Todd Smith on March 22, 2016
Community Spotlight: Classic Lines Bookstore
The book “The 613” immediately caught my eye as I perused the shelves at Classic Lines, the cozy bookstore located on Forbes Avenue, adjacent to Commonplace Coffee.
Wondering whether there was a connection with the 613 Jewish Commandments, I asked the proprietor Dan Iddings if in fact there was one. That is exactly what the book is about, he told me.
Mr. Iddings says he is a lover of lists; it is one of the reasons the book stood out to him. In Judaism, there probably is not a more important list than the 613 Jewish Commandments. So I sat down on the sofa in Classic Lines and opened this book, full of curiosity.
Immediately I learned that Mr. Rand is not a Jewish Scholar; he’s an artist who grew up Jewish. “I’m actually atheistic,” he says. The book follows a simple template, similar to a comic book: Starting from the top of the page, there’s an illustration rendered by Mr. Rand, followed by a Jewish numeral and the corresponding Jewish Commandment.
The art is beautiful, self-reflective and thought-provoking. The juxtaposition between the art and the Jewish Commandment challenges the reader; the translation between image and word is thought-provoking. Given the multiple interpretations inherent in Mr. Rand’s works, the book prompts colorful dialogue amongst its readers, including Mr. Iddings and me.
In the introduction, Mr. Rand shares the influences including artists (Warhol and Hockney), Jewish culture (Blazing Saddles and Kafka) and music (Charles Mingus) that inspire his work. Throughout the book, these influences blend together beautifully. I enjoyed reading about Mr. Rand’s life in his own words. He is quite the writer and storyteller. He primes the reader for a unique exploration of Jewish doctrine.
Through a New York Times article, I learned that these illustrations are part of a collection of large-canvas paintings rendered by Mr. Rand. 613 Paintings, a Tour de Force.
Although Judaism is a theme of “The 613,” it does not dominate the book experience. While the Jewish Commandments are symbolized by the uniform fringes found on the Taleet, Mr. Rand’s book offers a new channel, expanding our notion of, and our way of thinking about, these “Laws,” both literally and figuratively.
Wisit Classic Lines in Squirrel Hill and grab a copy. It will get you thinking both inside and outside the book.