Unwritten laws: New book illustrates rules of the Torah • Brooklyn Paper

Unwritten laws: New book illustrates rules of the Torah

Colorful commandments: Artist Archie Rand has illustrated all 613 Jewish laws outlined in the Torah with bold acrylics. He will read from a book collecting the paintings at the Read Brooklyn festival at the Brooklyn Museum on March 12.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

It is a Torah of many colors.

A local artist will discuss his newly-published illustrated guide to the 613 Jewish laws outlined in the Torah at a Brooklyn Museum book festival on March 12. The artsy scholar says that his brightly-colored images provide a much-needed counterpoint to the words of the scripture.

“Judaism is a religion of stories — Jesus told parables, and that’s very Jewish,” said Archie Rand, who will read the introduction to his book “The 613” at the museum’s first-ever Read Brooklyn authors fair. “Those things seem to need an illustrative context.”

Rand, who grew up in a Jewish household, spent five years creating 613 acrylic paintings to accompany each of the religious laws. He finished the project in 2008, but only now have the images been collected into an enormous book, with one image on each page.

The book has gotten a big response, but his work has not always been well-received. When Rand painted a mural for a Brooklyn synagogue in the 1970s, he faced significant backlash from the Orthodox community, who objected to any form of religious imagery. The reaction only increased his desire for visual aids to the Torah, but the work is not supposed to be a theological statement, said Rand — instead, it represents his personal, artistic itch.

“The statement I’m making is to myself,” he said. “I thought, there’s stuff here that should exist, but doesn’t. I did it for that reason.”

Rand is one of four authors at the festival who will host intimate readings of their work — each doing so in front of a piece of art that reflects their books. Rand will introduce his tome alongside a sculpture by artist Sol Lewit of continuous, interconnecting boxes that mirror how the faithful read and re-read the Torah.

The Brooklyn Museum’s book festival will celebrate 40 emerging local authors whose works speak to the borough’s cultural diversity and constant change, said the organizer of the first-time fest.

“I think that’s really going to reach out to the Brooklyn community, because we’ve all grown up here and lived our lives here,” said Sallie Stutz. “It’s reflecting upon the diversity of the people we share everyday life with.”

“Read Brooklyn Authors Fair” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Crown Heights, (718) 638–5000, www.brooklynmuseum.org]. March 12. 1–5 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.

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