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September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

Yael And Sisera In Art And Propaganda

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The Art of Power: Royal Armor and Portraits from Imperial Spain

Through November 1, 2009

The National Gallery of Art

4th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

http://www.nga.gov/

 

 

When charged by the Prophetess Deborah, in Judges to free the Jews from the tyranny of Sisera, general of the Canaanite king Jacin’s army, Barak the son of Abinoam famously responded with the biblical equivalent of “I’m right behind you.” Deborah agreed to accompany Barak to Kedesh but told him Sisera would die by a woman’s hand. Barak accepted the terms, and Sisera was eventually lured into Yael’s tent, where she fed him milk to make him drowsy and drove a tent peg through his head.

 

Rather than treating the assassination as obscene (literally “off stage” in Greek drama), Judges 4:21 is intentionally gruesome. Not only did Sisera get pegged, Yael also hammered the nail right through the general’s head and the tip became lodged in the ground. Yet, the narrative is short on other details, allowing for many different artistic depictions of the story.

 

 

Heterogeneous suit of armor of Charles V. Desiderius Helmschmid. C. 1543.

 

 

The first illustration of Judges 4 of which I’m aware is a watercolor by Pietro Cavallini dated to the 13th-14th centuries. The work is at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, whose website calls the work “Jael and Tisseran” – though the work contains an inscription, “Jael and Siserah (Tiseran).” In the piece, Sisera lies in a courtyard with his head resting on a pillow as Yael holds a peg to his head and readies the hammer. An older woman, of Cavallini’s invention, covers Sisera with a cloth, and the general raises his arms defensively, semi-aware of his fate. Perhaps Cavallini included the extra-biblical woman because he thought the lowly wife of Heber the Kenite needed an accomplice to manage a political assassination, or maybe the woman is Sisera’s mother, who worries in Judges 5:28 that her son’s chariot is delayed.

 

Several other 15th century pieces treat the scene a bit differently. A c. 1430 miniature by the Netherlandish Master of Otto van Moerdrecht shows Sisera, clad in ochre, lying in a bed covered by a bright red blanket in a house with a black-and-white checkerboard floor. Yael, dressed in deep blue, stands behind the sleeping general and leans over him, holding a nail to his head and raising the hammer. An illumination from the 15th-century German manuscript “Speculum humanae salvationis” (Mirror of Human Salvation) shows Sisera lying outdoors on a grassy slope bearing a shield with a cheveron (v-shape).

 

 

Pedro N??ez del Valle. “Jael and Sisera.” C. 1630. Oil on canvas. 48 13/16 x 52 3/8 in. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

 

 

The several dozen other works that precede Pedro N??ez del Valle’s 1630 “Jael and Sisera,” currently on exhibit at the National Gallery, feature other oddities. Some have pillars, some show large pegs and others small nails, one shows Sisera in bed with a wine goblet, and in some Sisera wears a crown. A late 14th century manuscript juxtaposes Yael and Sisera with Judith and the beheaded Holofernes, and Sisera’s shield is decorated with a human face. Medieval artists tended to depict with Yael posing with the hammer, about to strike the general, or the aftermath of the assassination. In a 1481 wood cut, one unknown artist somehow figured Yael would manage to drive the peg through the side of Sisera’s helmet!

 

What is unique about Pedro N??ez del Valle’s work though is its function not only as biblical interpretation, but also as political propaganda. The National Gallery exhibit, in an unprecedented fashion, matches Spanish imperial portraits with the corresponding suits of armor, so viewers can actually see the armor and the paintings depicting the armor side by side. Needless to say, this ingenious curatorial decision helps collapse the several thousand years that have passed since the works were created.

 

In N??ez del Valle’s work, the curators notice that Sisera wears armor of the Roman-pagan style (Image Two). Sisera’s breastplate features a head of medusa and his armor and shin guards evoke a suit of armor presented to Phillip II as a gift. Barak’s armor, meanwhile, is in the Spanish style, so N??ez del Valle has literally cast the good guys (Spain) in the heroic pose (Barak’s), and the bad guys (Romans, pagans) as Sisera’s corpse.

 

 

 

Roman-style armor of Guiobaldo della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, presented as a gift to Phillip II. Bartolomeo Campi, 1546.

 

 

Writing in the catalog, Carmen Garcia-Frias Checa quotes a scholar who argues the painting features “a parallel between the theme of Jael as liberator of the people of Israel from Canaanite oppression and the allegory of Spain as the great succorer of the Catholic faith against heretics.”

 

The Catholic reference might be a plausible (albeit symbolic) read of the work, but Garcia-Frias Checa should have also discussed another work on Yael and Sisera that shows Sisera in Roman-style armor. Dirck Volkertsz Coornhert’s 1551 engraving shows a rather muscular Yael about to hammer the nail into Sisera’s head. Sisera, who lies on a bed, wears the same armor with the same medusa and leg guards, and he lies in virtually the same position (though inverted) as he does in N??ez del Valle’s work. Whether N??ez del Valle would have been familiar with Coornhert’s engraving is debatable, but the engraving does show that not only was Roman-style armor used in biblical scenes nearly a century before N??ez del Valle, but they were even used in interpretations of the Yael and Sisera story. N??ez del Valle might have introduced the Barak figure in Spanish armor, but Sisera’s pagan attire was already an artistic tradition.

 

Dirck Volkertsz Coornhert, after Maarten van Heemskerck. “Jael Slaying Sisera.” From “The Power of Women,” 1551. Engraving and etching.

 

If Garcia-Frias Checa is right, Spain would be presented not as the victor per se, but as the male leader showing up to take credit after the heroine had done all the dirty work. Yael still holds the murder weapon in her hand, and the peg is clearly visible piercing Sisera’s skull. Perhaps this is reading the scene too literally, but one would expect that N??ez del Valle could have picked a better narrative to illustrate the might of the Catholic Church, if that was his aim, like David and Goliath or Samson killing a Philistine.

 

Either way, that the Catholic Church would identify itself with a Jewish general like Barak less than 150 years after expelling the Jews from Spain is surely noteworthy, even if it is just a symbolic comparison. For that, we can thank the National Gallery for its brilliant curatorial decision to examine both the paintings and the armor.

 

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

Baseball Fan

I’ve come to admire the depth of knowledge that Jason Maoz regularly displays in his Media Monitor column, but I had no idea he could write so eloquently and knowledgeably on baseball as well (“The Vanishing Jewish Baseball Player,” front-page essay, April 8).

You obviously timed the article’s appearance to coincide with the start last week of the new baseball season, and reading it certainly increased my enjoyment of the return of America’s Pastime after a long, dreary winter during which we sports fans in the New York area had to suffer through a season-killing hockey strike and the less than inspiring efforts of the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets.

Please feature more articles on Jews and professional sports. Readers like me can’t get enough of that stuff.

Ira Lekachman
New York, NY



Only One Subject?

Rather than feature articles about baseball, you should be screaming to the heavens every week about the betrayal of Israel by the disaster named Ariel Sharon. I’d like to see you have full coverage, front page to back, of the betrayal of Jewish settlers and the jettisoning of the concept of a complete Israel by the likes of Sharon, Olmert, et al.

That’s the only subject you should be talking about. Forget the other news stories, the Torah columns, the social register, baseball, agunas, and whatever else might occupy us – the upcoming disengagement plan should be the sole object of our concern. For the next few months, change the name of the paper to “The Gaza Press” and devote all your energies to reporting and analyzing the tragedy as it unfolds.

Some readers may laugh and call me obsessed, but I think there are others just like me. All I can think of right now is the looming Gaza disengagement, and I don’t have the time or the interest to concentrate on anything else.

Goldie Witkin
(Via E-Mail)



Come Home, Dr. Schick

God bless Marvin Schick and thank you, Jewish Press, for publishing Dr. Schick’s op-ed article (“Lead Us By Teaching,” April 8). I miss reading Marvin Schick in the pages of The Jewish Press – I vividly recall his many years as a weekly columnist for your paper – but I refuse to purchase the scandal-mongering paper that carries his subsidized column.

How good it was to read Dr. Schick’s thoughts in The Jewish Press, and I hope to see more of him in this paper. Dr. Schick: come home to The Jewish Press and leave that other paper to its Federation-worshiping, Orthodox-badgering, alternative Judaism-championing ways.

Zechariah Strasser
(Via E-Mail)



Eidelberg’s Tap

Paul Eidelberg gives us his usual excellent analysis in his April 8 column. Any rational, humane and civilized person reading with full understanding Professor Eidelberg’s assessment of the nature of Israel’s current enemy must shudder in revulsion and apprehension.

The tragic reality is that in such a perilous time, Israel is in need of leaders with the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of the Maccabees, and the love of Israel and the Jewish people akin to that displayed by our many tzaddikim down through Jewish history.

The reason I shudder in revulsion and apprehension is because I see instead an Israeli Supreme Court transforming the country into a secular state. I see a secular prime minister devoid of the courage and planning skills he once showed as a military commander. I see a prime minister foolish enough to reappoint Shimon Peres, whose legacy is a pathetic record of failure and disaster, and whose agenda has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israeli voters time after time after time.

We should perhaps regard all this adversity as a warning – a tap on the shoulder to get our attention. Mr. Eidelberg got mine.

Norman Shine
Brooklyn, NY



Views Misrepresented

It is most unfortunate that The Jewish Press chose to run an inaccurate article from Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) without contacting any of the rabbis who were maligned (“YU Rabbis Approve Disengagement,” April 8).

The panel discussion was an internal educational program allowing YU students to hear differing religious perspectives on issues in Israel. The questions analyzed were whether it is halachically permissible for the Israeli government to adopt a plan which it deemed necessary for Israel’s security and political needs – even if it involved giving away territory – and whether opponents of such a plan serving in the Israeli army should be mesarev pekuda (permitted to refuse orders).

I made the point at the outset of the discussion that being a rabbi does not me give any expert knowledge about security and that I would focus on the halachic status of Israel as a Jewish state.

Rabbi Charlop strongly denounced any plan that would include giving land to the Palestinian Arabs. Rabbi Lamm and I, with different formulations, said that Mitzvat Yishuv Haaretz is not an absolute (yehareg V’lo Yaavor) and is outweighed by pikuach nefesh. No one said that the Sharon disengagement plan met that criterion.

Siruv Pekuda, encouraged by rabbinical leaders, has serious consequences for the religious role in determining the Jewish content of Israel and Rabbi Lamm and I opposed it, while Rabbi Charlop did not believe that it would happen.

The views expressed have been said publicly by many prominent rabbis. The notion that there is only one religious perspective on these issues and any one who disagrees should be publicly attacked is not consistent with our tradition and is dangerous.

Rabbi Yosef Blau
New York, NY
 


Death Of A Pope


The Good That He Did

I must take issue with reader Avraham (John) Forcella, who winced at the comments of Jewish leaders towards the late pope (Letters, April 8). It is true that John Paul II made many mistakes, but as a person he was fallible. Certain mistakes will be remembered, such as the Nicaragua pilgrimage of 1983 or his stand on contraception and liberalization of certain aspects of the Roman Catholic church.

Unfortunately, the pope did live in a real world and he had to stand on the balcony with Pinochet, say nice things about Arafat and keep his mouth shut when Bashir Assad was spouting off. That is called diplomacy.

Past popes have not all been a particularly pleasant bunch. The attitude of Pius XII toward Jews was made quite clear in his reports from Poland right after the first world war. Yet only sixty years before this Jews had been locked in the ghettos by the popes while those outside the papal domains were free. One can also mention the Inquisition, Crusades, Catholic colonization of America and, of course, ultimate responsibility for the Shoah.

What John Paul II did was show the way forward, the path that the church needs to take in the future. While fighting liberation theology on one hand, he reached out to people of other faiths and went further than could ever have been expected in admitting past Catholic evil.

What really impressed me the most was the way in which the synagogue here in Warsaw was packed with non-Jews for the memorial service to the late pope. This indicates how his teaching has reached the hearts of ordinary people and demonstrates to me that there can be no turning back to the wrongs of the past.

Alan Heath
Publisher
Polish Business News
Warsaw, Poland



Right Tone

Congratulations for perhaps the most thoughtful comments I have read on Pope John Paul II and his relationship with the Jews (editorial, April 8). You carefully articulated the gratitude many feel for the historic changes the pope instituted in the approach of the Catholic Church to Jews. You also conveyed concern over the incongruity and significance of his embrace pf Arafat and Waldheim and his shocking silence in the face of Assad’s blood libel.

On the face of it, in terms of Jewish/Catholic relations we Jews are better off than we were before Karol Wojtyla’s ascension to the papacy in 1978. But there persists the nagging sense that at the end of the day, even to someone like him, we were not considered fully “regular” after all.

Herman Simons
New York, NY



Not Positive Enough

I strongly disagree with your editorial on the death of John Paul II. It is undeniable, as even you concede, that he made the world a safer place for Jews. Why, then, can you not bring yourselves to fully acknowledge that contribution? It almost seems as though you have some fear of appearing to legitimize the pope’s accomplishments.

I think the Orthodox community in particular should have seized on the pope’s death as an opportunity to show his successor – and the Catholic Church itself – that we know how to say thanks and that we are capable of viewing gentiles as sincere and decent human beings. All too often our attitude toward non-Jews is one of blanket fear and condemnation, combined with a sense of superiority that would put many a redneck bigot to shame. And then we wonder why that attitude is returned against us – in spades.

Moshe Goldman
(Via E-Mail)



Mr. Goldman, Meet Mr. Deutsch

Who made The Jewish Press the spokesman for the Jews? Did you ask a shaylah whether you are permitted to say nice things about an avoda zara? Who said you could publish a photo of a pope wearing a cross for all to see?

The world’s attention was gripped for days by the death of a leader of Christianity, and this will result in great problems for the Jewish people. I don’t care what political benefits he was responsible for, or whether he was good for Israel.

Berel Deutsch
(Via E-Mail)



A Finger In The Eye

It’s very nice that the pope apologized for what his church did to the Jews over the centuries. I happened to see the news clip of that event and was infuriated by the deliberate, flat and undramatic manner in which he read the statement off a piece of paper. A little more passion and emotion would have been in order.

And wasn’t this the same pope who was pushing to have Pius XII, of all people, turned into a saint? Given the raging controversy over what Pius did or didn’t do to help the Jews during the Holocaust, the effort to have Pius canonized was like poking a finger in our eye.

Boris Solomonov
Jerusalem

The Pope’s Mixed Legacy

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

The foremost memory of John Paul II will be for his heart. When I conjure up an image of the pope, it is invariably in connection with some gesture of warmth and loving kindness to a child, to a widow, to the poor.

John Paul’s ministry was devoted principally to the suffering third-world countries and his dedication to those in pain made him justly famous, inspired our own goodness, and electrified the world. I confess, even as a non-Catholic, to a considerable sadness at his passing, attached as I am to the image of an elderly and gentle man, battling illness and weakness, continuing to shower affection on the suffering masses.

In this sense, the papacy of John Paul will forever be remembered as an outstanding success because his life and the symbol he came to represent established religion’s foremost premise: that leading a Godly life makes one into a Godly individual, that a life of faith transforms its practitioner into an exemplar of compassion. The exemplary love that the pope came to represent was in itself a healing of sorts for those who looked at the all-too-questionable history of the Catholic Church and wondered whether hypocrisy was at its core.

The pope brought a luster and a majesty to the Catholic Church seldom seen in a man of world religious stature and in this sense may even be considered Christendom’s greatest pope because of the long ministry of love that he practiced. For this reason, all who call themselves religious owe John Paul a debt of gratitude for the respectability he brought to all who believe in God.

But for all that, John Paul’s legacy will be mixed. He rose to the challenge of defeating communism early in his pontificate but failed considerably to condemn the terrorist threat at the end of his pontificate.

As the Solidarity movement in Poland began to pick up steam in the late seventies and early eighties, the world waited with apprehension for the inevitable Russian invasion to squash the boisterous pro-democracy movement. At that time John Paul II, still a very new pope, wrote a letter to the secretary of the Soviet Communist party saying that he would resign the papacy to join the front lines of Solidarity if Russian tanks entered his homeland. With that letter, he helped to save Poland and is justly commended for playing an integral role in the collapse of communism.

And yet, twenty years later, as George W. Bush prepared the world for an invasion of Iraq in order to rid that country of the world’s most brutal tyrant, who had already slaughtered and gassed more than a million of his own people, the pope saw it fit not only to oppose the war in Iraq, but to summon Tariq Azziz, Saddam’s diplomatic puppet, place his holy hands on Azziz’s head, and say, “God bless Iraq.”

That an American politician could have seen Saddam’s evil and scoffed at world censure in order to topple a barbarous dictator, while the world’s foremost religious authority was gripped by an inexplicable moral blindness, shall forever remain a stain on the legacy of an otherwise great man.

Two years later, the pope followed up this bizarre practice by offering draw-dropping comments on the occasion of the death of Yasir Arafat: “At this hour of sadness at the passing of President Yasir Arafat, His Holiness Pope John Paul is particularly close to the deceased’s family, the authorities and the Palestinian people. While entrusting his soul into the hands of the Almighty and Merciful God, the Holy Father prays to the Prince of Peace that the star of harmony will soon shine on the Holy Land.”

In a second statement, Joachim Navarro Valls said in the pope’s name that Arafat was “a leader of great charisma who loved his people and sought to lead them towards national independence. May God welcome in His mercy the soul of the illustrious deceased and give peace to the Holy Land.”

That the world’s foremost spiritual shepherd could describe himself as being close Arafat’s family, rather than the thousands of murdered men, women, and children who were Arafat’s victims, was an astonishing act of sacrilege. That the most influential religious figure alive could describe the death of a terrorist as “an hour of sadness” and call a mass murderer an “illustrious” soul was downright frightening. That the man Catholics regard as the Vicar of Christ on earth could have said of someone who stole billions from his impoverished and desperate nation that he “loved his people” is an affront to everything Jesus stood for.

Likewise, the pope chose not to use his considerable authority to condemn Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda network, and the many other terrorist organizations that have made a once-peaceful planet so dangerous to inhabit.

How can we understand such actions and such comments coming from a man who I do not question for a moment was devoted with all his heart to the human family? How could such a genuinely pious man have unwitting allied himself with such unspeakable evil? And how could a leader of such incredible love have shown such callous indifference to victims of torture and murder by blessing and praising their murderers?

The great failing of John Paul’s life was that he actually loved too much. Like a parent who cannot see the failings of a child, John Paul refused to accept that real evil lurks in the heart of men. John Paul II so loved God’s children that he could not see that there were those whose actions had erased the image of God from their own countenance and forever severed themselves from a compassionate Creator.

John Paul loved the innocent but he never hated the wicked. He loved justice, but he all too seldomly condemned injustice. He fought for the poor and the oppressed, but he would not fight their oppressors – the exception being Soviet oppressors. Declaring in word and deed that hatred of any sort was an ungodly emotion that dare not be given sanctuary in the human heart, John Paul II never summoned the faithful to have contempt for the wicked, instead extending them the considerable softness of his gentle touch.

The result of such misguided affection is that as the pope departs this world, loved and sincerely admired by the earth’s inhabitants, he leaves behind a planet where it is American soldiers, fighting and dying for democracy around the globe, who are doing more to create a Godly habitat on earth than even John Paul’s priests and pastors.

As a Jew, I shall forever remain indebted to John Paul for the respect and affection he extended to the Jewish people. The pope twice visited the Rome’s synagogue, diplomatically recognized the State of Israel, wrote movingly of the wonders of Judaism in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, visited the State of Israel, and met endlessly with Jewish leaders through the long years of his reign.

But as an American I shall remain saddened that as the world joined in a chorus of condemnation of the American people for removing the Taliban in Afghanistan and establishing a democracy in Iraq, the pope did not remind the nations of the world that the real enemy is not those who fight evil, but those who soil God’s green earth by drenching it in the blood of innocents.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a nationally syndicated talk radio host and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book, Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex (ReganBooks/HarperCollins), is due out this week.

Newsday And Abuse In The Jewish Community

Friday, July 4th, 2003

As we noted several weeks ago, despite the continuing coverage of claims of abuse in our yeshivas, attesting to the significance we attach to the problem, we nonetheless expressed our serious reservations about how the issue was treated in The Jewish Week.

We concluded that as serious as the issue is, The Jewish Week’s effort was overblown and reeked of an effort to pursue its agenda of portraying Orthodoxy in a negative light. Sadly,
Newsday attempted the same thing last week, although the goal, and it went to extraordinary lengths to reach it, was to liken abuse in the Orthodox community to the plague engulfing the Catholic Church.

Thus, in a series of five articles last week, several either beginning or blurbed on the front page, Newsday purported to ventilate, as one headline put it, “A ‘Crisis’ For Jewish Leaders” with the explanatory subheading, “Struggling With Allegations Against Rabbis of Sex Abuse.”

In the course of the five article series, Newsday invoked the names of all of eight rabbis. However, while three were, in fact, convicted of abuse, two were acquitted of all charges, and
authorities declined to charge another because there was no evidence to do so. With respect to the other two, one has yet to be formally charged, and the other fled the relevant jurisdiction.

Is there a problem if even one child is abused? Of course. Is there a “crisis?” Newsday doesn’t know of one. It certainly didn’t document it.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/editorial/newsday-and-abuse-in-the-jewish-community/2003/07/04/

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