(Ben Shahn, Ecclesiastes or The Preacher, 1965)
Vanity of vanities! It’s Sukkot, which means time to dip into Greek Wisdom, a new more cosmopolitan paradigm for Jewish philosophy after Torah and prophecy. In this vein, I’m recommending if I haven’t already done so Hava Tirosh-Samuelson’s book on the history of the idea of happiness in Jewish thought. Hers was the first indication as to the nature of this swerve towards wisdom and worldliness in Jewish intellectual history. This shift towards worldly wisdom makes great sense of the medieval Jewish philosophical tradition in Andalusia, as well as the emphasis placed on sensation, reason, and felicity by my all time favorite, Moses Mendelssohn. To be sure, the mood in this biblical text and in this image drawn from it is melancholic, not happy, intended to complicate the joy of the holiday in order to make it wise. I like the intricate line work in the picture by Ben Shahn, while noting that this is not the first time I’ve turned to this artist here at JPP, always to the same effect: to make the link between art, cosmopolitanism, and Jewish philosophy. Chag sameach, indeed!!