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October 4, 2015 / 21 Tishri, 5776
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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)

Falk’s choice of graphic novel techniques, utilizing mostly flat color with little modulation, highly cropped images replete with explicit pictorial symbols unfortunately tends to deplete the poetic potential of the visual medium, trapping the images in an illustrational mode. Paradoxically, in a poem known for its strong female voice, at least some of Falk’s images betray a male gaze, subverting at least one aspect of unconditional love desired.

S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds: A Dramatic Legend in Four Acts” (1912-1917) presents a radically different prospect. While the tragic tale of two lovers, Channon and Leah, has an infinitely more complex prelude than the figures in Song of Songs, the final consummation of their relationship, the dybbuk (Channon’s soul) fusing with the soul of his beloved, Leah, more importantly results in their mutual death. This form of unconditional love leading to the ultimate “unity and shedding of duality through an act of love” is pure romanticism quite foreign to Judaism’s fervent affirmation of life in this world.

Falk’s four oil paintings from “The Dybbuk” successfully encapsulate the spirit of Ansky’s narrative, depicting the development of Leah’s character as it is affected by the tortured soul of Channon. The last painting shows them soaring over the nighttime village synagogue in a spiritual “resurrection.” The scene in which the dybbuk within Leah verbally attacks the father of her intended groom is a nightmarish evocation of a schizophrenic episode. Equally unnerving is Leah’s tortured reclining on the graves. In each of these images there is more than a little tinge of madness that permeates the drama. Most of all in the first painting: The Dybbuk: Leah and Channon, in which Channon’s first awkward confrontation with Leah from the shadows of the brilliantly lit shul, the haunted red-eyed gaze of Channon convinces us of the impossibility of a love unhinged and driven by totally external dictates (the irrational vows made by their fathers before they were even born). In these images Falk’s lurid color and illustrational style well serves the tragic narrative, driving home (perhaps paradoxically) the perverse consequences of untempered unconditional love.

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

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