The Sefaria Project

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Director of Asylum, Rebecca Guber, talks about the process of creating a navigational guide as a way to engage artists with the texts of Sefaria.

Great artists do great research. That’s a line that I repeat in all sorts of contexts. When explaining why projects can take so long to manifest, when pleading with an archivist to let an artist inside their precious monarchy, and even when marveling at the way a project illuminates magical gems of information. But I’ve learned that the way each artist does that research is different, and often takes forms that don’t necessarily align with broader notions of research, particularly as understood in an academic context.

From what I’ve seen, artists are generally obsessive, digging deeply into whatever topic, material, question, image, or sound, that excites or interests them. And often, there isn’t exactly a direct line between these interests and the work that results. To me, this is exciting, to see how the research and the work are related in ways that cannot always be understood from the outside.

Over the past few months, we’ve begun to think about giving artists, both our Asylum folks and others, accessible opportunities to mine Jewish historical texts as part of their research processes. How could that process be interesting, useful, or thought-provoking? With support from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, we’ve had the opportunity to partner with Sefaria, the folks hauling these Jewish books into the digital world through a combination of creativity and technological ingenuity. They have a deep commitment to democratizing Jewish knowledge, and we have been working with them to create ways for artists to be part of their growing community.

We’ve put together a how-to guide for artists (and curious folks in general) to dig into the texts accessible on the site – to read, compile, and then see how it might filter into their work and creative processes.  It’s not that hard to use really, but sometimes it helps to offer an invitation. We’ve even thrown in a few texts that show that even our ancestral writers sometimes thought about art in some great ways.

So here is an official invitation – dig around, find something fascinating or problematic, and see if these sources can be part of the research process. And if this is fruitful or interesting or weird, let us know, we are curious.

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