The Rabbi and the Painter

Written by Jennifer Kirkham (illus.) Shoshana Weiss
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

This picture book imagines a friendship between two historical figures: Rabbi Judah Aryeh and the Renaissance painter known as Tintoretto. They lived near each other in the Venice of the late 1500s. Although it was rare for Jews and Christians to interact, Weiss imagines their first meeting on a bridge as the rabbi, when a child, helps the busy painter gather some fallen supplies. He is working on a Last Supper. The young boy recognizes a Passover ceremony, and their consultations begin. The boy becomes a rabbi and a translator—a bridge between cultures and the two monotheistic religions. The painter continues his furiously paced work until recognition of his Last Supper is achieved.

Illustrations capture the vibrant, multicultural city of Venice while the developing friendship’s close-ups are endearing. We only get tantalizing glimpses of Tintoretto’s masterpiece (understandably a painting difficult to display in the simpler style of illustrator Kirkham). Still, Tintoretto’s proto-impressionist genius might have been illuminated more fully in word and deed beyond that he “didn’t have patience for the rules other painters followed.”