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New interpretation of psalms in words and pictures is simply a joy to behold - A book review

David Psalms

Paintings by David Sharir

Psalms translated by Benjamin J. Segal

Gefen Publishing House, 2013. Hardcover. 87 pages.

Reviewed by Vera Freudmann 

 David Sharir is an Israeli artist whose paintings have an immediate appeal, with their detailed and intricate depictions of Jewish texts. He has been an established figure on the Israeli art scene for many years, is represented in galleries at home and abroad and has designed sets for Habima and the Cameri theaters in Israel, and the Opera Company of Boston.

For this volume, a number of psalms have been picked for illustration in David Sharir's charming and whimsical fashion, his puppet-like people inhabiting a world filled with humor and color. The chosen psalms are printed on the left side of the double page, the artist's interpretation on the right. The translations by Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal are new, commissioned especially for this book, and feel free, modern and accessible. The particular verses in each psalm chosen for illustration are printed in bold type in the English text and in Hebrew beneath the picture.

In a long foreword, Dr. Shulamit Laderman uses her expertise in Jewish art and its history to analyze each illustration, interpreting David Sharir's painting and relating it to the translation beside it. No detail is neglected, with the sly humor of the artist subtly pointed out for the reader's benefit.

Let's take as an example one of the best loved of all psalms, no.23, which begins "The Lord is my shepherd". Here David Sharir has given us an interpretation which is both beautiful and literal, where nothing is hidden. The painting is divided into three distinct parts; bisected by the dark valley, alive with light on each side where we see the green pastures of the first verses and the table overflowing with the bounty of the final part. All the moods found in the psalm itself are represented here.

Illustration for psalm number 23

This publication's pleasures are threefold. Pick it up and leaf through it, delighting in its picture-book aspect; read each translation and enjoy the modern interpretation of the Psalmist's language. And read Shulamit Laderman's exposition to gain greater insight into the meaning of the psalm itself and the artist's intent in the way he chose to illustrate that meaning.

This is a book made for browsing through and enjoying, one double page at a time. With high production values and the clarity and insights of its three dedicated contributors, it is a delight worthy of space on any coffee table or bookshelf. 



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