Torah Spectrograms

Excerpt from The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press). pp. 165, 166.

Mel Alexenberg

The concept that white light is composed of a spectrum of different colors has both kabbalistic and halakhic significance.  Just as white light breaks into colors, the one divine light breaks into the spectrum of sephirot in its descent into our every day world.  Sephirot as stages in the creative process can be represented by a continuum of spectral colors. It is also a metaphor in Jewish tradition for community that is beautiful when it recognizes the wonderful variety exhibited by the individuals who make up the community.  The white light of community and the range of spectral colors representing individuals are one. 

The spectrum assigned to Hebrew letters can reveal hidden patterns in Torah.  With the computer programming assistance of Yisroel Cohen, I created a dialogic artwork, Torah Spectrograph, through which people could see these patterns as related to their own lives.   Just as each Hebrew letter has a numerical value, it can also have a color value.  The first letter of the alphabet, alef, with the numerical equivalent of the all-inclusive one, is represented by one pixel of white light.  The second letter, beit, is two pixels of red light.  The third letter, gimel, is a band of three letters of orange.  When we come to the eighth letter, het, a band of eight violet pixels, we have run out of spectral colors.  We then repeat the spectrum three times so that the final letter of the alphabet, tav, is a band 22 violet pixels long.  To access the Torah color patterns, the visitor enters his birthday into the computer from which the date of his birthday in the Hebrew calendar is calculated.  That Hebrew date determines what portion of the Torah is read in synagogue each week.  At age thirteen, a Jewish boy is called to the Torah to acknowledge his becoming a bar mitzvah.  At age twelve, a Jewish girl becomes a bat mitzvah.   The Hebrew date of the visitor’s birthday calls up his or her Torah portion and plays it out on the monitor in bands of color according to the spacing pattern in a Torah scroll.  The Torah Spectrogram addresses each individual with a personalized biblical symphony of rainbow colors scrolling across the computer monitor. 

I have subsequently used the same digital schema in more high touch materials.  In the courtyard of a Miami synagogue, I wrote out Psalm 146 “from generation to generation” in bands of stained glass in a wedding canopy.  With the sun passing through the canopy, we see a biblical song of color moving over the white wedding gown of the bride as the Earth spins.  I also spelled out the story of the creation of the universe from Genesis in bands of wood painted in acrylic colors flowing across the desert surface in the Negev mountains.