A website developed by the TALI Education Fund – Visual Midrash – was launched in November 2009. The site, the first on-line fine and folk-art index of the Bible and its commentaries, was created by Dr. Jo Milgrom, Israel’s primary lecturer in art as midrash at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies graduate school and biblical scholar, Dr. Joel Duman. The website is based on Dr. Milgrom’s archive of art images collected over a lifetime of teaching and pioneering the field of art as Biblical commentary.
Over 900 works of art are now accessible on the Visual Midrash Web site, with essays in English and Hebrew on twenty themes, including Creation, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Hagar and Sarah, Jacob and his Dreams, and Moses: the giving of Torah and his journey in the desert. Altogether, Milgrom has donated 3,000 slides from her personal collection to this project. The development of the website was made possible by Howard and Carole Tanenbaum; Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation; and David Klein.
The site’s rich data base on each art image includes referenced biblical sources, artistic medium, date and short description of the work, as well as biographies of the artists. Topical hypertext essays examine the range of Visual Midrash expressed in a selection of images from each of the twenty themes presently in the TALI database; they include links to related texts from Jewish Midrash and Commentary as well as from Christian and Muslim writings on biblical subjects. The collection is searchable by artist, subject, medium and/or biblical source. Additional funding is being sought to enable all 3,000 art images to be processed and included on the site.
“We took ancient and contemporary art works and put them in context for students and teachers. If you are teaching the story of the Garden of Eden, for example, you can search the word “tree of life” and find all biblical, talmudic midrashic and other sources,” explains Milgrom. “You can’t teach literary text without realizing that there are images behind the words. Words have multiple meanings; they provoke our imagination. You can say that art is a primary text, parallel to words,” she adds.