web analytics
April 18, 2015 / 29 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

Unconditional Love


Torah Ark Door (back); Egypt, 11th century with later carving and paint; Wood (walnut) with traces of paint and brass; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (64.181) and Yeshiva University Museum (2000.231)

Torah Ark Door (back); Egypt, 11th century with later carving and paint; Wood (walnut) with traces of paint and brass; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (64.181) and Yeshiva University Museum (2000.231)

Threshold to the Sacred: Ark Door of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo
Yeshiva University Museum – Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street, New York, N.Y.; (212) 294 8330
www.yumuseum.org
Until February 23, 2014

* * * * *

Between Two Worlds: Alan Falk: The Song of Songs and The Dybbuk
Jewish Religious Center at Williams College, 24 Stetson Court, Williamstown, MA
Until November 30, 2013

 

Unconditional love is a concept that sets the bar of human conduct and forgiveness at a dizzying height, challenging the very fabric of human credulity. The same stress exists when applied in a religious context, fueling extreme expectations of the Divine/Human relationship. In a rather curious and unexpected parallelism two current exhibitions express and explore aspects of unconditional love, each with surprising results. While Yeshiva University Museum’s exhibition of the Ark Door from the Ben Ezra Synagogue reflects that community’s steadfast loyalty to living in the “forbidden” country of Egypt, so too does Alan Falk’s pictorial exploration of the Song of Songs and the Dybbuk proclaim it’s respective unconditional and undying love.

“Threshold to the Sacred,” curated by Dr. Jacob Wisse (Yeshiva University Museum, Director), is ostensibly about the historically remarkable wooden Torah Ark door that has been traced to the 11th century Ark of the Cairo Ben Ezra Synagogue, likely in use when Maimonides frequented that house of worship. However in reality the exhibition examines the larger Jewish community of Fustat, now known as the medieval center of old Cairo. The diverse complexity of this Jewish community is brought to life by a host of ancient objects and documents, many of which were retrieved from the famous geniza found within the Ben Ezra Synagogue walls. Their place in Jewish history is unique in its halachic tension, achingly poised between cultural diversity, transgression and praise of Hashem.

The community of Fustat, which dates from the 7th century C.E., (the beginning of the Islamic presence in Egypt), proudly associates itself with the Exilarchs of the Jewish Diaspora as evidenced by a detailed genealogy from the Cairo geniza tracing their lineage back to King David and Adam, the first man. Perhaps equally significant is the persistent notion that the Jews who lived in Egypt were proud to be living at the site of the great miracles of the Egyptian exodus, an idea expressed in the poetry of Yehuda haLevi. (Could this have required them to recite the special blessing for seeing a place where our ancestors were blessed with a miracle?) In our twice-daily remembrance of the Egyptian exodus in the Shema, conceivably we should fondly remember Fustat where our brethren lived on the shores of the Nile for close to 800 years. Of course there is a serious flaw in these splendid notions.

Torah Ark Door (front); Egypt, 11th century with later carving and paint; Wood (walnut) with traces of paint and brass; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (64.181) and Yeshiva University Museum (2000.231)

Torah Ark Door (front); Egypt, 11th century with later carving and paint; Wood (walnut) with traces of paint and brass; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (64.181) and Yeshiva University Museum (2000.231)

The Torah explicitly prohibits returning to Egypt in three verses: Exodus 14:13; Deuteronomy 17:16 and 25:65 – “You shall not see Egypt again.” The Gemara (Sukkah 51b) recounts the terrible consequences of one such communal transgression: the annihilation of the Alexandrian Jewish community by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 116 CE. In spite of the many attempts at explaining how Torah giants such as the Rambam and the Radbaz could in good conscience reside in Egypt, the tension between the reality and the halacha remains. It was expressed by the Rambam himself (1138-1204), who spent the last 40 years of his life in Fustat and who allegedly signed his name, “Moshe ben Maimon, he who transgresses the prohibition ‘You shall not return on that way anymore.’”

Notwithstanding the Torah injunction, the Egyptian community thrived and became an international center of trade, especially under the Fatimid period (909-1171). The diversity and excitement of that period is revealed in documents from the treasure-trove geniza itself. Both the Rabbanite (reflecting the Talmudic rabbis) and the Karaite (rejecting the normative authority of the rabbis) factions of the Fustat Jewish community are well represented in geniza documents, reflecting a united Jewish community that nevertheless maintained separate synagogues. Additionally, the Rabbanite community was composed of Jews who followed the customs of Babylonia and those who followed the customs of Palestine (such as the Ben Ezra), each with their own synagogues. Even a casual perusal of these incomparable documents reflects the permeability of a highly diverse Jewish community. Proudly positioned in the midst of this Jewish diversity stands the Ark Door itself.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Unconditional Love”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Daniel Lubetzky  president of V15 and CEO of Kind "healthy" bars
No Victory for V15 and Not Healthy ‘Healthy’ Snack Bars
Latest Sections Stories
Lewis-041715-Jewish-Soldiers

During the Second World War, a million and a half Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies, the Partisan units in Eastern Europe, and the anti-fascist underground movements in Western Europe and North Africa. These Jewish fighters won over 200,000 medals and citations. The Museum of the Jewish Soldier in World War II in Latrun, […]

Jerusalem Heights Penthouse

The 2-day real estate event will take place in Brooklyn on April 26 and 27.

Schonfeld-logo1

She wasn’t paying attention to what the child did when the mother was not in the room. Rather, her main focus was on what the child did when the mother returned.

The Mets at least have hope for the future with some good young pitchers.

French thinkers of the Enlightenment were generally not pro-Semitic, to say the least.

My Jewish star was battered, indeed it was a wreck
But I picked it up anyway and put it around my neck
To know that hatred mangled it was surely very painful
But just the same to me it is still very beautiful.

A compulsion is a repetitive action. But what underlies the compulsion is an obsession or fear.

When any student in the building is in danger of failing, the equivalent of tornado warning sirens should wail around the school.

It goes without saying that when it comes to your kids, safety is always your number one priority.

After the last of Austria’s Jews were murdered, Albert confiscated whatever Jewish property remained.

How can you expect people who go through such gehenom to even know how to give warmth and love?

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/unconditional-love/2013/11/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: