Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism
By J.H. Chajes
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003
Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art
By Deborah Higgs Strickland
Princeton University Press, 2003
Though first published in 1967, Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message: an Inventory of Effects” still remains the sourcebook on new media; its 160 pages of provocative text captivate the reader and prophetically forecasted the dominant role new media currently assumes. The book embeds images amongst the text somewhat more sparsely than most adult readers who have graduated the picture book medium would expect, but the meditation on language and communication proves far too deep to dismiss as child’s play. Early on, McLuhan argues that “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.” What, then, can McLuhan’s analysis contribute to a discussion of Jewish images?
In “Essential McLuhan” (1995), Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone quote McLuhan’s essay, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” where he argues that “the arts and sciences serve as anti-environments that enable us to perceive the environment.” Anti-environments involve alternate realities that reflect back upon the real world. Thus, anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews with hooked noses are anti-environments, when they convince viewers that Jews really have hooked noses. This is a point where art no longer copies life, but creates it.
Both J.H. Chajes’ “Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism” and Deborah Higgs Strickland’s “Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art” address notions of images; Chajes discusses exorcism and many of the amulets associated therein, while Strickland explores medieval propaganda images that literally demonized Jews.
In McLuhan’s terminology, Strickland’s book addresses anti-Semites who use art to turn Jews into monsters (thereby creating a kind of reality), while Chajes’ book explores exorcists’ use of images to banish an uninvited reality (dybbuks).
Strickland’s chapter “Christians Imagine Jews” explains the difficulty of “drawing a line between the actual and the fantastic during the Middle Ages given the constructed views of living non-Christians were nearly entirely stereotyped and imaginary.” Like Shakespeare, who likely created his Shylock without having ever met a Jew, the Christians invented their anti-Semitic images entirely without real life models: “Christian portraits of Jews tell us next to nothing about medieval Jews, but they reveal a great deal about medieval Christians.”
Medieval Christians, in Strickland’s estimation, hated Jews for denying Christianity and for, in effect, misinterpreting their own Bible. Strickland cites Peter the Venerable’s treatise “Against the Inveterate Obstinacy of the Jews”: “O Jews, you who up until now deny… How long, wretched ones, will you not believe the truth? Behold… you alone remain blind, deaf, like stone.”
Strickland’s excellent analysis introduces aesthetics: “Pictorial imagery… was far more influential in hammering this point home since it was accessible in public and private contexts.” In the famous Cloisters Cross, Caiaphas (the High Priest) and Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor) are seen arguing. Caiaphas is easy to identify – he wears the dunce cap and the long pointed beard – while Pilate wears a short beard and a helmet that fits his head in a far more natural manner.
The dress and the facial features immediately create a class structure: Pilate is noble and superior and Caiaphas the Jew juvenile and trivial. In another medieval work that depicts the Jews in hell, a massive cauldron – supported by some creepy monster – houses a community of sinners cast inside by the demon entourage. You can easily identify the Jew in the central, most devastating spot in the cauldron: he wears a money bag around his neck. In general, Jews are easily identifiable by their profile views (the saints are frontal views), by hooked noses and funny hats and by their luggage such as money bags and the like.
If Strickland’s research explores images that Christians hijacked to convince viewers that Jews were everything they were not, Chajes’ work centers upon images that magically exorcise demons. Chajes delivered a lecture at the Harry G. Friedman Society of the Jewish Museum last March entitled “Exorcizing a Dybbuk,” in which he discussed how aesthetics interacts with Jewish magical objects. Chajes spoke of amulets as a medium for exploring medieval Jews’ needs and desires, and he argued that “the love amulets look a lot like the hate ones.” These amulets were used to dispel undesirables from the house, for invisibility and for estranging spouses. Although Jewish magic tends towards the verbal, “the physical shape of the amulet is as important as what it is,” Chajes argues. Even as the objects carried a utility – dispelling, hiding, estranging – the physicality of the object and its aesthetics proved necessary. The format also evolved based on the aggressor it was intended to shackle: dybbuks initially were demons, while only later did they emerge as souls of the deceased possessing people.
The amulets carry their own typography, which involves a complicated network of “tagin” (crowns that adorn certain Biblical letters) and rectangles used to offset certain key phrases. In “Lilith Amulet” from Sefer Raziel, allegedly coined by Raziel the angel, three animal forms (presumably angels) named Senoi, Sansenoi and Samangeloph are intended to protect pregnant women and their babies from Lilith, who apparently aimed to disturb childbirth. The text above the forms says “Adam and Eve [Get] Out Lilith,” which leads the viewer to believe that the forms on the right may represent Adam, Eve and Lilith respectfully.
If the visual currency of the anti-Semitic icons was hate propaganda, the amulets are largely tools for healing. “The angels are basically bureaucrats,” Chajes says. “All you have to do to get a bureaucrat to do something is have the right document and the right signature to get through the door.” In this sense, the amulet or the exorcising document serves as the necessary paperwork to allow the magician, with G-d’s permission and directive, to capture and to banish the dybbuk.
Medieval images thus carried two tremendous, opposing powers in them. They were at once creative and destructive. Ironically, the propaganda images created realities that were oppressive and destructive in nature, while the exorcism images destroyed the dybbuks, which, like losing an electron, proved to be a creative act ultimately. But these notions of iconography reveal the underlying idea that has remained hiding beneath the surface all along: power. The Christian artists used their images like battleaxes. They used their art to control the Jews and to turn them into manageable pests that everyone would find easy to hate. The exorcists used their images as means for control as well. They used tangible materials to pursue the invisible spirits and to contain them.
But the ultimate difference between the two is the perspective. The propaganda images are sluggish and lifeless. They have an idolatrous component to them, for they reduce everything to surfaces. The Jew is simply the composite of a hooked nose, a profile face, a funny yellow or red hat and a money bag all sewn together. However, the exorcism images have a dynamic quality to them that turns them into bureaucratic documents, with their keen attention to typography, to drawing and to layout; after all, they need life and oomph to them if they are to outsmart the dybbuks.
And when it comes down to it, the amulets trump the propaganda, for if the Christians create the monsters, the amulets exorcise them.
Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: email@example.com.
About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
Think of your issues this way: due to those different backgrounds, you have a “shovel” to deal with difficulties while he has a “spoon”.
Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.
One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)
Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.
It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.
Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.
The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?
Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.
Red By John Logan; directed by Robert Falls; starring Edward Gero and Patrick Andrews Jan. 20 – March 11, 2012 Arena Stage, 1101 6th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. http://www.arenastage.org One morning, Ken, Mark Rothko’s studio assistant, comes into the studio to fulfill his daily duties of stretching and priming his employer’s canvases. When he […]
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