Math & Engineering

Aaron the Jewish Bishop

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  Aaron the Jewish Bishop The exodus from Egypt was led by Moses and Aaron. Moses, however, does not appear in the Passover haggadah(with one exception that is likely a later interpolation).[1] Aaron does make two appearances in the hallel  section. That said,in numerous illuminated haggadahs, from the medieval period to present, both appear in illustrated form. Additionally, inprinted haggadot, most notably the 1609 Venice haggadah, one of the seminal illustrated haggadot, Moses and Aaron appearon the decorative border. Generally, conclusively determiningJewish material culture, especially from thebiblical period, is nearly impossible. Regarding Moses, other than his staff, thebible provides no additional information.[2] Aaron is a different story.The Torah expends a significantamount of verses discussing the details of the Kohen Gadol’s (the high priest)garments but while the descriptions aredetailed, we still struggle to determinewhat these special clothes lookedlike. Rashi, for example, has to resort toanachronistic parallels for the “me’il”comparing it to a medieval Frenchequestrian pant. Similarly, by theTalmudic time, the details of the headbandwere subject to dispute. We should brieflypause here to correct a commonmisconception – that the Vatican or theCatholic Church still retains items relatedto the Jewish temple. Unfortunately, thismisconception is so prevalent, that anumber of Israeli officials have requestedthat the Vatican repatriate the templevessels. Briefly, while the Talmudmentions that sometime between the2nd and 5th centuries, temple vessels mayhave resided in Rome, there is noindication whatsoever of them since the5th century. In addition, due to thenumerous sackings that Rome underwent,or the reality that the Catholic Church is anentirely different sovereign than theRoman ruler Vespasian who sackedJerusalem, it must be regarded as highly unlikely at best that any former temple vessels remain (assuming they were everthere) within the Vatican. For additional discussion regarding this issue, see here.The ambiguity about the clothing has not stopped many from attempting to depict what they believe is the correctversion. Thus, depictions of Aaron the High Priest appear in Hebrew books. Hebrew manuscripts did not shy away fromincluding illuminations and illustrations to create a more aesthetically pleasing product. All sorts of shapes and images areemployed to this end, on page borders, end pages, or just sprinkled throughout a manuscripts and – geometric patterns(Hebrew manuscripts are the first to use micrography), animals, people or combinations thereof of half-human-half-  beast. Noticeably, however, biblical figures are not included in this category. While biblical scenes appear in Hebrewmanuscripts it is only to actually illustrate the content, and not independently for aesthetic purposes. With printing, however, this slowly changed. Printing began in 1455 with Gutenberg and Hebrew books followedsoon after. These early books, however, did not follow all the conventions that we associate with books today. Title pagesdid not begin until the 16th century and it wasn’t until the early 17th century that title pages were de rigueur. Apart frominformation relevant to the books contents, title pages also began to included aesthetic details. Sometimes these arearchitectural, pillars etc. other times flowers or some other flower or fauna.Generally, printers did not explain why certain images were included on title pages, the assumption is that it wassimply for aesthetic purposes. At least in one case, this was made explicit. The Shu’’t Ma-harit”z , Venice, 1684, by YomTov Tzalahon, includes an illustration of the temple on the title page. The publisher, Tzalahon’s grandson, provides that thiswas included as “it makes it more beautiful” and he was so enamored with the illustration – even though it is veryrudimentary he included it three times in the book (this likely speaks more about the publisher’s exposure – or lack thereof –to art in general).[3] There are, however, at least a few examples of a title page illustration serving a purpose beyond the aesthetic. Someillustrations are including because of allusions to the author’s name, but at least in one instance a Hebrew title pageillustration was used to illustrate the title.The most common form appearing “on the frontispiece of countless printed books,” were biblical figures Moses,Aaron, David, Solomon, nearly always coupled, and “became the accepted heraldic figures.”[4] The first biblical figures toappear in Hebrew books were was a woodcut by Hans Holbein of David and Solomon, flanking one, among other biblicalscenes, in the Augsburg 1540  Arba’ah Turim . This illustration, however, did not appear on the title page, which is plain,instead it appears on folio 7.[5] See Heller, 242-43.The first frontispiece to include a biblical figure is the Tur Orach Hayyim , Prague, 1540, that includes, at the top of the page, a depiction of Moses holding the tablets.[6] The first frontispiece to include the coupling of biblical figures – themost ubiquitous form of biblical figures – is Jacob Moelin’s She’elot u-Teshuvot Mahril  printed in Hanau in 1610. Thatfrontispiece depicts Moses on the left in one hand the tablets and the other hand he grasps his staff. Aaron is wearing thegarments of the high priest: the tunic, bells, breastplate and and is carrying the incense.   The usage of Moses and Aaron on Hebrew frontispieces thus began with Hanau, 1610. By way of comparison, thefirst appearance of Moses and Aaron on the frontispiece of a book in English was the King James Bible, published a yearafter Hanau in 1611. The Hanau printer reused the Moses/Aaron frontispiece on two more books:  Nishmat Adam  by AaronSamuel ben Moshe Shalom of Kremenets, 1611 and Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla’s, Ginat Egoz, Hanau 1615.[7] Theillustration best fits the  Nishmat Adam , and may have srcinally been the book for which this illustration was intended andnot Molin’s. Unlike Jacob Molin’s work that has no direct connection with Aaron or Moses, the author of Ginat Egoz ’sname includes both Moses and Aaron, and while Samuel is not captured in the illustration, the year of publication is derivedfrom “Samuel.”Moses and Aaron became the most common biblical figures on frontispieces, but not the exclusive ones. In someinstance, a mélange of biblical figures is presented. The Amsterdam printer, Solomon Proops, included the image of Moses,Aaron, David, and Solomon, each wearing a crown, and a Moses carrying not the tablets but instead the Torah scroll.  A deviation from the coupling of Moses and Aaron appears in  Beit Aharon , Frankfurt am Oder, 1690, which displaysAaron and Samuel. In that instance, however, the deviation is explained because the figures are allusions to the author’sname, Aaron ben Samuel. The use of coupled figures was not exclusive to Biblical figures; in many Hebrew books a varietyof mythical and pagan figures and scenes are commonplace on title pages. A partial list of pagan deities include: Venus,Hercules, Mars and Minerva that appear on ennobled works such as Rambam’s Mishne Torah, Venice 1574, andAbarabenel’s commentary on Devarim, Sabbioneta 1551, and were reused many times.[8] The use of pagan figures inJewish items is not limited to Hebrew books and these images appear on the Second Temple menorah, and the Dionysus,Poseidon are inscribed on Palestinian mezuzot  , Sefer Raziel  mentions Zeus and Aphrodite, Dionysus and Poseidon reappearsin a common prayer said during the priestly blessings, and Dionysus appears individually in the additionally  yehi ratzon thatsome recite during  Aveinu Malkanu  (helpfully Artscroll and other siddurim  direct that for the prayers that include thesenames, they should “only be scanned with the eyes and concentrated upon, but should not be spoken,” as they are “divinenames”).[9]Returning to the use of Moses and Aaron on frontispieces of Hebrew books, as mentioned above, the basic form of the illustrations remained fairly static with Moses appearing with his staff and/or the tablets or the Torah and Aaron in hispriestly clothing. And, these are prevalent throughout the 17th century, across the Europe and the Middle East. In Europethe coupling appears in Altona, Amsterdam, Venice, Furth and Izmir, on diverse works – Talmudic commentaries,  Mendelssohn’s commentary to the bible, and a commentary on the  zemirot   (which includes a heliocentric depiction of theconstellations).
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