Richard I. Cohen

Visual Culture and Modern Jewish Society

Richard Cohen Session 1
1. A Visual Perspective on Modern Jewish History
Richard Cohen Session 2
2. Imagining Moses Mendelssohn over Time
Richard Cohen Session 3
3. From Powelessness to Power
Richard Cohen Session 4
4. The Wandering Jew from Christian Myth to Jewish Self-Representation

5. Jewish Icons of Modernity: Spinoza, Da Costa, Jesus and Herzl. Creating a Jewish Pantheon

Richard Cohen Session 6
6. Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History: Jewish Museums in Transition

We are pleased to present the seminar «Visual Culture and Modern Jewish Society» taught by Prof. Richard I. Cohen (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) from April 25 to May 16, 2019. Professor Cohen is Emeritus Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The sessions dealt with:

A Visual Perspective on Modern Jewish History

The opening lecture offers a wide introduction on the visual interpretations of issues and problems in modern Jewish society and culture. This introduction explains how the visual culture can bring new perspectives to the study of history, which will be the central idea during the rest of the course.

– Imagining Mendelssohn over Time

This session presents the ways in which the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was represented and imagined during his lifetime and over the past centuries since his death in 1786. Mendelssohn commanded much attention long after passing away, and thus his image continued to attract attention by artists of non-Jewish and Jewish origin, who creatively fashioned him in various settings and contexts.

– From Powerlessness to Power

This session explains the argument often made that Jews could not be fully integrated into society as they lacked the ability or desire to engage in military battle. These claims found visual depictions and persisted long after Jews joined various national armies and participated in military battles. The interplay between these virtual portrayals of Jews as weak and reluctant military figures and later their depiction as dedicated soldiers to their national countries offers a fascinating entrée into questions of Jewish integration into modern society.

– The Wandering Jew from Christian Myth to Jewish Self-Representation

This session is focused on how, in contrast to the growing sense of identification with a country, the Jewish experience has often been identified with the phenomenon of wandering. Thus, the fourth lecture offers a window into the world of myth and its visual imagination, but also into its sense of reality.

– Jewish Icons of Modernity: Spinoza, Da Costa, Jesus and Herzl. Creating a Jewish Pantheon”

This session deals with the choices made by Jewish artists to create a pantheon for their culture. Uriel Da Costa, Baruch Spinoza, Jesus or Theodor Herzl constituted quite an original choice of “heroes” for Jewish artists to “self-represent” their values and culture. The lecture reflects on the concepts of otherness and identity and proves how the integration of Jewish artists’ vision can contribute to amplify the scope and the possibilities of intellectual reflection.

– “Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History: Jewish Museums in Transition”

The final lecture treats aspects of Jewish self-representation by looking at the growing presence of Jewish museums in the post-Holocaust period in Europe and the United States. Clearly, Jewish museums have become an accepted aspect of the public space in many countries and cities, and as such have become important nterpreters of Jewish life, past and present, and a major medium for transmitting knowledge on Jewish existence, past and present. The lecture places the phenomenon of Jewish museums in context with other “minority” museums, or “special issues” museums, the struggles to build them in places where Jewish communities are non-existent, the narratives that guide the museums, the controversies that have surrounded some of them, and the social and ideological agendas that have accompanied them in past generations.

Richard Cohen poster