The Arty Semite

Author Blog: The Values We Live By

By Debra Band

Earlier, Debra Band discussed how she visually expresses biblical stories and shared the back story behind “Arise! Arise!” Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


One of the remarkable things that I discovered early in the project was how these three stories, set in the earliest decades of the Israelite tribes’ appearance in the Land, together model the very set of values that would become central ideals for the Israelite kingdom, and indeed, forever after, in the lives of all women and men who derive inspiration from Tanakh.

Equally remarkable, in each of these stories set in what we commonly perceive as a thoroughly patriarchal era, it is the women rather than the men who lead in modeling these qualities. Deborah was, so far as we read, the first to unite the tribes (or at least many of them) to repel a common enemy since the settlement of the land under Joshua — she is the first leader to instill a sense of national purpose. Her efforts are characterized by her overall good judgment, her courage (in which she is joined by Jael), strategic shrewdness and faith in prophecy.

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Between the Lines and Under the Paint

By Debra Band

Earlier this week, Debra Band shared the back story behind “Arise! Arise!” Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


These tales of Deborah, Ruth and Hannah are wonderful stories, full of vivid characters and human drama — a pleasure for all of us to read them and for me to make (and share with you) pictures expressing them. But these are more than great stories; they embody our national mores, and those mores are why they were included in our great record of our folk history, beliefs and laws, the Hebrew Bible. The challenge of expressing these mores is my motivation in composing the pictures. So, how do I go about expressing these ideas in my art?

Throughout our history, we have sought to find the roots of our values, laws and lifestyle in our biblical texts, the stories of the creation and growth of the nation of Israel. Centuries of rabbinic efforts at deriving rationales for Jewish life and law from Biblical text resulted in the bodies of law called the Mishnah (by about 220 CE) and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds (about 500 CE). But all this analytic energy resulted in kinds of thought and writings other than straight legal codes alone. Interspersed among the legal writing, the halakhah, the Talmud includes aggadah, storytelling expansions upon biblical text or other related tales meant to elucidate points of law and other related Jewish customs and values. These story-telling portions of the Talmud, which by the 11th century were compiled in collections of such aggadah, along with a host of other kinds rabbinic legends developed over centuries before and ever since, comprise the vast body of midrash. Much of the midrashic literature was either designed for, or eventually used to inspire homiletics (synagogue sermons), and so midrash became the source for many of our best-loved folktales.

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Author Blog: The Back Story

By Debra Band

Debra Band’s most recent book, “Arise! Arise! Deborah, Ruth and Hannah” is now available. Her work in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts draws upon her love of both the manuscript arts, and Jewish tradition and learning. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I’ve adored illuminated manuscripts all my life — as a child and teenager, these were the postcards I’d take home from museum trips. I’ve done hundreds of ketubot and this is my third book project published in 7 years, and as absorbing as each of these projects has been, “Arise! Arise!” has the deepest claim on me.

“Arise! Arise!” is a memorial to my late husband, David, who passed away in March 2009 after a long struggle with a unique spinal cord cancer. A couple of afternoons before he died, my father-in-law, Arnold Band, a renowned scholar of Hebrew literature, and I were sitting and talking quietly beside David’s bed in our family room, which had now morphed into a home hospice. “So, you know what your next project is going to be?” he asked. I rolled my eyes and said something like, “I know you’re going to tell me.” He knew perfectly well that I’d been working on Esther insofar as the illness allowed. “Yes,” he said, “your next project is going to be Shirat Devorah and do you know why? Because you are the Devorah.” The real reason, however, the one that neither of us could yet bring ourselves to say, was that this would be a memorial to the son and husband we were about to lose.

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