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October 4, 2015 / 21 Tishri, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘exile’

The Stories Of Rabba Bar Bar Chana

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

(Editor’s Note: The famous allegoric stories of Rabba Bar Bar Chana and other of our Gedolim are enveloped in clouds of figurative speech. Undoubtedly, the great and eminent Rabba was trying to picture Israel’s trials during the long and bitter exile. The ship of Israel had sailed many a time over terribly stormy oceans and in many instances suffered shipwreck. On the other hand, Bnei Yisrael enjoyed the light of freedom in many countries. But that proved still more disastrous to them because the nation was either almost swallowed up by the fish (nations) wherein it made its abode, or at the end it drank the bitter cup of inquisition, significant in the overturn of the fish mentioned in Rabba’s proverbs.

In the following parables, Rabba pictures Bnei Yisrael’s exiled life. He could not have dared to speak openly on account of the strict censorship of the Roman government. He therefore chose the figurative manner in order to give vent to his pent-up feelings, escaping, at the same time, the shrewd eyes of the government.

The allegoric contents of these stories are ingenious. Many of our gaonim, such as the Maharsha, offer various interpretations. Take the story of when he was on a boat and saw an island. He settled on the island and lit a fire. The island turned out to be a fish, which reacted very fiercely to the fire. Had the ship not been so near, he would have drowned.

The Maharsha explains that Bnei Yisrael’s ship, traveling in the ocean of exile, reached a new land and the people thought they had finally reached salvation. They intermixed with the natives and then, lo and behold, the country (the fish) throws them over and they are driven out. Were it not for their heritage, their Torah, they would have become extinct. The reader is invited to test his intelligence and to fathom the deeper and hidden meaning of these stories, which appear in the Talmud in Baba Basra 73.)

The Tremendous Waves

Rabba Bar Bar Chana related the following, “Sailors told me that once they were threatened with gigantic waves that could have sunk their ships. These waves appeared with a ray of whitish light at their crest and when they struck it with clubs engraved with the words ‘I will be what I will be, L-rd G-d, King of Hosts, Amen, Amen, Selah,’ the waves subsided.”

Rabba Bar Bar Chana continued, “The sailors related to me that the distance between one wave and the other was 300 parasangs (a Persian mile, about 4,000 yards) and the height of each wave lifted them so high that they saw the resting place of the smallest star. There was a flash as it shot 40 arrows of iron. If it had lifted them any higher they would have been burned by its heat.

“They also heard the following conversation between two waves, ‘My friend,’ one wave called to the other, ‘have you left anything in the world that you didn’t wash away and flood? I will go and destroy it.’ The other replied, ‘Go and see the power of the Master by whose command I must not pass the sand of the shore even as much as the breadth of a thread. It is this sand line that separates the sea from the land and yet I could not step over it.’

Rabba Bar Bar Chana went on, “I saw an antelope, one-day-old, that was as big as Mount Rabor, which measures four parasangs. The length of its neck was three parasangs and the resting place of its head was one parasang and a half.

“I saw a frog the size of the Fort of Hagronia (a fortified town in Babylon) that contained 60 houses. A snake came along and swallowed the frog and then a large raven came and swallowed the snake. The raven then ascended the tree and perched on one of its limbs. Imagine the strength of that tree.”

Rabbi Papa ben Samuel said, “Had I not been there I would not have believed it,” and added, “Once, while we were traveling on board a ship I saw a gigantic fish in whose gills I saw a parasite, the mudeater worm. It entered and killed the fish. Thereupon the sea cast up the fish and threw it upon the shore. Sixty towns were destroyed thereby and 60 coast towns consumed its flesh and 60 other coast towns salted the flesh that was left for future use. From one of its eyeballs 300 kegs of oil were filled. On returning there after 12 months, I saw its bones being sawed into boards as to restore the streets that were destroyed by it.”

Smell the Grass

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

When was the last time you walked across a field of grass?

Wait, a whole bunch of you just looked up at the ceiling and thought…what the heck is she talking about? You probably walk through a field of grass every day, don’t you? Well, if not a field, a lawn, right?

Israel is a land that was, according to the Bible and logic, very fertile. I believe I read somewhere that when the Romans conquered Judea and sent the Jews into exile, they salted the earth to prevent our return. I googled it…yeah, google is now a verb… and there are more than 50,000,000 references to it. I didn’t click on them to see if it was true or not. The bottom line is still the same.

Much of Israel is short on water – we have desert as our southern half and even towards the north, we don’t really have lush, green mountains. Where we have fields of grass, they are usually cultivated and watered. Otherwise, they aren’t really grass, but rather weeds that grow in the winter months and die in the summer.

I went to a Microsoft conference today – they put on a light and dance show that was incredible. I have to write about the amazing technologies I saw there, the wonderful things Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer said about Israel. I want a Surface computer SO badly… I would love a Windows 8 phone. I ache for a convertible laptop and have given up the idea of buying a laptop until I can afford one. Just wow…

And with my head filled with the wonders of what Microsoft is bringing to the world… I began the walk back to my car. And, as I crossed the road, I opted for the shortcut so many others were taking…across the grass.

I grew up in America – where there is so much grass – we all had front lawns and back lawns and had to cut the grass regularly. I can still remember the smell of cut grass, of grass after a rain. I stopped thinking of Microsoft and looked down at the grass – there were people in front of me, people behind me. I couldn’t stop to touch it, though deep down I longed to.

I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped to think about the wonders of grass (the legitimate kind, naturally) – but it’s important to take that time in life – to feel the grass under your feet as you walk. I’ll remember Microsoft’s products from today… but I think part of me will also remember the grass.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Rachel is Weeping Over You!

Friday, October 26th, 2012

The yartzeit of our Matriarch, Rachel, falls this year on Shabbat. Every year, more and more people gather at Rachel’s Tomb to pay respects to the Matriarch who is known as Rachel Emanu – Rachel Our Mother.

Thousands of pilgrims will travel there today and tomorrow from all over the country, and perhaps 200,000 more will make the annual pilgrimage the day after Shabbat, every type of Jew there is, religious and non-religious, Haredim, Hasidim, and Dati Leumi, men, women, and children, busload after busload after busload, from far and near, waiting long hours for their turn to enter the small but beautifully renovated tomb near Betlechem on the way to Efrata .

Rachel’s Tomb is also a very frequented site during the year. The new enclosure houses a Kollel, and while men fill their side of the Tomb around the clock, learning and praying throughout the night, they are outnumbered by the enormous number of women who visit the Tomb, to identify with the mother of the Jewish People and to cry out their prayers for themselves, their families, their children, and for all of the Nation, beseeching the Almighty to grant health and happiness, blessing and salvation, shiduchim-tovim and children, to everyone in distress and need, all in the merit of Rachel Emanu.

While Sarah, Rivka, and Leah are also Matriarchs of the Jewish People, why did Rachel merit the special calling of Rachel Emanu, our mother? On one hand, as the last Matriarch in the chain, we are most directly descended from her. But the reason goes deeper than that. In the Kabbalah, Rachel is identified with the Shechinah, and with the sefirah of Malchut. In her spiritual capacity as the Shechinah, Rachel is truly the mother and provider of the Jewish People, caring, like a mother, for all of her children.

The famous verse of the Prophet Yirmeyahu regarding Rachel declares:

“Thus says the Lord: A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and bitter weeping – Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted for her children because they are not” (Yirmeyahu, 31:14). What does it mean – “they are not”? It means that Rachel’s children are not in the Land of Israel. It means they have been exiled from the Land. Our Sages tell us that Rachel is not buried with the other Matriarchs in Hevron, but rather “on the way” so that when the Jewish People were exiled from Yerushalayim, as they passed by her Tomb on the way to foreign gentile lands, Rachel would cry over them and beg Hashem to have mercy on them and return them to the Land.

Make no mistake. Rachel’s bitter weeping, still heard today at her Tomb, is over her children in exile. She weeps over you – that’s right – you, the Jews in Brooklyn, and the Jews inLakewood, and her children in LA. You may think things are wonderful, but Rachel’s lamentation and bitter tears are shed over you, filling almost two-thousand years of exile and weeping.

Rachel Emanu weeps over the presidents of Jewish Federations who marry gentiles, and she weeps over the directors of the major Diaspora Jewish organizations who marry Jews. She weeps over the Diaspora rabbis and yeshivas and pop singers and Hollywood directors and stars. Rachel weeps over Sarah Silverman and the tzaddikim who condemn her. She weeps over The Jewish Press and The Jewish News. She weeps over you, you, and you, and yes, she weeps over me, and all of the Jews of Eretz Yisrael who can’t be complete until all of our brothers and sisters return home from their adulterous sojourning in alien gentile lands.

But all is not lost. The Prophet has words of comfort for us and for Rachel:

“Thus says the Lord: Keep thy voice from weeping, and thy eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy; and there is hope for thy future, says the Lord, and thy children shall come back again to their own border” (Yirmeyahu, 31:15-16).

There is hope for the future. You can end Rachel’s tears. You can put an end to your mother’s pain and sorrow. You may believe things are as “colossal” and “gevaltik” as can be in Boro Park, Monsey, the Five Towns, Boca, and Palm Beach, but the Shechinah is weeping over you, and the Holy One Blessed Be He roars out like a lion in the middle of the night over the exile of his children who prefer America to Eretz Yisrael!

Jews Who Live in Diaspora Houses

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

It seems that the fad at The Jewish Press these days is for contributing writers to declare that Sarah Silverman’s trashy routine is a Chillul Hashem. That may be true, but there’s a bigger Chillul Hashem than Sarah’s. The biggest Chillul Hashem is when Jews choose to live in Chicago, and Dallas, and Los Angeles, and Lakewood, and Brooklyn, when they could live in the Land of the Jews instead.

We learn this from the Hashem Himself, through the words of the Prophet, Ezekiel. The concept of Chillul Hashem appears in Ezekiel’s clear and uncompromising rebuke of Jewish life in the exile: “And when they came amidst the nations into which they came, they desecrated My holy Name, in that heathens said of them, ‘These are the people of the L-rd and they have gone out of His Land’ (Ezekiel, 36:20).

The simple fact that Jews live in foreign, gentile lands brings terrible disgrace to the Name of G-d, far more than a Sarah Silverman video on Youtube. When a gentile sees Jews living in Chicago, or Dallas, or Los Angeles, or Brooklyn, he says, “G-d gave the Jews their own land to live in, yet the Jews prefer to live here with us! What a disgrace!” Others say, “G-d must be weak if He can’t keep His own People in Israel! They have their own Jewish homeland, but here they are, living with us!”

But why listen to me? Let an old writer for the Jewish Press explain it to you – Rabbi Meir Kahane. I turn this blog over to him. Let’s hear what he had to say about Jewish life in the Diaspora:

Rabbi Kahane bases his essay on the words of the Prophet, Ezekiel, who declares that Jewish life in the Diaspora is a terrible desecration of G-d:

“And when they came amidst the nations into which they came, they desecrated My holy Name, in that men said of them, ‘These are the people of the L-rd and they have gone out of His Land.’ But I had pity for My holy Name which the House of Israel had profaned among the nations into which they came. Therefore say to the House of Israel, Thus says the L-rd G-d; I do not do this for your sakes, O House of Israel, but for the sake of My holy Name which you have desecrated among the nations to which you came. And I will sanctify My great Name which was desecrated among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the L-rd G-d, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and I will bring you into your own Land” (Ezekiel, 36, 20-24).

“What is this Chillul Hashem which Ezekiel describes? That the nations say of them, ‘They are God’s people and dear to Him, and if He could have helped them not to leave their Land, He would have done it, but He became weak…’ This Chillul Hashem comes through the Jewish People in the Diaspora.

“Therefore, Ezekiel continues: ‘I had pity for My holy Name which the House of Israel profaned among the nations into which they came’ (Ezek. 36:21). When the time for Redemption arrives, God has pity on His holy people, profaned among the nations by Israel’s very presence in exile among them, living under them, subject to and dependent upon them. Even when the nations allow Israel to live in peace among them,Israel still depend on their goodness and tolerance, and that, too, is a Chillul Hashem. The fact that the Jews exists as a minority, constantly dependent on the kindness of the gentiles, this itself diminishes the glory of Israel, and of God, so to speak.

“This is the intent of Targum’s rendering of the verse, ‘There [in the exile] you will serve other gods’ (Deut. 28:36,64): ‘There you will serve nations that worship idols.’ Israel, by being subject to these nations, even if this just means living under their sovereignty as a minority in the territory of the gentile majority, magnify and exalt the gods and culture of the nations, and belittle God’s omnipotence, not to mention the situations where the gentiles humiliate, murder and exterminate the  Jews.

“God, thus, intends to blot out the Chilul Hashem among the nations, occurring through the Jewish People, in the only way that the nations will understand, namely,Israel’s Redemption and their victory over the nations who blasphemed God. Since, in the nations’ eyes, Israel’s weakness and lowliness, and their suffering at the nations’ hands, are interpreted as God’s weakness and inability to save His people, and that is a Chillul Hashem, it follows that Israel’s power, exaltation and victory over their own enemies and the blasphemous enemies of God is a Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of G-d).

“Therefore, although Israel are unworthy of Redemption in terms of their deeds, which are insufficient, still, a certain time arrives in God’s calculations when He has compassion for His holy Name, profaned among the nations. The Prophecy continues: ‘Therefore, say unto the House of Israel: Thus says the Lord God, I do not do this for your sake, O House of Israel, but for My holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations into which you came’ (Ezek. 36:22). Not for their sake, not because they deserve it, for they have not repented properly, but for the sake of God’s holy Name.

“Thus, God decides to erase this terrible disgrace: ‘And I will sanctify My great Name which was desecrated among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.’ (Ezekiel, 36:23-24).

“Rashi comments, ‘What does this Sanctification involve?  How does it come about? The answer is in the following verse: ‘I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and bring you into your own Land.’

“The non-Jew understands Israel’s existence in exile, and dependence on them, as God’s inability to help His People, or, Heaven forbid, as proof of God’s nonexistence. This is the greatest Chillul Hashem there is. It follows that only through Israel’s return to Eretz Yisrael and their being exalted, and gaining victory over the nations, will those nations understand that, indeed, the Lord is God, Supreme, Omnipotent King of Kings, and accept His sovereignty.

“The exile, itself, in the eyes of the nations, is the pinnacle of Chillul Hashem, whereas Israel’s return to Eretz Yisrael, the Land from which they were exiled, and the establishment of a sovereign state triumphantly, is the pinnacle of Kiddush Hashem; the proof to the nations that, indeed, a God exists in Israel, and He is the Supreme Master and King of Kings. Thus, His might, valor and victory are revealed through the might, valor and victory of Israel in their return to the Land of Israel.

“Therefore,” Rabbi Kahane concludes: “Depart the corrupt exile, the source of Chillul Hashem! Return to Eretz Yisrael so that you can live and sanctify God’s Name, for it is only through Israel’s return to Eretz Yisrael, and through the exile’s liquidation, and Israel’s revenge and victory over its enemies, that the nations will understand that the Lord of Israel is the One and Only God.”

[Excerpted from “The Jewish Idea,” Vol. 2, Pgs. 800-803.]

Reb Elimelech’s Ascent To Leadership (Part XI)

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

On the sad day that Eliezer Lipman, Reb Elimelch and Reb Zusha’s father, passed from this world, his children gathered for the week of mourning. At the conclusion of the shivah the sons divided their father’s inheritance in the following way: Avraham received the cash and the house was given to Nosson. The jewelry and housewares went to Elimelech and the outstanding debts were to be collected by Zusha.

The division had thus been contrived for Zusha, who was very clever at disguising his ways and who appeared to have plenty of time on his hands. With all that time to spare, it only seemed fitting that he should be the one to go out and collect the debts.

Zusha, however, was in no way suited for this mission, and without a penny from the inheritance was left destitute. Bereft of any means of support, he decided to travel to his uncle, an assistant to the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Lodging with his uncle meant constant exposure to the maggid and, in no time, Zusha became an ardent chassid of the master.

After his stay with his uncle in Mezeritch, Zusha departed for his brother, Elimelech, who had moved to his wife’s hometown of Shineva. The very long and arduous journey to Elimelech took its toll on Zusha’s already very modest attire. His worn-out tatters were far shabbier than those that clad the poorest of beggars.

Ever vigilant of the honor of his in-laws, Elimelech was ashamed to allow his dreadfully-appearing brother into his home. He therefore arranged accommodations for him at the home of a local baker, without providing a heads up that this would be a tenant different from any they had hosted before.

Zusha’s night was not earmarked for mundane sleep. Those precious hours were devoted to learning, prayer and the loud recitation of tikun chatzos. Zusha’s nocturnal agenda effectively brought about an end to his tenancy at the baker’s house and Elimelech had no other recourse but to invite his brother into his own home.

It was there that he was able to observe Zusha’s ways firsthand, which convinced him that they were not as weird as they had initially appeared. This also sparked within him a desire to draw close to the Maggid of Mezeritch. At the very same time, Reb Zusha convinced his older brother to join him in a self-imposed exile that they would devote to elevating the people that they would encounter.

Attired in the clothes of exile, they would travel from village to village to persuade, direct and inspire the people to desist from sin and return to their holy roots. The exile would also, as the Talmud teaches, purify their souls. And… just maybe, Reb Zusha had an added agenda in proposing the exile.

He understood very well his brother’s remarkable and singular talents and spiritual capabilities – but they were still dormant potential. A future leader for those times would not blossom if he were locked inside his books and the four amos of halacha. The situation required an individual who intimately knew his people, their afflictions, and their suffering.

This was the example the Baal Shem Tov had set, for he did not go from the study hall to shepherd his flock. He spent years traversing the land in order to learn and understand the people and their needs. Thus, when he assumed the mantle of leadership, he was no stranger to his brethren – nor were they to him. Likewise, before Reb Dov Ber, who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov, was restricted to crutches, he would travel the countryside as an itinerant maggid.

Dispatching Reb Elimelech to uplift the people, Reb Zusha likely reasoned, would be his apprenticeship for the leadership of chassidus.

Thus, across the length and breadth of the Polish landscape the brothers wandered, bringing the word of the Lord to those that were either unfamiliar or needed to be reminded. The holy brothers, as they came to be known – in a manner all their own – made focusing upon God a central part of people’s lives.

Wherever the holy brothers went on their self-imposed exile, they generated a spirit of repentance. Their standard routine was to admonish themselves out loud for their supposed crimes, when in fact their “sins” were precisely the ones that the villager within earshot needed to rectify.

What Are We Fasting For?

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

A few years ago, I happened to be in Los Angeles for the fast of Tisha B’Av. Towards the end of the fast, between afternoon and evening prayers, the rabbi of the shul asked if I could say a few words to the congregation to explain the significance of the holy day and the fast.

On Tisha B’(the 9th day of the month of) Av, the Jewish people mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the four mandatory fasts of the Jewish faith, and one of the more difficult ones, since it takes place during the heat of the summer months, starting before sundown and ending after sundown the next day.

On Tisha B’Av, even pregnant women and those who have recently given birth are to fast, although they are not required to do so on the other three fast days. All are forbidden not only from eating, but also from bathing and other pleasantries that are permitted during the other fasts.

The reason that the rules of mourning are so strict is that on this day, the Jewish people are remembering the greatest national catastrophe in our history. The devastation of our army, country, and the leadership of our homeland all culminated in that final tragedy, the burning of our holy Temple in our capital city, Jerusalem. The destruction of the central holy place of the nation of Israel symbolized the taking of our land and all of our dignity with it.

This is what we should consider when trying to understand the suicide of the last remaining Jewish fighters at Masada shortly afterward. They saw no home to return to after the war – nowhere to be proud again.

Throughout the long exile that followed, ever since the destruction of our Temple and sovereign country, Jews in every corner of the Diaspora, be they in Yemen, Poland or Morocco, have prayed three times each day to see the rebuilding of the Temple, the holy city and country of Israel.

How amazing it is now, to live in times when the Jewish people have begun to fulfill that ancient dream of returning to the land and rebuilding our national home and reviving our Hebrew language and culture.

But on that hot summer day in Los Angeles, towards the end of the long and hard day of fasting, I looked around at my fellow Jews sitting on the floor of their magnificent and air-conditioned synagogue in their slippers and suits. Their nice cars were parked in the shul’s private parking lot, all not so far from their beautiful American homes and Jewish community schools and other institutions. And when I realized that they were investing more in building their community’s Jewish services, I became sad. I realized that they feel that they are at home, and not in exile. They are making plans to be there for many more years. They have forgotten the essence of what we have been mourning for, for so long. It is heart breaking.

It dawned on me that my Jewish brothers and sisters are comfortable here in the exile (which they prefer to call “Diaspora”). They are acting out the Jewish custom of fasting on this holy day, but have detached it from its true point, since its meaning is to preserve our national aspiration to return to our land, rebuild it, and treasure it forever. They feel content to go one day without food and fun, and follow it up with a kosher Chinese or Sushi treat.

I felt a real pain for my brothers who have become so absorbed in the comforts of the West that they have become deaf to the inner calling of our national soul, to return to our true home in the East. I had the urge to tell my brothers sitting there on the floor some 24 hours into the longest and hardest fast of our yearly cycle that they, their community and beautiful shul, mikvah and kosher food are the greatest evidence of what we mourn for today, the destruction of our Temple and dispersion of our people.

I pray for their return.


Podwal’s Lamentations

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The Book of Lamentations: Illustrated by Mark Podwal The National Council on Art in Jewish Life, New York 1974

In 1974 Mark Podwal, noted author, illustrator and physician created a spare, illustrated Book of Lamentations. This complete English translation is graced with 28 black and white illustrations, or more correctly, reflections, on the tragic text. Podwal maintains Jeremiah’s alphabetical acrostic of each chapter containing 22 sets of lines, reflecting aleph to tav, denoting each English set with the appropriate Hebrew letter.

According to Sanhedrin 104a “Rabi Johanan said: Why were they smitten with an alphabetical dirge? Because they violated the Torah, which was given by means of the alphabet,” representing the tragic reality that the Jews of his time transgressed the Torah from aleph to tav, beginning to end. Eicha!

Cardinal (ca.1600) oil on canvas by El Greco
Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Podwal’s visual reflections here all utilize existing works of art to extend his metaphorical reach. The fifth chapter begins:

“Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us. Behold, and see our reproach. Our inheritance is turned over to strangers; our houses unto aliens.”

A vicious beast glares out at us, clasping an 18th century Polish menorah in its teeth and blasphemously wearing a Torah Crown. The midrash comments that “our inheritance” refers to the Temple. In Podwal’s illustration this becomes the ornaments of our synagogues, tragically plundered. And to add insult to injury, the beast is none other than the iconic Capitoline Wolf, a medieval bronze sculpture of the she-wolf who nursed and saved the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. This terrifying pagan image represents the cruel Roman conqueror making off with the symbols of our pillaged faith. Eicha!

Inquisitor (1974) illustration by Mark Podwal
Courtesy National Council on Art in Jewish Life

There was perhaps no greater terror in Jewish history than the fanatical Inquisition faced by the Spanish Jews. While their mandate was only for Spanish Christians, the Inquisition especially preyed upon newly converted Jews and Muslims suspected of secretly practicing their old faith. The methods of spying, intimidation and torture led to harsh imprisonment, forced confessions and frequent execution by being burnt at the stake or beheading. The infamous Auto-de-Fe, a public ritual procession of accusation, humiliation and finally execution by burning, as well as all other investigations, were under the administration of the Grand Inquisitor. Torquemada (1483 – 1498) was the most notorious, especially known for his hatred of the Jews and central role in their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Many more Grand Inquisitors followed him, including Cardinal Don Fernando Nino de Guevara who was painted by El Greco in 1600. Arrayed in his ecclesiastical robes he is the epitome of church power. His black glasses frame a serious and determined face all too accustomed to cruelty.

“Thou hast heard their taunt, O Lord, and all their devices against me. The lips of those that rose up against me, and their muttering against me all the day. (3: 61-62)”

Podwal’s Inquisitor is overwhelmed by the robes of his office, just like his oversized hands emphasize the extent of his reach into innocent lives. The black windows behind him mask the screams of his victims. Eicha!

Ships are so often positive symbols of exploration, hope and prosperity that we must adjust our perspective to understand that for 16th century Spanish Jews they were the tragic means of exile from their homeland. As we recently saw in the frontispiece of the 1553 Ferrara Bible (Jewish Arts, 6-8), the floundering galleon became the symbol of the Spanish Jews in exile. The passage to exile was defined by the ship, combining its very real hardships with the realization that there would be no return home. While the Ferrara Bible image represents nothing but the pain of loss, Podwal’s ship sees the hope of saving their unique Torah and bringing it to new shores to spread its exceptional learning. Nestled in its foredecks the Sephardi tik naturally fits as the primary passenger in this modern understanding of the tragedy of Spanish Jewry.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/podwals-lamentations/2012/07/27/

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