it's actually the name of a series on the Discovery Channel. Anyway, today is the birthday of Leonardo Da Vinci, a great example of a handy intellectual, or a tinker-thinker. The Wikipedia entry on Da Vinci has some great external links, including his notebooks.

Here's the first part of a documentary about Da Vinci:

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Hunting For William Holman Hunt: Part 2--The House

Part two of our journey took us to William Holman Hunt's Jerusalem residence on Rehov Ha Neviim (the road of the Prophets). My friend Becky with whom i do the majority of my nerd-splorations acts as our tour guide, shedding some light on Israeli cultural history:

Although i am not sure that we correctly identified the house. We tried to make up for it here, though:

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Tools of the Trade (for Tali)

When i was in the States, i got to pick up some new tools at the Woodworking Shows, about which i have blogged. That was in Columbus. When i was in New York, i experienced the awesomeness that is Sephora. How do i explain Sephora? Well, it's kind of like the Veritas or Lee Valley of makeup, and going into the shop is like going into Woodcraft (i'm dying to see Highland Woodworking, mostly because the people there are super-nice) or Rockler, etc. CIMG1052 Sorry to belabour the point with all these shop names, but i am trying to make clear the comparison; Home Depot would be the equivalent to buying makeup at CVS (there's no judgement there--sometimes you pick up a mascara at CVS, but not necessarily foundation; when you need the odd forstner bit or hearing protection, you get it at Home Depot, but you wouldn't go there for a hand plane).

I didn't get so much at Sephora, and when i go to a woodworking shop, i take it slow as well. But sometimes, there are some breakthrough purchases that make a difference in your work. My sister Tali bought me a set of brushes (thank God these things are labelled--it makes things a bit easier), and it was the equivalent to receiving a set of chisels. Different tools for different jobs. No matter if your toolkit is for makeup, fine woodworking, or home repairs, your kit must be diversified for different tasks in order to ensure that the job gets done properly.

I'm not going to compare or rate the experiences. I was just thinking about how i felt a bit out of place at the Woodworking shows, where the vast majority of ppl there were white dudes over 40. When Chuck Bender told me i hit like a girl (the chisel with the mallet, and perhaps not hard enough?), i thought it was hilarious--he was right, and i want to emphasise that he was making a joke in good spirit--but it reminded me of my surroundings. Testosterone town.

When my sister wrinkles her nose at my woodworking tools, it's actually pretty ironic. She's got LOADS of makeup 'tools'. And when some guys wonder quizzically why women have so many different makeup accoutrements, let's call them, i would direct them to their own toolboxes (well, some. You know who you are!). Basically, everyone likes tools, no matter the format; they're adult-toys.

Rabbi David Debow pointed out to me that i'm in a pretty fortunate position--i get to play with makeup tools and woodworking tools. So i just want to end with a salute to my heroes; woodworking women, who walk in both worlds. I was very excited to see that the managing editor of Popular Woodworking is a woman--Megan Fitzpatrick (and fellow English PhD nerd--nice!). Of course, Kari Hultman's blog, the Village Carpenter is an inspiration. And, as always, my mother, who owns and uses all the tools in the house.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Purim 2010=First blogaversary

Mishloach Manot
It's Purim again, and it's hard to believe it. I think my first real blog post was about Purim 2009--so it's been a whole year since i've been blogging. I suppose i should take stock of what i have blogged about and reflect on whether it's making a contribution...

In a very different vein, check out my Mishloach Manot! My friend thought that throwing out plane shavings (or rather, wood shavings) was a waste; and i am sure that the recipients of my Mishloach Manot really appreciated their food being covered with fragrant pine shavings...

Mishloach Manot2Also included (just to crank up the nerdiness and perhaps ensure my identity as the sender, since i inevitably forgot to sign these things) was an article entitled 'The Tree of Death and the Tree of Life: The Hanging of Haman in Medieval Jewish Manuscript Painting', by Katrin Kogman-Appel, courtesy of my friend Menachem Butler of the Michtavim Blog fame.

My friend Hoffy reported to me that she was very happy about the enclosed article. Turns out she was awake for a few hours last night (as some of my friends know, i had no such problem! Dori--i'm sorry, again!) and needed to read something to put her to sleep! Turns out my mother still keeps my Master's thesis in her bedside table for the same reason...

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Hunting For William Holman Hunt: Part 1--The Bench


I have always wanted to check out the Mar Elias Monastery since I often pass it on my way to Gush Etzion. In looking it up, I was amazed to read that in 1910 William Holman Hunt's widow, Edith, commissioned a stone bench, which still stands today, just outside the monastery.

CIMG1454.JPG A few months ago, my friends Becky and Prezzy, and i rode out to the monastery to check out the bench. Sadly, some toolbag vandalised the bench with spray paint, and there appear to be inscriptions on the bench, but the weather has mostly worn them away.

So why put the bench here? Apparently WHH loved the light out here, and apparently worked on 'The Light of the World' as well as 'The Scapegoat' from this very spot. Hunt took several trips to Palestine, and his daughter was even born in Jerusalem. Here's a pretty useless video i took of the night. In a previous post, i provided a bit more detail about WHH in Palestine. For more on WHH, click here.

The drama continues with Part 2: The House. Stay tuned...

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Columbus Woodworking Show--Part 2

DT Fitting
Part of the reason cutting dovetails with Chuck was a great experience is because he removes all the neurotic crap that makes obsessive people crazy. Dividing your board in half and then figuring out the amount of tails and then half pins, blah blah blah, ad absurdum. And yet, for all the obsessing, the first time i tried to cut dovetails, i forgot some pretty simple steps, such as labelling the tails and pins (and not doing things when overtired and under-nourished). Which is how i ended up with the photo to the left. The omission of this crucial step also meant that i kept on trimming the joints until they fit, but since i didn't know pins from tails and inside from outside, a very snug fitting pair of joints ended up looking like this. Mortifying.Loose DT

So, at the end of the woodworking shows, i accosted Chuck (who was too much of a gentleman to refuse me and even blogged a very gracious version of my stalking him, which you can read here), who gave me a mini-tutorial of how to cut dovetails by hand. Chuck's method took the headache out of the whole process. No math, no formulas. We eyeballed everything and just got on with it. Chuck's a great teacher in that he somehow (i am still trying to figure it out!) enables his student to accomplish the goal without hovering too much or doing the work for him/her.

DTCBAnyway, i think i mentioned before, we were running to get these dovetails done, so they're a bit split, but nonetheless i wanted to show off my infinitely better set of Bender-pins-first-dovetails that i made Chuck autograph (i told you i stalked him!) with the wenge pen that my mother turned. And Uri caught some of the magic on film, including his commentary.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Columbus Woodworking Show--Part 1

CIMG4750.JPGThis past Sunday, my brother, mother, and i drove from Cleveland to Columbus for the Woodworking Show. I thought they were kidding when they said they would come (can you tell i'm used to being mocked for my middle-aged-man hobby?), but they happily accompanied me. Well, maybe not happily. I printed up a 'bring your spouse for free coupon' and made my brother Uri go as my husband. He was most unhappy with this, but he played along. I think they printed 'spouse' because it would have been a bit much to print 'bring your family member who would really rather not attend a woodworking show but is going to put a cap on your spending' or something to that effect. The woman taking tickets gave us a knowing wink as Uri squirmed and gave me a resentful look. And then...we were in! It was magnificent. And a bit overwhelming. It was in a sense too big. But once you narrow it down to stuff you want to see, it becomes more manageable. Not only did i get to see Lie Nielsen tools in person, but as my friend Dave Richards suggested, i got to use them (i thought he was teasing me)! It was phenomenal.

The highlight of the show for me was meeting my Lumberjocks buddy Chuck Bender. I'm aware how dodgy it sounds that i talk about how woodworkers are the nicest people and that i have made many friends online. Though my mother and brother were totally bitten with the woodworking bug (see video below) and had the best time turning pens, they still were quite weirded out when i mentioned 'meeting my friend from the internet'. This all dissipated when they met Chuck of course, and i told him that he proved the claim i always make about woodworkers being the nicest people ever. Chuck understood the concerns though and pointed out the difference between meeting internet friends wisely and foolishly: 'Well, we are meeting in a public place. It's not like I'm telling you to meet me in an alley where i will be waiting with a bludgeon and a garbage bag.' Hmm... good point.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Miep Gies 1909-2010

Miep Gies, holding her son Paul, Otto Frank (left), and her husband Jan, A'dam, January 1951, nicked from here

The famous protector of Anne Frank, and my hero whom i had the privilege to meet is remembered here and here. ברוך דיין האמת.