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Drawing new interest to the Talmud

By Edmon J. Rodman/

On a journey into art and text that will take seven and a half
years to complete, Jacqueline Nicholls is drawing the Talmud—one page each day.

Click photo to download. Caption: With raised fists, Jacqueline Nicholls’s interpretive Talmud drawings also take on social issues. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

Last August, in conjunction with the beginning of a new
seven-and-a-half year cycle of “daf yomi”—the daily study of a double page of
the Babylonian Talmud that is observed by tens of thousands of Jews worldwide—Nicholls
inaugurated an online “Draw Yomi” project that day-by-day results in a hand-drawn
response to what she has studied.

“Here I go. Full of optimism and hope that I will not be
defeated by the daily discipline of learning,” the London-based Jewish
artist wrote on her blog to initiate the project.

With drawings of a human heart, a scorpion, and the Hebrew
word “Amen,” Nicholls introduces and explicates the often-arcane world of the

“Drawing is a way to slow down and get the brain to take a
different path,” she told

After several months, that path—which is available for view
on her website,—has
illuminated with graphic and thought-provoking drawings a world of Jewish law,
storytelling and contemplative thought that had previously been limited mostly to
the word and textural study.

In Nicholl’s illustrations—each illustration is accompanied
by a reference to the text from which she bases the illustration—Talmud study
shifts to the visual as Hebrew letters anthropomorphize into fists, and a human
skull helps to illustrate “the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things
in the world.”

As a kind of warm-up to Draw Yomi, Nicholls had earlier
created a drawing a day for the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. As it turned
out, she missed the ritual of sitting down to draw every day. “I like the
immediacy and deadline,” she said.

Click photo to download. Caption: Depending on the Talmud daf (page), Jacqueline Nicholls’s interpretation can take a whimsical approach. Credit: Illustration by Jacqueline Nicholls.

To create her illustrations, Nicholls, who describes herself
as a traditional Jew, first studies the double page portion to get a “sense of
what’s up on the daf (page)” and to search for a theme she can illustrate.

Sitting in her studio, she limits her time for the drawing to
thirty minutes. “I use a kitchen timer,” she explained. “The drawings are not a
finished piece of art–more like a sketchbook,” added the artist, who in
September had a showing of her previous artwork at the Laurie M. Tisch
Gallery in Manhattan.

Nicholls said she has found that drawing is not only a
process of study, but also a “way of taking the daf out of the yeshiva.”

Moving even further from the yeshiva, Nicholls, who studied
anatomical art and medical drawing, does not shy away from illustrating the
female form. For example, to illustrate a daf that she interprets as being “all
about life and babies,” she illustrates a pregnant woman in position for

Each week, to further explore the text, Nicholls invites a
learning partner to add another voice to the ongoing Talmudic conversation by
engaging in chevruta—the time-honored method of Talmud study where two students
bounce ideas, questions and interpretations …read more

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Posted by on May 31, 2013. Filed under Jewish News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.