Video: Soul Art – The Illuminations Of Rabbi Yonah Weinrib


yoni-weinribBy Riva Pomerantz and N. Fein, 5TJT

[Video below.] Van Gogh painted flowers and wheat fields; Chagall painted goats and flying ethereal figures; Rabbi Yonah Weinrib paints spirituality and expressions of G-dliness. Quiet and unassuming, Rabbi Weinrib has devoted his life to interpreting and portraying Torah through art.

His works range from beautiful renditions of the Grace after Meals to painstaking microcalligraphy interpretations of Jewish prayers and intricate, eye-opening illuminations of Jewish philosophy and tradition.

“Art is a work of the soul, reflective of a deeper sense of where a person is coming from,” Rabbi Weinrib explains. “In Jewish thought, art is about the spiritual beauty and the essence it embodies. The external is only a way to exalt the inner spirit. And, of course, beauty brings the viewer to a higher dimension.”

The idea that art is a means to an end is one that every art lover appreciates. But how often does that “end” lead us to G-d’s doorstep? In Rabbi Weinrib’s work, the answer is, very often. He weaves together the contemporary and classic commentary upon which he bases his artwork. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, he infuses it with the spiritual meaning that surrounds it.

His newest project, The Illuminated Torah: Sefer Shemos, commissioned by the Tessler family of Chicago, is a case in point. The text is illustrated in interpretative detail, meshing allegory, commentary, and insight into the artistry. Every word conveys several facets of meaning, depicting the living, breathing, multihued nature of Torah as an endless and eternal wellspring of inspiration. This magnificent artwork is the result of global cooperation among a team of artists and craftsmen, directed by Rabbi Yonah Weinrib and ArtChazin of Israel. The limited edition of 613 volumes, sponsored by the Rennert Family, replicates the original manuscript size of 15″ x 20″ and is housed in a luxurious leather binding. Each page is gold-stamped, with embossing throughout the volume.

Rabbi Weinrib is also now researching and sketching the volume for Sefer Bereishis. More than 110 pages of original artwork have been completed to date, and dedication opportunities are being offered. This is a unique opportunity to show honor to or commemorate a loved one, as the far-reaching effects will continue to impact and influence Jews for generations.

Rabbi Weinrib hopes that his life’s work will reflect not on himself, but to the real Source of all beauty and talent: G-d. “When someone says, ‘Wow! Look at that artist!’ I say, ‘Wow! Look at the Artist-G-d!’ Whatever talent is contained within a human being comes directly from his Creator, no question about it. When we use our talents as a tool to serve G-d and pay tribute to the gifts He has given us, then that talent reflects back to his exalted Source, creating endless beauty.”

As part of his work, Rabbi Weinrib travels the country, speaking about his work and his outlook on portraying Judaism through the visual arts. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” remarked a woman at a San Francisco exhibition of Weinrib’s work. “This is something much more than just physical.”

“These Jews are connecting to their heritage,” explains Weinrib. “They are seeing the magnificence and subtleties that result when weaving together art and deeper meaning. It’s a fusion that reveals a much grander picture of not just the art-and certainly not the artist-but rather, the beauty of Torah.”

His use of Midrash and commentary in interpreting Torah lends important perspective. “Torah isn’t a history book or a storybook. It’s a text that teaches lessons for life. It’s the manual for all human existence. No wonder the ideas are endless!”

The range of his published works reflects the breadth of his subject matter. Rabbi Weinrib has explored the Jewish lifecycle with his popular texts The Jewish Wedding Celebration, The Bar Mitzvah Treasury, and The Bat Mitzvah Treasury. His volume The Illuminated Hallel: Song of the Soul shares King David’s lyrical verses recited on festivals and rosh chodesh through artwork and insights. The Illuminated Megillah on Megillat Esther peels back layers of concealment to reveal the hidden dimension of the Purim story. The Illuminated Pirkei Avos is a classic work on Jewish ethics. Tens of thousands of his editions on Bircas HaMazon have enhanced Shabbos tables from New York to Australia. His magnum opus, The Illuminated Torah, also available as a coffee-table edition, deftly weaves imagery and insight to share the wisdom of Torah and Midrash against a magnificent artistic backdrop.

Every artist is influenced by his surroundings, and Rabbi Weinrib is no different. During times of personal challenge, his art is a haven of meaning and inspiration. But he is determined to focus his artist’s eye outside the art, just as he strives to look beyond the physical pinch of life’s challenges.

“My father, an Auschwitz survivor, recently passed away. There was no question that he was a man who channeled the unspeakable horrors he suffered during the Holocaust into something totally different. He was an incredibly sensitive person with a real zest for life. One day, we were walking together in the hospital, during a time when he was very sick, and my father turned to me and said, ‘It’s such a beautiful world!’ When we can be attuned to everything we see around us, we can see that it really is a beautiful world, no matter what. Just like in art, we use contrast to bring out the beauty of a painting, so, too G-d uses ‘contrast’ in our lives-challenges, trials, and pain-to bring out the beauty of life for us to appreciate. If everything was always rosy, we would never be able to appreciate the complexity and real splendor of all it has to offer.” 

Click below for a video about Rabbi Weinrib’s work:

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