Thu, 27 July 2023
Perhaps more than any other major religious tradition, Judaism is mediated through words. God first communicated to Abraham through intelligible speech. Moses brought down from Mount Sinai tablets inscribed with words codifying the structure of Jewish moral order. The book of Deuteronomy commands that every Jewish king write his own Torah scroll. For millions of Jews, the study of Jewish texts constitutes the holiest activity of all.
So perhaps it is not surprising that, seen in this light, words, letters, the technology and artistry of writing, the vocation of the scribe—the sofer, in Hebrew—deserve an elevated place in Jewish tradition. The English word calligrapher comes from the Greek phrase kalos graphos, beautiful writing; the vast tradition of Hebrew calligraphy offers no small amount of beautiful writing.
This week on the podcast, host Jonathan Silver looks at a stunning new book, The Beauty of the Hebrew Letter by the sofer Izzy Pludwinski, and speaks with its author. It's a lavish coffee-table book full of gorgeous illustrations; it can be bought here.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.