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"The Talmudists"
Max Weber
Jewish Museum
New York, New York

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date unknown
One can see in the photographs above, the influence of El Greco, i.e. the distortion and vertical elongation of the faces.
Reflections of a Jewish Past

Max Weber’s turn to painting Jewish subjects as he approached his fourth decade undoubtedly resulted from numerous factors that coalesced after the deaths of his parents at the end of World War I. Although Judaic themes never formed the majority of his creative output, they numbered among his major innovations. Weber combined Jewish subjects with a modern aesthetic that was especially appreciated by American Jews as a reminder of their cultural roots. 

In 1919 Weber painted Sabbath, a scene of two Chassidic men and their wives that reflects Weber’s inspiration from Cubism and the figural distortions of El Greco. Thus the painting is an innovative modern interpretation of a theme featuring Jewish characters who adhere to ancient tradition.

Weber wrote “to see an art work casually or en passant is a very pleasant experience: but to come in touch with the vision, the spirit of its maker, is seeing in participation and then it is not a gratification but an exultation.”

Weber used to love to visit the Ghetto in lower Manhattan and sketch. He saw many of the stereotypical scenes one would expect to find there: the pushcart sellers, the workers who toiled in the sweatshops, old Jewish men dressed in their traditional garb.

Throughout the twenties and thirties Weber painted numerous portraits of rabbis, the spiritual leaders of the Jewish community and the symbol of Jewish heritage.

 One of Weber’s famed series of rabbis is called The Talmudists, a painting of a group of men at a table gesticulating about the religious texts that they peruse. At the back of the painting is the image of an ark, repository for the sacred Torah, thus placing the scene in a synagogue. Here the bearded men reflect the ancient tradition of the religion as a reminder for contemporary Jews of their cultural past as it is continued into the present.

Weber’s inspiration for The Talmudists was recorded in the 1935 article, Max Weber: Hasidic Painter, in Judaism, a quarterly journal published by the American Jewish Congress:

"I was prompted to paint this picture after a pilgrimage to one of the oldest synagogues of New York's East Side. I find a living spiritual beauty  emanates from, and over and about a group of patriarchal types when they congregate in search of wisdom in the teaching of the great Talmudists of the past. The discussion of the Talmud is at times impassioned, inspired, ecstatic, and at other moments serene and contemplative…to witness a group of such elders bent on and intent upon nothing but the eternal quest and interpretation of the ethical, significant, and religious content of the great Jewish legacy--the Torah--is for me an unforgettable experience.” next...


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