Being someone who is involved in the arts, I always felt like an outsider in many interactions in my community- especially when I was in school. There were very few of us that painted, acted, sang. There were some that were in a band- that was ok or cool, but other forms of arts was not even thought of. Even in school, if you were a “smart” kid, you do AP science, you would never think about taking an art class- that was for the kids who were unable to handle upper level science.
But we read in last week’s Parsha, Teruma of two men (even in the art classes it was always mostly women) that either were born with or were given artistic talent from God- Betzalel and Ohaliav. They were given the ability to create, and to create beautiful things. They are praised for the beauty that they created.
A few weeks ago we read about Miriam singing with her drums- again there was music and it was praised.
In the beginning of Berashit, we read about the creation of working with music and bronze. All artistic and creative endeavours.
I think about the need to have creativity in the orthodox Jewish world. We need to allow our kids to play in the arts- so that they know that it is ok, if not encouraged. Jewish learning should not only be about memorizing laws, reading and understanding Aramaic or Hebrew, figuring out the logic of the Talmud. We see in museums beautiful Jewish art work from the past. Sukkot that are masterpieces, not just tarp. Shuls that are amazing works of architecture, not just a room to pray in. Megillot that tell the story around the words. What if we encouraged people to do that today. Yes there are people that do that professionally today, and many are amazing- but many were not necessarily encouraged to study art when they were young, or if they did, it was after a 10 hour day of learning in school.
The arts don’t have to, but they can do with Judaism. People always ask me if I want to bring my theatre work and Torah work together, and I always say no. Personally, I really enjoy having the pure logic and memorizing side and have the artistic creative side separate. There are times that they do join together- it is who I am, so I will bring in art and movement when I am teaching text classes; when I am figuring out what to do at camp it is clear to me that the best way to get things across is also through the arts. But when I direct- it is just theatre, I’m not making a rendition of the Talmud. When I am learning, and I am learning the arguments, and trying to memorize who says what.
For those who are blessed like Ohaliav, that you are born with an artistic talent- go and use it, and people should encourage you. Those who are like Betzalel, ones that find out later by taking a chance to take an art class find out that you have talent or even better, you just find it fun and relaxing- go and explore the arts.