From Destruction to Creation
After tragic fire, renowned Israeli painter Yoram Raanan’s art book brings Torah to life
Art of Revelation, the forthcoming book by Israeli contemporary artist Yoram Raanan, brings the entire annual cycle of Judaism’s weekly Torah portions to life through an unprecedented array of paintings—emerging from the artist’s personal story of redemption and uncompromising faith.
Less than 15 months after his art studio and about 2,000 of his pieces were destroyed in a fire as Israel was hit by a nationwide wave of blazes, Raanan’s new book showcases his 160 exquisite original paintings on the 54 Torah portions, accompanied by explanations that help readers see layers in the art that may not initially meet the eye.
The weekly Torah portion—a section of the Bible that is chanted by a designated reader in synagogues around the world on the Sabbath, as well as studied privately or in public lectures—is the de facto drumbeat of the Jewish faith. Ranging from the stories of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, to the Exodus from Egypt, to the 613 commandments, any given week’s portion (also known as a parshah) reminds Jews—and by extension, all of Western civilization—of both their millennia-old roots and their practical daily concerns.
Art of Revelation engages the mind while being a digestible book that will capture the hearts and imaginations of experts and novices who appreciate fine art. Raanan’s paintings reflect the inner dimension of the events, people, laws, and stories of the Torah, speaking in metaphors that slip into viewers’ minds and touch them in a visceral way.
“In the biblical account of creation, we hear repeatedly the words, ‘God said, Let there be…and there was…and God saw that it was good’…God saw and wanted us to see the goodness and beauty of the world,” writes Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the U.K., in a letter of support for Yoram Raanan. “[Yoram] helps us ‘see that it is good,’ showing us the light of holiness and the beauty of being.”
Raanan was commissioned to provide, over a three-year span, a new painting on the subject of each week’s Torah portion. But disaster struck in November 2016, when the fire at his studio in the Judean hills destroyed 40 years of his work.
“My first words to my wife and a few others still trapped inside the village were, ‘well, there goes the studio,’” the artists recalls. “As we were able to evacuate and drive through the still spreading fire in the smoky night air, I realized that this was surely the work of God, and that only good would come from this—even though included in this disaster were all the 160 parshah paintings of the previous three years.”
The result of his strikingly optimistic attitude is the new book, which Raanan calls “the actualization of my desire to share this collection with the world.” This sharing would not have been possible without the foresight of the painter, who before the fire had scanned digital copies of all of his pieces on the Torah portions.
The artist praises the work of his wife and co-author Meira Raanan, who spent “years researching and writing about the biblical understanding and artistic nuances that these visual representations convey. In the year since the fire she has put her results into final form, and now they are here to share with you.” Meira, a teacher of religion and meditation, is working on another book, The Lights of Fire, on the subject of the blessings that have emerged from the fire that destroyed Yoram’s studio and artworks.
“Few artists in the Jewish world today better capture the beauty of holiness, of service of God, and of Judaism as a faith than Yoram Raanan,” writes Rabbi Sacks. “His paintings have inspired me for many years, and I have been moved by the way he has rebuilt after the tragedy of losing his life’s work in the arson attacks that engulfed the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem in November 2016. I am delighted to see Yoram’s work showcased in this way.”
About the author-artist
Yoram Raanan is one of Israel’s most well-known contemporary artists. After graduating in 1975 from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, he traveled and studied throughout Europe and the Near East. He moved to Israel in 1977 and opened his first studio in Jerusalem. Inspired by Israel’s beauty, heritage, and people, Raanan’s art has brought him international acclaim. His paintings are on display in museums, galleries, and collections worldwide. His work often reflects the Bible, nature, and the land of Israel.
Meira Raanan has been teaching and writing about meditation, religion and art for many years. Her interest in the Biblical narrative began with a degree in Jewish studies at McGill University (Montreal) and developed into the study of Chassidut and Kabbala. She is currently working on a new book, The Lights of Fire about the fire that burned down her husband’s studio and a lifetime of art work, and the blessings that have emerged from that disaster.
Title: Art of Revelation: A Visual Encounter with the Jewish Bible
Author: Yoram Raanan and Meira Raanan
Pages: 237 Price: $ 120
Pub Date: June 1, 2018