Podcast: Meir Soloveichik on Rembrandt, Tolkien, and the Jews

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Chapter 1: Jews in Early Modern Dutch Society

Chapter 2: Rembrandt’s Encounter with the Jews

Chapter 3: Rembrandt’s Painting of Moses Receiving the Luchot

Chapter 4: Tolkien and the Jews

Chapter 5: The Dialectical Nature of the Jewish People and the Theological Nature of Art

In this podcast Eric Cohen and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik speak about two artistic geniuses whose works highlight Jews’ humanity, on the one hand, and other-worldliness, on the other. These two sides of the Jewish people—at once part of the human race and God’s chosen people—comprise Jews’ inherently dialectical nature, Soloveichik argues.

Framed by Soloveichik’s recent essay, “Rembrandt’s Great Jewish Painting” (Mosaic, June 2016), the discussion begins with an exploration of the great Dutch painter’s beautiful efforts to depict the humanity of Jews and the Jewishness of biblical scenes. Particular attention is given to Rembrandt’s great painting of Moses receiving the Luchot, which answers and corrects Michaelangelo’s Moses.

In contrast, it is the miraculous nature of the Jewish people, rather than their humanity, that J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings brings out, as Soloveichik argues in “The Secret Jews of the Hobbit” (Commentary, August 2016). Secular and American Jews are uncomfortable with this side of their identity and Soloveichik thinks they can learn something important from the Catholic author’s presentation of the Jewish people as a miraculous people—a trait that remains true today.

The discussion culminates in an exploration of the unique role art can play in understanding and presenting the divine.

Courtesy of Pro Musica Hebraica, musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim, and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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