Drawing New Interest to the Talmud

May 31, 2013 10:26 am 0 comments

With raised fists, Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretive Talmud drawings also take on social issues. Photo: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

JNS.org - On a journey into art and text that will take seven and a half years to complete, Jacqueline Nicholls is drawing the Talmud—one page each day.

Last August, in conjunction with the beginning of a new seven-and-a-half year cycle of “daf yomi”—the daily study of a double page of the Babylonian Talmud that is observed by tens of thousands of Jews worldwide—Nicholls inaugurated an online “Draw Yomi” project that day-by-day results in a hand-drawn response to what she has studied.

“Here I go. Full of optimism and hope that I will not be defeated by the daily discipline of learning,” the London-based Jewish artist wrote on her blog to initiate the project.

With drawings of a human heart, a scorpion, and the Hebrew word “Amen,” Nicholls introduces and explicates the often-arcane world of the Talmud.

“Drawing is a way to slow down and get the brain to take a different path,” she told JNS.org.

After several months, that path—which is available for view on her website, http://drawyomi.blogspot.com/—has illuminated with graphic and thought-provoking drawings a world of Jewish law, storytelling and contemplative thought that had previously been limited mostly to the word and textural study.

In Nicholl’s illustrations—each illustration is accompanied by a reference to the text from which she bases the illustration—Talmud study shifts to the visual as Hebrew letters anthropomorphize into fists, and a human skull helps to illustrate “the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things in the world.”

As a kind of warm-up to Draw Yomi, Nicholls had earlier created a drawing a day for the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. As it turned out, she missed the ritual of sitting down to draw every day. “I like the immediacy and deadline,” she said.

To create her illustrations, Nicholls, who describes herself as a traditional Jew, first studies the double page portion to get a “sense of what’s up on the daf (page)” and to search for a theme she can illustrate.

Sitting in her studio, she limits her time for the drawing to thirty minutes. “I use a kitchen timer,” she explained. “The drawings are not a finished piece of art–more like a sketchbook,” added the artist, who in September had a showing of her previous artwork at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in Manhattan.

Nicholls said she has found that drawing is not only a process of study, but also a “way of taking the daf out of the yeshiva.”

Depending on the Talmud daf (page), Jacqueline Nicholls's interpretation can take a whimsical approach. Photo: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

Moving even further from the yeshiva, Nicholls, who studied anatomical art and medical drawing, does not shy away from illustrating the female form. For example, to illustrate a daf that she interprets as being “all about life and babies,” she illustrates a pregnant woman in position for childbirth.

Each week, to further explore the text, Nicholls invites a learning partner to add another voice to the ongoing Talmudic conversation by engaging in chevruta—the time-honored method of Talmud study where two students bounce ideas, questions and interpretations off of each other.

“She has changed the medium for commentary,” said Rabbi Deborah Silver, who has been one of Nicholls’s chevruta partners. “She holds up a particular kind of mirror to the text,” added Silver, the assistant rabbi at Temple Adat Ari El in Los Angeles who studied with Nicholls before she began the Draw Yomi project. “I know her for along time, and this is her language,” she said.

Silver explained that the drawings are a “springboard” serving to “take the conversation deeper, quicker,” showing a more concentrated view of Nicholls’s thought process.

For instance, to illustrate a daf on what it means to forget, and specifically to forget Shabbat, Nicholls shows a woman missing the top of her head. “Is forgetting the same as never knowing?” she asks.

To capture a Talmud page on waiting for Shabbat to be over, Nicholls shows a clock overseen by three stars. On the belief that crying can cause blindness, she draws a tearful smoldering eye.

If there is humor in the text, Nicholls shows that, too. To illustrate a page that likens a city to a person with limbs, we don’t see a serious city with “Broad Shoulders,” as we might imagine from Carl Sandberg’s  “Chicago,” but an animated town with bent arms, cartoony fingers, even a couple of feet.

But to illustrate another page of Talmud that speaks of “cities that are dangerous to enter if you are from the wrong neighborhood,” Nicholls’s buildings grow angular, and with raised arms, look ready for a fight.

A woman with the top of her head missing in a depiction of a daf (page) from Tractate Shabbat in the Talmud by Jacqueline Nicholls. Photo: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

After more than half a year of the project, Nicholls has received interest from several quarters, including “a fairly right-wing chasidic chap,” and others who are approaching daf yomi using social media and international conversation. There has even been interest from those wanting to buy the drawings.

In May, Nicholls was also invited to serve as a scholar and artist-in-residence at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, where she presented the Draw Yomi project and heard comments from people who had been learning daf yomi for years. She said she was “pleasantly delighted” by the feedback she received.

At this stage of the Draw Yomi project, Nicholls knows “a couple of people who like my art, check in and see my drawings quite regularly and have now started learning daf yomi themselves.”

“What she does is jump the language barrier,” said Rabbi Silver.

On a journey into art and text that will take seven and a half years to complete, Jacqueline Nicholls is drawing the Talmud—one page each day.

Last August, in conjunction with the beginning of a new seven-and-a-half year cycle of “daf yomi”—the daily study of a double page of the Babylonian Talmud that is observed by tens of thousands of Jews worldwide—Nicholls inaugurated an online “Draw Yomi” project that day-by-day results in a hand-drawn response to what she has studied.

Here I go. Full of optimism and hope that I will not be defeated by the daily discipline of learning,” the London-based Jewish artist wrote on her blog to initiate the project.

With drawings of a human heart, a scorpion, and the Hebrew word “Amen,” Nicholls introduces and explicates the often-arcane world of the Talmud.

Drawing is a way to slow down and get the brain to take a different path,” she told JNS.org.

After several months, that path—which is available for view on her website, http://drawyomi.blogspot.com/—has illuminated with graphic and thought-provoking drawings a world of Jewish law, storytelling and contemplative thought that had previously been limited mostly to the word and textural study.

In Nicholl’s illustrations—each illustration is accompanied by a reference to the text from which she bases the illustration—Talmud study shifts to the visual as Hebrew letters anthropomorphize into fists, and a human skull helps to illustrate “the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things in the world.”

As a kind of warm-up to Draw Yomi, Nicholls had earlier created a drawing a day for the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. As it turned out, she missed the ritual of sitting down to draw every day. “I like the immediacy and deadline,” she said.

To create her illustrations, Nicholls, who describes herself as a traditional Jew, first studies the double page portion to get a “sense of what’s up on the daf (page)” and to search for a theme she can illustrate.

Sitting in her studio, she limits her time for the drawing to thirty minutes. “I use a kitchen timer,” she explained. “The drawings are not a finished piece of art–more like a sketchbook,” added the artist, who in September had a showing of her previous artwork at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in Manhattan.

Nicholls said she has found that drawing is not only a process of study, but also a “way of taking the daf out of the yeshiva.”

Moving even further from the yeshiva, Nicholls, who studied anatomical art and medical drawing, does not shy away from illustrating the female form. For example, to illustrate a daf that she interprets as being “all about life and babies,” she illustrates a pregnant woman in position for childbirth.

Each week, to further explore the text, Nicholls invites a learning partner to add another voice to the ongoing Talmudic conversation by engaging in chevruta—the time-honored method of Talmud study where two students bounce ideas, questions and interpretations off of each other.

She has changed the medium for commentary,” said Rabbi Deborah Silver, who has been one of Nicholls’s chevruta partners. “She holds up a particular kind of mirror to the text,” added Silver, the assistant rabbi at Temple Adat Ari El in Los Angeles who studied with Nicholls before she began the Draw Yomi project. “I know her for along time, and this is her language,” she said.

Silver explained that the drawings are a “springboard” serving to “take the conversation deeper, quicker,” showing a more concentrated view of Nicholls’s thought process.

For instance, to illustrate a daf on what it means to forget, and specifically to forget Shabbat, Nicholls shows a woman missing the top of her head. “Is forgetting the same as never knowing?” she asks.

To capture a Talmud page on waiting for Shabbat to be over, Nicholls shows a clock overseen by three stars. On the belief that crying can cause blindness, she draws a tearful smoldering eye.

If there is humor in the text, Nicholls shows that, too. To illustrate a page that likens a city to a person with limbs, we don’t see a serious city with “Broad Shoulders,” as we might imagine from Carl Sandberg’s  “Chicago,” but an animated town with bent arms, cartoony fingers, even a couple of feet.

But to illustrate another page of Talmud that speaks of “cities that are dangerous to enter if you are from the wrong neighborhood,” Nicholls’s buildings grow angular, and with raised arms, look ready for a fight.

After more than half a year of the project, Nicholls has received interest from several quarters, including “a fairly right-wing chasidic chap,” and others who are approaching daf yomi using social media and international conversation. There has even been interest from those wanting to buy the drawings.

In May, Nicholls was also invited to serve as a scholar and artist-in-residence at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, where she presented the Draw Yomi project and heard comments from people who had been learning daf yomi for years. She said she was “pleasantly delighted” by the feedback she received.

At this stage of the Draw Yomi project, Nicholls knows “a couple of people who like my art, check in and see my drawings quite regularly and have now started learning daf yomi themselves.”

What she does is jump the language barrier,” said Rabbi Silver.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.