Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Episcopalian architect who found a side business in designing religious objects for Jews

New Yorker:
In 2004, while designing a town house on East Seventy-ninth Street, Pennoyer encountered a novel challenge: “The clients requested a greater number of mezuzahs than I had ever heard of.” Pennoyer is Episcopalian. “I was familiar with mezuzahs, but I knew very little about them. I started doing research.”

In Deuteronomy, God instructs the Israelites to affix His holy words “upon the doorposts of thy house.” Eventually, rabbis specified which words, exactly, and how to affix them: the modern custom is to place a parchment scroll inside a small decorative case—a mezuzah—and screw it to the doorjamb at an angle. Some secular Jews go mezuzahless or make do with a single mezuzah on the front door; Orthodox Jews, or those with a liberal parchment budget, mark every room larger than sixteen square cubits. Pennoyer’s clients were quite observant. “They wanted one on every door except bathrooms and closets,” Pennoyer said. “Fifty-two in all.”

The Talmud is silent on the question of mezuzah design, and, to Pennoyer’s dismay, contemporary venders seemed inclined toward kitsch. “We wanted it to look exactly right,” he said. “We tried Manhattan Judaica shops, online auction sites, We could not find anything that wasn’t terribly, unacceptably ugly.”

Eventually, Pennoyer designed a line of artisanal mezuzahs, which he hopes to sell on the Internet. “I never set out to be a mezuzah salesman, but why not?”
Somewhat related, Ta-Nehisi Coates is posting on race and religion today:‏

His recent take on Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane was also good reading:
My mother and father never gave me "The Talk." "The Talk" was my entire childhood. From the time I remember them talking, I remembering them, my mother especially, talking about sex. It makes me laugh now but I recall her telling me, when my time came, not to just "jump up and down on a woman." I might have been ten when she first said that. My family was all kinds of inappropriate—hood hippies—and yet we were correct. I say this because I knew, from a very early age, that there was love in my house, imperfect love, love that was built, decided upon, as opposed to magicked into existence.

That was how Peter loved Mary Jane.