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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘ancient’

Beautiful Land, Beautiful Children

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Kindergarten children celebrated the coming holiday of Shavuot which starts Saturday night. The holiday stresses the ancient commandment of bringing agricultural gifts to the holy Temple, along with commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Israel Seizes Two Smuggled Egyptian Sarcophagi Covers Where Mummies Once Slept Eternally

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority recently seized two covers of Egyptian sarcophagi that contained ancient mummies in the past. The covers were confiscated by inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery while checking shops in the market place of the Old City in Jerusalem. The ancient covers, which are made of wood and coated with a layer of plaster, are adorned with breathtaking decorations and paintings of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The coffins were taken for examination on the suspicion they might be stolen property.

After undergoing examination by experts, which included among other things a Carbon 14 analysis for the purpose of dating the wood, it was unequivocally determined that these items are authentic and thousands of years old: one of the covers is dated to the period between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE (Iron Age) and the other to between the 16th and 14th centuries BCE (Late Bronze Age). Because these are rare artifacts made of organic material, they are being held for the time being in custody, under climate-control conditions, in the laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. Wooden sarcophagi of this kind have only been found in Egypt so far, and were preserved thanks to the dry desert climate that prevails there.

It is suspected that Egyptian antiquities robbers plundered ancient tombs in the region of the Western Desert in Egypt, and afterwards unknown persons smuggled the wooden covers from Egypt to Dubai, and from there they found their way to Israel by way of a third country in Europe. Evidence of their having been smuggled is indicated by the sawing of the covers into two parts, which caused irreparable damage to the ancient items. This was presumably done to reduce their dimensions and facilitate concealing and transporting them in a standard size suitcase. Covers of this kind usually enclosed a sarcophagus made of palm wood c. 2 meters long, which contained the embalmed remains of a person. It is unclear what happened to the mummy and the sarcophagus.

The Israel Antiquities Authority reports that until recently antiquities dealers and other entities have exploited loopholes in the law whereby they brought antiquities into the country for the purpose of “laundering” them. These antiquities, which are alleged to have been plundered in Middle Eastern countries and illegally exported from them, were imported to Israel by local antiquities dealers. In Israel the stolen ancient artifacts were provided documentation that allowed them to be exported and sold abroad to the highest bidder. During the marketing and sales process the dealers would report these antiquities as artifacts that were ostensibly of Israeli provenance.

Regulations regarding the importation of antiquities into Israel were recently amended. The new regulations, which will take effect toward the end of April 2012, require a customs declaration for the importation of antiquities and a preliminary inspection of the items by the Israel Antiquities Authority for the issuance of an import license.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Customs and Tax Authority, will prevent the importation of antiquities into the country without proper documentation that indicates they were legally exported from the country of origin, and thereby significantly reduce the process of “antiquities laundering” and the trade in stolen antiquities in the Middle East.

According to Shai Bar-Tura, inspector in charge of overseeing the antiquities trade on behalf of the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “Beginning April 20 there will be a new reality in the antiquities trade in Israel. The new regulation will provide us with the tools in order to prevent the importation into the country of antiquities that were stolen or plundered in other countries, thus enabling us to thwart the international cycle of robbery and trade in stolen archaeological artifacts”.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is engaged in a continuing effort to preserve and protect the historical heritage values of the State of Israel, and to assist in the international struggle against the robbery of antiquities in the Middle East.

Recently Egyptian authorities submitted a request asking that the stolen sarcophagus covers be repatriated. The Egyptian request is being taken under advisement by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Israel Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the legalities are currently being examined in order to return the objects to their country of origin.

Exclusive: Palestinians Attempt to Erase Jewish Roots in Hebron’s Old City

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

On Tuesday, March 13, an archaeological site inspector in Hebron’s Old City discovered that the archaeological site there had been severely damaged – the diggings in progress were ruined and covered up.

A group of Arab workers, apparently contracted by the Palestinian Authority, breached an ancient terrace bordering the antique path that connects Avraham’s Well and the tombs of Ruth and Yishai. They further removed a fence near an IDF outpost. Next, they brought trash and dumped it in the archaeological diggings, which contain findings from the Canaanite period. They then set fire to the trash.

Remnants of an ancient mosaic at the archaeological site in the Old City of Hebron

This destructive process was stopped only after the inspector called the police, the army, and the Civil Administration. Surprisingly, the vandals were not arrested and were allowed to continue with their work, receiving only a warning about further damage to the archaeological artifacts around them.

It is significant to note that this is not the first time Arabs have been engaged in the destruction of archaeological artifacts in Hebron. They have previously perpetrated similar acts of vandalism, but have recently begun to work in an organized fashion, leading to suspicions that the acts are purposeful and orchestrated by an entity bent on the erasure of archaeological artifacts that testify to the ancient Jewish roots in Hebron.

Chaim Bleicher, a resident of Hebron, told Tazpit that they have been doing their best to combat these trends. The army and Civil Administration have made no real attempts to halt these actions, and it has been reported that the army even intends to close off part of the archeological site to eliminate friction, working only to maintain the peace, even if it means the irreplaceable loss of archaeological artifacts and the cover up of Hebron’s Jewish identity.

Theses incidents in Hebron are not unique to the area. Similar incidents have been recorded throughout Israel, especially in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. The Arabs are aware that the archaeological findings point to an ancient and prolonged Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, and therefore do all they can to destroy these artifacts, doing their best to cover up the simple fact that the Jews have deep roots in the Land of Israel.

‘Palestinianism Inventivity’ as a Model For Assumed Nationalism

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Salam Fayyad recently provided an example of what I refer to as the Principle of ‘Palestinianism Inventivity’, a theme I touched on previously on my blog.  The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister was quoted as saying  that ‘Christmas was an opportunity to “celebrate the Palestinian identity of Jesus Christ,” as EoZ blogged. 

That Jesus was a “Palestinian” was something Hanan Ashrawi infamously declared at the Madrid Conference two decades ago which, being there, I heard her with my own ears.

Even a non-expert on Christianity knows more than what Fayyad would have Christians and others not believe, which is that the country in which Jesus was born and grew up in was not referred to as “Palestine” in a geopolitical sense until 100 years or so after the Jewish nationalist revolt against Rome.  And then, it was Palaestina Prima, Secunda and Tertia with capitals in Caesarea, Beth Shean and Petra, respectively.  A claimed earlier mention of “Palestine” in 450 BCE or thereabouts by Herodotus simply confirms that then it was but a “district of Syria”.  Jesus was no “Palestinian” but a Jew.  He was born, lived and died a Jew.  His preaching was interpreted by his Roman executioners as part of the political rhetoric of Jewish nationalism seeking the upheaval of Roman occupation.

Did the Palestine that historically was, ‘belong’ to the Arabs, more than it does to the Jews?  Is this inventivity a recent phenomenon?
As Yoram Ettinger’s piece outlines,

The term “Palestine” was established…in an attempt to erase “Judaea” from human memory.  According to Prof. Bernard Lewis, the icon of Mid-East historians (International History Review, January, 1980), “In the early medieval Arabic usage, Filastin [Palestine] and Urdunn [Jordan] were sub-districts forming part of the greater geographical entity known as Syria…. Under Roman, Byzantine and Islamic rule, Palestine was politically submerged. It reappeared only under the Crusaders…. the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem…Under the successors of Saladin, and still more under the Mameluks, the country was redistributed in new territorial units … with its capital in Damascus…. After the Ottoman conquest in 1516-17, the country was divided into Ottoman administrative districts… subject to the authority of the Governor-General of Damascus…”[The term Palestine] was no longer used by Muslims, for whom it had never meant more than an administrative sub-district and it had been forgotten even in that limited sense….

 

The real crime is not that the “Palestinians” have invented themselves, but that they engage in an exercise of inventivity whereby I mean they also seek to demote and nullify Jewish history.  One of the first to practice this perversity was Phillip Hitti who, back in 1944, and earlier, not only declared before the US Congress that “there is no such thing as ‘Palestine’ in history, absolutely not”, thus proving the “invented people” claim, but then, in a debate with Albert Einstein asserted, absurdly, that Zionism is an “artificially stimulated movement” whereas Arabs are descended from the Canaanites.  He has been followed by Nur Masalha who promotes a laughable “Through Canaanite Eyes” paradigm of pseudo-scholarship (which I have dealt with here and also here.  And see this, too).

This inventivity is moving into its next phase, thanks to UNESCO accepting these history make-believers as members of that institution.  Bethlehem’s Rachel’s Tomb is a mosque.  So is Joseph’s Tomb in Shchem.  The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is denied.  Gone is the Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs. The PA’s Hamdan Taha is clear about his purpose.  He even relates to my home in Shiloh, seeking to convince the international community that the Jewish Shiloh never existed:

“In Shiloh the settlers pretended to have found the tabernacles,” he proclaimed. “They can find the chicken bone my grandfather ate 50 years ago and say it was a young calf for ancient sacrifice.”

Not only is this a despicable deprecation but it is a very unprofessional opinion for the Palestinian Authority minister who deals with antiquities and culture, a person that the “founder” of modern “Palestinian archaeology”, Albert Glock,had “held the severe and unyielding view that Taha’s work was below the standard he wanted for the select group of Palestinian archaeologists” and may have been connected to Glock’s murder.

It has been said, and attributed to Plato, that necessity is the mother of invention.  I might add that  inventivity is the necessary foundation of Palestinianism.  For without inventivity, there is nothing.
 

Lilith by Siona Benjamin

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Finding Home: The Art of Siona Benjamin

The Laurie M. Tisch Gallery (in partnership with Flomenhaft Gallery)

JCC Manhattan

334 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC; 646-505-5708

9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. 

Free Admission (Photo ID required)

Until July 30, 2011

 


Siona Benjamin’s exhibition “Finding Home: The Art of Siona Benjamin” is simply beautiful.  Set in the spacious lobby gallery of the JCC Manhattan, it allows for a peaceful (when the kids, nannies and crowds subside) contemplation of this complex artist’s meditations on biblical women, war, exoticism and contemporary society.  The painted walls range from soft ochre to a pale turquoise, setting off Benjamin’s palette to maximum effect, each work sensuously vibrating with the atmosphere of Benjamin’s native Mumbai, India.  As has been explored in previous reviews of her work (September 23, 2008, March 25, 2011) these Persian/Indian/Mughal influences are meant to express exile and foreignness.  Her work is an autobiographical narrative as much as a worldview paradoxically meant to bring us all together. 


The sensitive curator at the JCC, Megan Whitman, has chosen a wide range of Benjamin’s work including works including the exploration of the diverse narratives of Tziporah, Miriam, Ruth, Chava, Sarah, Esther and Sarah/Hagar.  Intriguingly almost all of her works are subtitled Fereshteh, meaning angels in Urdu, her native Indian language. For Benjamin these biblical characters are angels, i.e. messengers between the divine and the mundane, between the ancient Torah and our contemporary concerns.  And while she claims that “Finding Home” is no longer a central artistic concern for her, it is clear that Benjamin continues to search for a meaning to be extracted out of her own personal exile and the larger exile of her fellow Jews.  These paintings are deeply concerned with searching, challenging and yearning for some kind of salvation.


At the risk of slighting much significant artwork in this exhibition, Benjamin’s seven works on the subject of Lilith (Leelat) demand special attention.  Representing fully one-third of these exhibited works, no other subject is as extensively developed.  And no other subject is as infused with troubling ancient and contemporary meaning.


Lilith represents an ancient male fear of the feminine.  She is the terrifying other, the disruptive feminine force that is violent, rebellious and assertive. But, perhaps more significantly, she represents the all-too-real perils of female creativity. Bringing life into this world is an inherently risky proposition, and Lilith’s demonic reign reflects the terrible reality of infant mortality seldom acknowledged.


Lilith is fleetingly mentioned in Isaiah 34:14, is described in the Gemara at least four times, and her demonic activity is fully explored in the Midrash and in the Zohar.  It is there that she, like all demons, becomes a scourge to man and woman alike.  Her fury at men takes the form of illicit nocturnal relations that result in demonic offspring that fill the world with chaos and evil.  Nonetheless it is her hatred of vulnerable women in childbirth, postpartum and their newborn children, that is especially feared.   From antiquity amulets and kimiyahs (angel texts) were routinely placed around those thought to be vulnerable to Lilith’s murderous attacks.


Significantly, Benjamin does not address the Lilith that terrified Jewish women for centuries.  Rather she utilizes the ancient character of rebellion to fashion a uniquely contemporary Lilith.  It should be noted that Benjamin gives all these paintings the same name: Finding Home (Fereshteh), distinguishing them only by different numbers.


A web of demonic forces traps the emergent Lilith in Finding Home #88. She is bound at the waist as she reaches up to a host of heavenly angels and to a blindfolded messenger bearing a basket of divine powers.  Below a swarm of blue demons radiates in free fall from the newly created Lilith. This female being is constricted by all manners of strings, demonic, heavenly and those pinned outside the image itself; Lilith here is compromised and trapped, not yet liberated from her creators.


Lilith in Finding Home #79 is a victim of late 20th century wars.  She bleeds from a wound mysteriously self-inflicted, splayed out over a New York Times map that details Iraqi battles not yet 10 years old.  This is Lilith in agony who suffers terribly from mankind’s violence, perhaps resurrected by our own cruelty.

 


Finding Home #102 “Lilith” (Fereshteh) 2008;

gouache & gold leaf on panel by Siona Benjamin  – Frame collaboration with Shifaz Usman

Courtesy the artist 

 

 

As we proceed around the gallery, the next Lilith, Finding Home #102, coyly interrogates the viewer in a text balloon; “Who Goes There?  Friend or Foe?”  The blue figure is simultaneously the artist herself and Lilith peeking mischievously from behind luxurious purple drapes. The painting is surrounded with an elaborate carved wooden frame that radiates a Pop Art explosion, exclaiming “WHAM!” It was specially carved in collaboration with Shifaz Usman and represents the tension between Benjamin’s view of Lilith as a dangerous feminine force and a sly seductress. Her self-identification with the ancient female demon treads the fine line between a forceful challenge to patriarchal authority and arch Pop-inspired ironic humor.

 

 


Finding Home #80 “Lilith (Fereshteh) 2006 

Detail; gouache & gold leaf on panel by Siona Benjamin

Courtesy the artist

 

Finding Home #80 continues narrative of the genesis of the contemporary Lilith.  The text explains to us “THEN TO THE AMAZEMENT OF ALL, THERE AROSE FROM THE FIRE A BLUE MAIDEN, WAFTING THE FRAGRANCE OF LOTUSES IN BLOOM.”  Here Lilith wishes to simultaneously be Jewish, an archetypical blue goddess and a wounded avenging angel.  She wears a diminutive hamsa necklace and a tallis even as she totes a six-shooter and ammunition belt. Her eyes are closed in a kind of blissful agony from the arrow that has pierced her side in reference to the Roman Catholic martyr St. Sebastian, much beloved of medieval and Renaissance artists.  In this deeply complex and conflicted image one red bird flies off the right side of the canvas as a single ray of hope.  An ornate classic gold enclosure reinforces the iconic nature of this image, a startling birth of the anti-Venus housed in a frame more suitable to an Italian Madonna and Child.


Through the lens of Lilith (and other characters) Benjamin clearly sees the world as a deeply violent and dangerous place.  Shell casings surround this image in Finding Home #105.  The Lilith here emerges from a blue sea, each of her four arms posing a symbolic alternative: the lotus flower’s beauty is contrasted with a fiery bomb in the other.  One other hand is tightly bandaged while the remaining hand gestures peacefully to the sea.  The three-headed goddess protects herself from the noxious environment with a gas mask almost certainly derived from the now standard issue Israeli home supplies.

 

 


Finding Home #87 “Lilith (Fereshteh) 2008;

gouache on museum board by Siona Benjamin

Courtesy the artist

 

 

So too is the Lilith disguised as a genie in Finding Home #87 a smiling target of bullets, this time anchored along opposite edges that suspend her image above a web of potential violence.  One angel sits helpless watching while an archer takes aim at a rescuing heavenly figure above.  The only hope is the figure on the upper left pointing alongside the “Exit” sign.  The deep-seated unease of these images is only slightly masked by Benjamin’s flurry of symbols and witticisms.

 

 

 


Finding Home #74 “Lilith (Fereshteh) 2005

 Detail; Frame & banner, ink on fabric by Siona Benjamin

Courtesy the artist

 

Finally at the end of the exhibition is what is arguably Benjamin’s masterpiece, Finding Home #74.  Grand in size (75″ X 58″) and in scale this painting is also surrounded by an ornate frame teeming with hundreds of toy combat figures only visible upon close inspection.  They set the militant tone that the image proclaims; “A THOUSAND OF YEARS HAVE I WAITED KEEPING THE EMBERS OF REVENGE GLOWING IN MY HEART!”  She is also a wounded victim; a bullet is just visible inside her ribcage next to the still bleeding gash. She utters her angry cry with tears flowing down her cheeks, again in Pop Art mock drama, just as a ball of flame erupts behind her.


This painting is a tour de force because it brings to a head all of the questions and issues this contemporary Lilith poses for us.  Is Lilith a Jewish women’s liberator as Benjamin’s text balloons would suggest? And yet so much mitigates against that very modern Jewish feminist ideology.  Her constant depiction as a victim – injured, pierced and bleeding – does not conjure a forceful heroine.  Additionally the emphasis on war and violence, either aimed at Lilith or as swirling around her, seems to compromise the character. Most pointedly Benjamin’s use of Pop Art irony, a kind of tongue-in-cheek seriousness, begins to question the all too fashionable use of this ancient Jewish female figure.


This selection of Benjamin’s Lilith paintings, representing about three-quarters she has done with this character, throws the female demon into complex relief.  She is adrift in a dangerous world, yearning to be a powerful actress in solving our problems and yet not able.  She casts a suspicious glance at her modern fame, doubting that she or any Jewish woman (or man) can be effective at the salvation the world seems to need so badly. Siona Benjamin has created a Lilith very wisely modern, not yet ready to change the course of history by mere force of will but still unwilling to accept the world in its unredeemed state. 


 


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

Title: Not Just Another Scenario 2

Thursday, May 19th, 2011


Title: Not Just Another Scenario 2


Author: Rabbi Pinchas Winston


Publisher: Thirtysix.org


 


 


   Holy emunah, Not Just Another Scenario 2 is a riveting read. Rabbi Pinchas Winston’s revised Not Just Another Scenario holds a plot, corroborated by recent headlines, underscoring ancient prophecies coming true in one hugely happy ending.

 

   Some of the fun of in reading Not Just Another Scenario 2 is recalling what you know of Chumash and Navi, or learning bits of those texts for the first time. Today’s headlines, and the outcomes of individual choices, were predicted by those resources long ago. Mainstream media are playing re-runs of that as the Arab world plays its part in world destiny.

 

   While the 21st century’s increasingly Muslim-influenced populations limit human rights and behavior in the EU, North and South America, Asia and elsewhere, Not Just Another Scenario 2 portrays the unfolding dramas without MSM’s commercial breaks. The message from our universal Sponsor, however, comes through loud and clear.

 

   The point of Scenario 2 is this: Jews around the world are living the “Cook the Frog Slowly” fable, living among increasingly hostile populations eager to end their lives. The same scenario happened in pre- and post-Babylonian exile, pre- and post-auto-da-fe Spain, and then in pre- and post-Holocaust Germany and Poland. Futile denials of reality from Jewish mouths died with those decimated Jewish populations. But there’s a small window of time to make a happier ending with today’s chapter of Jewish history.

 

   Surprises for readers abound in Scenario 2, Chapter 14′s “In the Blink of an Eye” among them. The story’s hero wonders why he is in the midst of rapid-fire developments when a newscast numbs his mind and heart. Like many of us in this confusing world, he wonders, “What does Hashem want of me?” right through Chapter 16′s “Of Miracle Workers.” Hold that thought, because the answer to his everyman question appears in Chapter 17.

 

   Chapter 17′s “Wondrous in Our Eyes” will surely appeal to readers naming the role models (UN and White House members included) for Scenario 2 characters cooperating with Hashem’s plans for the geula. The part that the story’s hero plays throughout the book is not a surprise to be ruined in this review. Suffice it to say that anyone who ever sacrificed his or her own personal interests for kedusha will probably root for and identify with him.

 

   A heads-up for mainstream and other media executives in Chapter 18′s “Battle Lines are Drawn”and Chapter 26′s“It just Gets Better and Better” is an inside joke religious Jews can appreciate. Journalism bosses would do well to read Zechariah 14:1-3 to better plan their two future broadcasts of broadcasts (film at eleven). Reporters and Scenario 2 readers can also ponder page 220′s eternal moral lesson: “Maybe we mistook Divine Patience for Divine Absence ” with Chapter 25′s observation that “History has run its course ” The end of the novel outdoes any solar eclipse in history, closing the covers of soon-to-be irrelevant history and science books worldwide. Students of all ages can celebrate with teachers clever enough to add Not Just Another Scenario 2 to the curriculum.

 

   Author Pinchas Winston’s North American speaking tour is planned for May 12-30. He can be reached at thirtysixorg@mac.com.

 

 

   Yocheved Golani is the author of E-book “It’s MY Crisis! And I’ll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge” (www.booklocker.com/books/4244.html).

Podwal’s Books

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Podwal’s Books

Illustrated Books by Mark Podwal
Markpodwal.com

 


Mark Podwal is a busy, busy man.  He has spent the last 38 years making every conceivable kind of art: innumerable paintings, 28 illustrated books written by him and Elie Wiesel, Harold Bloom and Francine Prose, children’s books, haggadot, ceramics and graphic works. Dubbed the “Master of the True Line” by author Cynthia Ozick, his pro-Israel cartoons and drawings have been featured on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times since 1972.  Lately his passion for the Jewish community in Prague has expressed itself in a book, Built by Angels: The Story of the Old-New Synagogue and a documentary film House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague narrated by Claire Bloom.  His art is found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, Fogg Art Museum and Library of Congress.  The Forum Gallery in New York has represented him since 1977.  He also happens to be a Board certified Dermatologist.  What is easily most remarkable about this breathless list of accomplishments is that his artwork has consistently focused on Jewish legend, history and tradition. 


In one of his earliest Jewish works, Podwal used the words of the Prophet Jeremiah to illustrate Lamentations (1974) in a series of searing images delineating the tragedies of Jewish history that the prophet foretells.  Podwal’s signature style is already evident; a powerfully simple line combines with acidic social commentary to bring an ancient text into contemporary consciousness.  The frontispiece is a line drawing that copies the well-known Baroque arch and framing columns of countless copies of the Talmud and sacred texts.  On the pediment “Echah” is inscribed with “Kinot for Tisha b’Av” in Hebrew in the empty archway.  A lone noose hangs above the inscription, wrenching us from ancient history to modern day persecutions.


 



The Heathen Have Entered the Sanctuary (1974) drawing by Mark Podwal

Courtesy The Book of Lamentations – The National Council on Art in Jewish Life


So too the verse “The adversary has spread out his hand upon all her treasures. For she has seen that the heathen have entered into her sanctuary.” (1:10) Podwal keeps us in the present, depicting two Nazi storm troopers marching off with the Temple menorah found on the Roman Arch of Titus.  Similar in sentiment, but somehow more vicious, is the illustration from chapter 5:1-2 where we see the Roman Capitoline Wolf (symbol of the founding of Rome) staring defiantly at us and ironically crowned with a 18th century Polish Torah crown, grasping an ornate menorah in its savage teeth. For Podwal Rome continues to oppress well after its own demise.


In 1984 Podwal created A Jewish Bestiary: A Book of Fabulous Creatures Drawn from Hebraic Legend and Lore. It is a remarkable transformation of a medieval Christian tradition tracing its roots to Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Indian literature. A bestiary is a natural history of animals that expounds a moral lesson.  Podwal’s choices are revealing of his deep and passionate love of Torah, Talmud and later commentaries. His purpose in illuminating these animals is to “perpetuate their ancient enchantment.”  Using midrashic sources he proceeds to visually elucidate the purpose of the ant, serpent, fox, the dove and the lion among the other 25 animals he illustrates.  For the ram, seen entangled on a menorah-like bush, its role is explicated in the Akeidah and its horns; “the left one was sounded after the Revelation on Mount Sinai, the other to proclaim the advent of the Messiah.”

 

 


King Solomon Wandering (1999) gouache and colored pencil painting by Mark Podwal

Courtesy King Solomon and His Magic Ring by Elie Wiesel – Greenwillow Books

 

 

While the ostrich is kind of funny, a big bird with a talis covering its comic small head, the gnat is most revealing.   This species had a specific historical role to play in the retribution of the especially evil Titus who violated the Temple well beyond God’s furious command of destruction.  The tiny gnat flew into Titus’s nose and then to his brain, torturing him for seven years until he died of its incessant buzzing.  Podwal’s simple drawing of the triumphant Roman, his head replaced by a single gnat, proclaims how justice was done by this lowly insect.

 

 


The Gnat (1984) drawing by Mark Podwal

Courtesy A Jewish Bestiary – The Jewish Publication Society

 

And then there was “Schmuel the Shoemaker.” In You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-vavniks (1998), written by Francine Prose.  The notion of holiness hidden in our midst is lovingly explored in this Eastern European Jewish tale.  Podwal’s illustrations are uncharacteristically restrained.  The hero is seen most poignantly as a humble man hidden in the purple of shadows, contemplating what the needs of his little town are.  Nonetheless, this simple pious Jew who simply wished to help his fellow man saved his entire town from disaster.   We are urged by his illustrations to reflect upon the subtle notion of how simple kindness can engender great blessings.


In some ways Podwal seems to be most at home with demons.  His illustrations for the award winning children’s book King Solomon and His Magic Ring (1999), written by Elie Wiesel, takes us into the totally magical world of King Shlomo (Solomon).  In this delightful retelling of many midrashim the fabled King Shlomo seemed to know everything and had intimate access to God Himself who gave him a magic ring extending his authority over all spirits, demons and animals in the universe.  The demons and animals were totally under his control, seemingly happy to do his bidding.  We see two winged demons happily perched atop the humps of a passing camel and are told that some of the animals actually lined up outside the royal kitchen eagerly waiting to be served as the king’s dinner!

 

 



Schmuel the Shoemaker (1998) gouache and colored pencil painting by Mark Podwal

Courtesy You Never Know by Francine Prose – Greenwillow Books

The legend of the king of the demons, Ashmedai, dominates the last quarter of the book with some of Podwal’s best images propelling the story.  The wicked Ashmedai is seen as a grumpy gremlin, adorned with enormous bat wings and little white horns.  After he steals the king’s ring and therefore his power, we see him transformed as a look-alike King Shlomo and the real king reduced to wandering the world as an impoverished vagrant.  Even though he finally regains his magic ring and his rightful throne, the king is chastened, filled with a new kind of wisdom.


Podwal’s latest book collaboration, Fallen Angels (2007) is with noted author Harold Bloom and examines the recent fascination with angels, especially those that might be called fallen out of heavenly favor.  This distinctly non-Jewish idea is developed by Bloom into the notion that in some fundamental way we are all fallen angels.  Podwal explicates the Jewish expression of this in his illumination of Good and Evil.  The top of a Torah scroll is seen; complete with mantle, yad and etz chaim, and one of the staves is wrapped with an entangled snake.  This at first shocking notion that the Torah could contain both good and evil slowly resolves itself as we ponder the reality of our sacred covenant.  Isaiah said it best, quoting God: “I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil (45:7).”  How can such things be contained in one Torah, authored by one God?  That is of course the fundamental tenet of our affirmation of faith, the proclamation of the Shema

 



Good and Evil (2007) gouache and colored pencil painting by Mark Podwal

Courtesy Fallen Angels by Harold Bloom – Yale University Press

 

 

Through a lifetime of drawings and artwork, thinking and considering things Jewish, Mark Podwal’s love of the Torah and the Jewish people rings loud and clear.  The struggle with the sufferings, contradictions and conundrums of heaven and earth cannot help but color his clever and perceptive images.  His subjects include angels, demons, lamed-vavniks, golems, dybbuks and the messiah, all of which betray a fascination with the edges of reality, striving to visualize that which is not quite there.  Once he is done with them, we have peeked around the corner of our consciousness and come back a bit wiser. 

 

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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/podwals-books-2/2010/09/07/

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