Graven Images: Graphic Motifs of the Jewish Grave Stone

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"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth". So decrees the second commandment. Could anything be clearer? And yet, through the centuries, Jews have decorated their tombstones with graven images. This rich tradition of liberally interpreting the biblical admonition has provided centuries' worth of graphic symbols and motifs that illuminate Jewish history and lore. In Graven Images, a surprisingly spirited view of a usually somber subject, author and photographer Arnold Schwartzman has assembled a lavish array of color photographs of Jewish tombstones. Focusing on the treasures he has discovered in thirty-eight European cemeteries, this book reproduces more than two hundred graven images from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Romania. Schwartzman's beautiful close-up photographs and fascinating captions reveal the significance of some of the most common images found on the gravestones. Some reveal the occupation of the deceased (an inkwell and quill for a scribe) or something about character (a candelabrum for a pious woman). Others allude specifically to a person's name (a fish for a member of the Fischel family) or refer to biblical tradition (Noah's ark, Adam and Eve in the Garden). The book begins with a riveting essay by Chaim Potok, the renowned novelist and Jewish thinker, who asks: "How in the light of all these images are we to understand the second commandment?" A unique assemblage of what Schwartzman has called "hallowed milestones that plot the course of the Jewish diaspora", GravenImages will appeal to everyone interested in Jewish history, symbols, and tradition.

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User Review  - SqueakyChu - LibraryThing

This is such an interesting book! I never gave much thought to Jewish gravestones or what was on them other than the Hebrew names of the deceased plus the birth and death dates. This book is about the ... Read full review

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About the author (1993)

Chaim Potok was born in New York City in 1929. He graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors) from Yeshiva University in 1950, and received an advanced degree from Jewish Theological Seminary in 1954, when he also became an ordained Conservative rabbi. After two years of military service as a chaplain in Korea, Potok married Adena Sarah Mosevitsky in 1958. The couple had three children. Eventually Potok returned to school and received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. Potok has held a variety of positions within the Jewish community, including directing a camp in Los Angeles, teaching at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles at a Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and working as an editor on various religious publications, Potok's first novel, The Chosen, was published in 1967, and he quickly won acclaim for this best-selling book about tensions within the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities. This and later books have been both critically and popularly successful. Many of them explore the meaning of Judaism in the modern era, focusing on the conflict between traditional teachings and the pressures of modern life. The Chosen was nominated for a National Book Award in 1967 and made into a successful film in 1982. Its sequel, The Promise (1969) was the winner of an Athenaeum Award. Potok is also the author of a nonfiction volume, Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews (1978), as well as several short stories and articles that have been published in both religious and secular magazines.

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