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February 21, 2017 / 25 Shevat, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘gold’

Pesach – Season Of Emunah

24 Nisan 5772 – April 15, 2012

“And you shall remember that Hashem…is the One who gives you the strength to amass this wealth.” – Devarim 8:18

Historically, one of man’s greatest shortcomings has been taking credit for Hashem’s work. Only too often does a man find success and, in his arrogance, feel his power and his might created his empire. The Torah warns us, Remember: it was Hashem who brought all this to be.

While this may sound like a straightforward concept, the Targum adds an intriguing twist. He defines the words, “Hashem gave you the strength,” as “Hashem gave you the advice to acquire that merchandise.”

In other words, if you take credit for prosperity, remember that Hashem gave you the counsel that led to it.

This Targum is difficult to understand. The role of Targum is pshat – straightforward meaning. The Torah said, “Remember that Hashem gave you the strength to make this wealth.” But it is far more than advice that Hashem gives. Hashem created the heavens and the earth. Hashem wrote the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. Hashem created and maintains all of physicality – from the constellations down to cellular functions. Why would the Targum so limit the explanation to this one issue of Hashem giving advice to acquire merchandise?

The answer to this can be best understood with an example.

A Farmer in the Field

Imagine a simple farmer standing in his field, ready for harvest. Looking out, he sees rows and rows of ripe corn standing tall, stretching as far as his eye can see. He feels joy in his heart as he revels in the abundance of his bumper crop. And then he looks out at his neighbor’s field. Meager. Undergrown. Spotty.

The farmer thinks to himself, “What a fool that boy is. How many times did I tell him, plant corn this year! Not wheat. The rains came late. The frost was still on the ground in April. Any man worth his salt knows wheat wouldn’t grow properly that way. If only he’d have listened to me…”

And the farmer can’t help but feel a sense of pride. After all, it was his wisdom that led him to choose corn, not like that fool of a guy next door who planted wheat.

The farmer, as naive as he is, understands he didn’t bring the rain. It wasn’t his acumen that stopped the pestilence. And it wasn’t he who made the sun shine bright in the sky, providing the warmth and energy the corn needed. Nevertheless, he feels smug because it was he who made the wise decision that brought him to where he is.

This seems to be the answer to the Targum. This was the dor deah, the generation that knew Hashem. They experienced the splitting of the sea. They lived in the desert surrounded by miracles. They saw Hashem on a daily basis. And they understood that Hashem runs the world. As such, they couldn’t possibly take credit for “growing the corn.” They knew that if their flocks increased, it was Hashem’s blessing. If their crops flourished, it was because Hashem willed it to be.

The one area for which they could take credit was their wisdom. “It was my decision to purchase gold and not wood. I thought about it and realized that cattle feed would do well. I came to the conclusion that water rights would be valuable.”

The Targum is telling us this is the only mistake they could have made. Of course, everything is from Hashem – that was never a question. Yet they still could become arrogant, thinking it was their wisdom that brought their success. The pasuk says to them, “Remember: those thoughts were brought to you by Hashem. The reason you made that choice is because Hashem guided your thinking.” The Torah is saying: recognize that even ideas are directed by Hashem.

Seeing Hashem In Our World

This concept is very relevant to us. As maaminim we recognize that we don’t control market conditions. One worldwide depression and we’re all of out a job. So that isn’t a test for us. The challenge is the area that seems to in our control. The decisions we make, the choices we opt for. Real estate or oil? Treasury bonds or mutual funds? Should I buy short? Should I invest in gold now?

The Torah is teaching us that this too is in Hashem’s control. He guides our thinking, putting thoughts into our minds that bring us to where we are supposed to be. It is hard to know why sometimes we have a good feeling about a business opportunity and sometimes we don’t. It is difficult to define why certain people find favor in our eyes and some don’t. Ask a young man going out why one woman catches his fancy and another doesn’t. Granted some of it is natural attraction, but there is far more going on. Often a more attractive, more presentable girl will not sway him, yet “somehow” the other one did.

Two Generations of Athletes Emerge From Judea and Samaria

18 Adar 5772 – March 12, 2012

Noad Lahat and Bat El Geterer are known by a broad public throughout the world due to their achievements in international sports competitions, and are today considered veteran athletes. Lahat, a 27-year-old from Alfei Menasheh in Samaria, won a gold metal in the Jiu Jitsu World Championship held in California in 2010. Geterer, aged 23, grew up in Kochav Yaacov, and is today a Taekwondo European Champion.

Lahat began his career at the age of 6. When he was drafted into the IDF he refused an exemption from service, as other Israeli athletes do, since he wanted to serve in a combat unit. He joined the Paratroopers, and returned to his sports career after three years of army service. During a trip to Brazil he became acquainted with the Brazilian version of Jiu Jitsu, a fairly common sport there. After years of grueling training, Noad won five matches in California and received a gold medal. “For this I worked so hard”, he said, as he descended from the podium.

Geterer is a young religious woman who lives in Jerusalem. She is a student at Hebrew University, working on a Bachelors degree in physical education and mathematics. She is comparatively young, and yet has succeeded in obtaining several European titles. In 2010, she won the gold medal at the 2010 European Taekwondo Championships in St. Petersburg, the first Israeli to achieve such success there. In 2008 she was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Beijing Olympics, and today is considered a veteran on the Israeli team.

Continuing the tradition Two new young athletes have caught the attention of sports fans in Israel, and there are great expectations for their success in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Shachar Sagi and Yuval Freilich have both seen success internationally, despite their young age. Yuval Freilich, aged 16 from Neve Daniel in the Gush Etzion block, is a young fencer who won the gold medal at the European Championship in Austria last February. Sagi, a 16-year-old who lives in Shaked in Northern Samaria, won a silver medal last November at the Loralux international Judo competition in Luxembourg.

These athletes, like all athletes, experience ups in downs in their careers. During periods of crises, it is important for athletes to be surrounded by supportive people and a positive atmosphere that gives them the strength to continue and compete. This atmosphere can be found in the communities of Judea and Samaria. “It’s great to feel the support, its great to feel that you are a role model for others. Truly, for better or for worse, I have never heard a negative word about me here. They have always supported me and told me that for them I will always be a champion, no matter what. For me,” Sagi said, “that is very comforting.”

These athletes all reside in Judea and Samaria. What is special about this area that draws people to live there? “Unlike the big cities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, here, there is a stronger sense of a community. Things are calmer and quieter. My parents were looking for something small, more tight-knit and religious,” Freilich explained.

Freilich was born in Israel, son of immigrants from Australia. His family returned to Australia for five years, only to return to Israel in 2004. Yuval began to train as a fencer after being watching the sport in the Sydney Olympics. He is the first Israeli to receive a medal as a cadet. How does he cope with such an achievement? “I hope there will be many more Israeli athletes who will receive medals in international competitions. Maybe my accomplishment will encourage others. I am glad. What is important about sports is that if there is any measure of success, you need to set it aside. You need to be focused on what you will do in the future, and not on what you have done in the past” Yuval answerd modestly.

Shachar Sagi’s success in Luxembourg was the most significant for Israeli sportswomen in the past years. She was asked how this achievement affected her. “There are many excellent and accomplished sportswomen in Israel. I am happy I was able to get the points and the medal. It is important for me to point out that the girls give a real fight abroad.”

With all the training and schooling, the young athletes still find time for communal service and volunteer work. Yuval volunteers at his school, participates in the distribution of food baskets to the elderly and assists younger pupils. Sagi assists in training younger athletes twice a week.

Where does she find the strength after all her other occupations? “I come home and collapse. I am a counselor at the youth group, help my coach train others, and it gives me a good feeling. I can see where I began. I can steer my apprentices towards things I didn’t do, set them on the proper path, without the mistakes I made. The volunteer work is good for me, even though I have the pressure from school and my training. I contribute in a field I enjoy. If I didn’t want to help I would come only to training and that’s a little self-centered. If I have something to contribute, why not do so. We have 40 trainees at the communal center. It makes me happy to see the place; we used to have only 12 athletes. Suddenly there are many children who have fallen in love with the sport. Today I passed through there, and it was pleasing to see this increased interest.”

Heartbreak: Iran’s “A Separation” Beats Israeli “Footnote” at the Oscars

4 Adar 5772 – February 27, 2012

They kind of knew it wasn’t happening. In pre-Oscar television interviews, actors Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi, who play a a father and son professors in the Department of Talmud at the Hebrew University in the Oscar nominated “Footnote” – which last night became the tenth Israeli nominee that didn’t get the big prize, were telling anyone who would listen that it was definitely going to be Iran this year.

And they were right. The Hollywood elite which decides these things gave the nod to Iran’s “A Separation,” from what we hear a fantastic family drama, and Director Asghar Farhadi has taken home the Oscar for best foreign language film.

Gold statue inhand, Farhadi dedicated the award to Iranians “who despise hostility and resentment,” and referred to current tension between Tehran and the West, as the film bested movies from Belgium, Poland, Canada, and, how sweet – Israel.

You say we’re sore losers? You bet your poopik we are. Because we could easily envision “Footnote” director (and observant Jew, for heaven’s sake) Joseph Cedar saying enlightened stuff like: “At the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of Iran (Cedar would insert ‘Israel’) is spoken here through her glorious culture, her rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” But noooo, it had to be some other guy, as it has been nine times before.

Let’s face it, Israel just can’t bring home the golden boychik. I blame the Jews of Hollywood, whose notion of bon ton always skips the Israeli candidate. For crying out loud, we thought for sure Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s 2008 animated nominee, with its warrior’s angst and perplexing memories of bloodshed and mayhem, would capture that segment of Hollywood that wants to put Israel in its place. Nada. Even Ajami, the 2009 nominee by Palestinian Scandar Copti and Jewish Yaron Shani, about an Arab neighborhood in Jaffa – didn’t win.

And for Joseph Cedar, this is the second blow delivered by Hollywood, after his 2007 “Beaufort” also made it to the final five only to be deprived of the gold.

They win Cannes, they win Berlin, they win Toronto, but when it comes to Hollywood, it’s always going to be the Iranian guy. Nothing we can do about it, might as well just go up and shake the winner’s hand nicely and congratulate him.

Except we can’t do that, either. Because last time Joseph Cedar showed up for a photo op that was arranged for him and Asghar Farhadi, the nice, culturally rich Iranian guy was a no show.

Why do we even bother?

Never Speak A Falsehood

4 Adar 5772 – February 27, 2012

Once while Rabi Shimon ben Shetach was studying the Torah, a man entered his beis midrash and said, “I have something very important to discuss with you and I would like no one to be present.”

Rabi Shimon ordered everyone out and when the last person left, the man fell at Rabi Shimon’s feet, “Rebbe, Rebbe, please help me! I am in terrible trouble.”

“Stand up and tell me your story,” said Rabi Shimon ben Shetach. “Only then can I help you.”

The man began his tale, “My parents were rich and respectable people. They taught me to walk in the way of G-d, but I disobeyed them and I committed many wrongs and terrible sins. When I refused to listen to the advice of my parents I was finally ordered to leave their home. I joined a band of robbers and because I excelled them all in cruelty and cunning, I was chosen to be their chief.”

The Words Of A Child

“One night we planned a robbery in one of the finest mansions in a distant village. We broke a window and entered the house. The people therein were sound asleep and we bound them all with ropes so that no one might escape to tell the tale.

“When I neared the bed of one of the children I heard him mutter in his sleep, ‘The anger of G-d is against those who do evil. He will cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’

“I became frightened at these words, the first time I ever knew any fear. I quietly awoke the child from his sleep and in a calm and soothing voice asked him, ‘My dear child, who said these words that you have now uttered?’

“The frightened child answered in a quivering tone. ‘Those are the words of David HaMelech, which I learned in school today.’

“Then I asked him, ‘And what else have your learned in school?’

“The child replied, ‘I have also learned the sentence, They cry and the L-rd hearkens.’

“I became very frightened and in a feverish haste I ordered my comrades to loosen the bonds of the people in the house and to make a hasty retreat. We left the village and returned to our secret hiding place, in a cave, deep in the thick of the forest.

“I looked around me and there I saw all the stolen silver and gold that we were hoarding and I began to fear the L-rd. The child’s words made an impact upon me and I began to feel a keen remorse in my heart. Then and there I decided to abandon my comrades and to try to make an honest living by the sweat of my brow and the toil of my hands.”

Leaves His Comrades

“The following morning I left my comrades in crime and went to the city. I soon found a job and began to work for a living. A few weeks passed and I began to get the urge to steal. I decided to rejoin my comrades. On my way back to the forest, I chanced to pass your school and I heard one of your disciples utter the verse, ‘Evil shall slay the wicked.’ I began to tremble at these words and I resolved to enter your house, O Rebbe, and to confess to you my sins and beg of you to advise me how to overcome my evil inclination.”

Rabi Shimon ben Shetach listened to this tale and replied, “Strengthen your will and G-d will be with you. If you really desire to repent I will give you a simple piece of advice that will help you overcome all of your evil habits.”

“I will do whatever you will tell me,” the man eagerly replied.

Rabi Shimon said, “This small bit of advice is, ‘Beware of telling a falsehood.’”

The bandit was very disappointed and said, “Rebbe, I thought you would pray to G-d in my behalf and advise me to fast and pray so that I might be forgiven. But instead you tell me to beware of telling lies. How can that cure me of all my sins?”

“Trust in me,” replied Rabi Shimon, “and G-d will help you. Now swear before me that you will never again tell a lie.” The man swore and then Rabi Shimon asked him, “Will you ever return to your comrades in the forest to resume your evil deeds?”

“No, I will not,” replied the young man with determination and took his leave of Rabi Shimon and departed for his home. When he reached his home, he was met by one of his comrades who happily greeted him and said, “Chief, we were looking for you all over. We need you to lead us again in attacking a royal caravan that is due to pass through the forest tonight. We have been informed that it is richly laden with silver and gold, enough to make us rich for life.”

The Mercy Of Hashem

30 Shevat 5772 – February 22, 2012

“Speak to the Jewish people and they should take to Me terumah; from each man whose heart so motivates him, you should take My terumah.” – Shemos 25:2

The entire Jewish nation – every man, woman, and child – experienced the revelation of Hashem on Har Sinai. They saw Hashem as clearly as humans can, and they attained a level of prophecy. Now they were being offered one of the greatest gifts imaginable: Hashem Himself was going to dwell among them. They were going to experience Hashem’s presence regularly, and have the opportunity to participate in the building of the greatest edifice ever created – Hashem’s dwelling place in this world. The gold, silver and copper, the wood, hides and oil will all come from the people themselves: “from each man whose heart so motivates him.”

It should come as no surprise that the people offered their donations to the Mishkan with zeal and enthusiasm. After a short while Moshe had to turn away more donations; there was more collected than could be used.

Interestingly, the Ba’al Ha’Turim explains that when Hashem told Moshe to ask for contributions, He told him to ask in a gentle tone. Since it means people will have to part with their money, please speak softly.

This Ba’al Ha’Turim is very difficult to understand. Why would Moshe have to make this appeal in a gentle manner? This wasn’t a tax the people were being forced to pay. It wasn’t some despot demanding an exorbitant bribe. This was a moment in history – the people of Israel were being given this great opportunity to be a part of building the house of Hashem, and they understood it for what it was. Why would Moshe have to speak softly? Surely they would give willingly.

The question is even more pointed because the Jewish people were fabulously wealthy. Hashem promised Avraham Avinu that when his children would leave bondage, it would be with great riches. Right before the Jews left, they went to their Egyptian masters and “borrowed” gold, silver, and all types of valuables. They despoiled Mitzrayim, walking out with wealth that had been gathered for hundreds of years.

They were being offered the chance to convert some of that wealth into one of the greatest honors given to man – to become a builder of the Mishkan. If every contribution was given willingly, and the entire generation had enough to give, and it was a great honor to give, why would Hashem be concerned that Moshe gently coax them into giving?

The answer can be best understood when we focus on man’s relationship to his Creator.

Hashem’s Relationship to Man

The Chovos HaLevovos explains that if you to take the most generous, loving person that you have ever met and then multiply that mercy by ten thousand ten thousands, you won’t begin to reach the love Hashem has for each of His creations. The one concept that must be firmly embedded in the mind of every Jew is that Hashem is more concerned for his good than he is, and Hashem loves him even more than he loves himself.

This love manifests in many ways. Chazal tell us that Hashem has mercy on the money of Yisrael, as if to say Hashem feels badly that the Jewish people have to spend money, even on mitzvahs. Granted it is for their good, and granted it is the greatest investment they could ever make, but, it means parting with things valuable to them, and if it could be, Hashem feels badly. Hashem is the Giver, always wishing to share of His good, to give more, not to take. This seems to be the answer to the question on the Ba’al Ha’Turim: There is no doubt the chance to contribute something toward the Mishkan is a great honor. Anyone whose donation would be accepted would bear a mark of nobility he would cherish for years. But it involved his giving. He had to part with some of his wealth, and Hashem, if it could be, felt badly.

It was as if Hashem were saying: “It must be difficult. You have that precious gem, that beautiful gold. I feel badly even asking.” Even though the act of giving had taken something fleeting and turned it into the greatest investment, something that would remain with them for eternity, at the moment the person gave over those stones, it was difficult on some level. Hashem felt his pain and said: “Moshe, please be gentle with them.”

This is a fantastic illustration of the extent of Hashem’s concern for us, and the extent to which He is sensitive to our feelings. When we focus on the loving kindness Hashem showers on us daily, we grow in our apperception of that love, and then reciprocally we feel an overwhelming sense of appreciation and love for our Creator.

Savory Slow Cooker Meals

14 Shevat 5772 – February 7, 2012

You know the way your house smells on Friday night when the cholent is bubbling away in the crockpot? Did you ever think of using that crock-pot or slow cooker during the week? Well, I did and I had no idea one slow cooker could create so many tasty dishes, all easy to whip up and full of flavor.

Thick & Hearty Beef Stew

Sunday is all about the fam. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, strolling through the mall or having fun at the park, Sunday is the one day I don’t want to be in the kitchen! Yesterday, I was able to throw ingredients in the slow cooker and enjoy a day out without worrying about what’s for dinner. Yes, this particular recipe does require some prep work, but trust me it’s worth it. I tried it once without first browning the meat and it was not as tender. After a long day out, it felt great coming home to a delicious home cooked meal. This goes great with leftover challah from Shabbat or fresh pita.

Ingredients: 1 pound beef stew meat 1/2 teaspoon Grill Mates® Montreal Steak Seasoning 1/3 cup of flour 2 bay leaves 4 cups of water 1 beef stock cube 1 large onion, chopped 6 small carrots, chopped 2 large yukon gold potatoes, chopped 1 teaspoon brown sugar 1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5oz garlic, basil & oregano flavored or regular diced tomatoes)

Directions: Combine the flour and pepper and sprinkle over the beef. Make sure each piece of meat is coated in flour mixture. Brown beef in a frying pan, using small batches at a time so as not to over crowd the pan. Then place the browned beef in slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to mix well. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Zesty Salsa Chicken

This is the ultimate slow cooker recipe, as it’s the easiest one you could possibly make! Just dump the ingredients in the crock-pot, turn it on and walk away. Yes, it’s that simple and when you serve it for dinner, everyone will think you spent hours preparing this delicious tasting dish.

Ingredients:

4 pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breasts 1 jar of salsa (I used Ortega Salsa – Thick & Chunky Medium 16oz) 1 package of taco seasoning (I used 1.25oz Ortega packet) 1 cup of chicken broth 1 tbsp of lime juice 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

Directions: Place the chicken in the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Cook on low for 6 hours. Once cooked, remove chicken and shred into pieces with a fork. Serve over rice with salsa mixture on top. You can also serve the chicken in tortillas or hard tacos with guacamole.

 

Butternut Squash & Quinoa Stew

This creamy dish features two of my favorite ingredients, sweet butternut squash and hearty quinoa. It’s the perfect dish to serve for dinner on a cold winter’s night. Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, chopped 2 small zucchini, chopped 2 cloves of garlic, diced 1 tablespoon ginger, diced 1 onion, diced 1 15.5oz. can of chick peas 1 1/2 cups of quinoa 1 1/4 cup of vegetable or chicken broth 1 14oz. can of coconut milk 1 14.5oz. can of diced tomatoes 1/2 teaspoon cumin 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 1/2 teaspoon Grill Mates® Montreal Steak Seasoning 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Directions: Put all of the above ingredients in a slow cooker. Mix well. Cook on high for 3-5 hours.

 

When Nina Safar is not updating recipes on Kosher in the Kitch, she enjoys playing hostess. Never having too much time in the kitchen, she likes recipes that taste great and are easy to make. Kosher in the Kitch features recipes from experienced foodies as well as experimenting cooks. You don’t have to be a chef to cook a good meal! For more great menu ideas and tasty recipes, check out www.kosherinthekitch.com for your next favorite dish.

Jordan’s Queen Orders Solid Gold Shoes as King Pushes Two-State Solution

27 Tevet 5772 – January 22, 2012

Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan has commissioned a jeweler in Calcutta, India to make shoes for her out of gold.

The 22-carat gold shoes will each weigh 750 grams, and will be encrusted with diamonds and topaz, according to Irish news site breakingnews.ie, citing Bengali daily newspaper Anandabazar Patrika.

The sites reported that while the queen is accustomed to wearing shoes utilizing gold threads on leather, this time the shoes will be made of solid gold. Rania has already paid an advance of almost $54,000 for the shoes, according to breakingnews.ie, with the custom footwear expected to come to a significantly higher total price.

The news comes as Jordan’s King Abdullah II began a new push for a Palestinian state on land within the State of Israel. On January 17, US President Barack Obama met with the Jordanian leader in the White House to strategize their next steps in bringing Israel and the Palestinian Authority to direct negotiations. The get-together came just a week after the first Jordanian-brokered meeting between Israeli and Palestinian Authority envoys in months.

Aside from relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the King and the President discussed the effects of the Arab Spring on Jordan.

At a press conference following the meeting, King Abdullah thanked the President for “the economic support that you’re showing Jordan in this very difficult time,” and noted that as Arab revolution sweeps the Middle East, “the economy and the situation that challenges the livelihood of Jordanians is very, very important”.

The Translation Of The Torah (Continued from last week)

12 Tevet 5772 – January 6, 2012

The King Questions The Sages

Ptolemy, King of Egypt, had requested of Elazar Kohen Gadol, that he send sages to his country to translate the Torah. Elazar complied by sending 72 sages. They were wined and dined and then the king put to them 72 questions, to test their wisdom.

The first question the king asked was, “What shall a king do to make his rule successful so that he can reign all of his life in peace and happiness?”

The first sage replied, “He should serve G-d and walk in the path of righteousness, reward the good and punish the wicked.”

The second question was, “What shall a person do to succeed in life?”

They answered, “A person must realize that G-d knows all of his intentions and actions. He can hide nothing from Him. Therefore, if he gives charity, helps the poor and is kind to his fellowman, G-d is sure to reward him with success.”

“How can a person increase his goodness and happiness?”

“Let all of his efforts be turned towards helping his fellowman.”

“How shall a ruler punish those who slander him?”

“By being merciful and patient with them.”

“How can a king triumph over his enemies?”

“By having a powerful army ready and being prepared to do battle at a moment’s notice. But he should be discreet in using the army. He should carry a big stick but speak softly.”

“What is the best thing for us in this life?”

“We must realize that G-d is supreme over all creations and He controls the destinies of all mankind. Therefore, we should pray to Him every day to make our life better.”

“What should a man do when misfortune comes upon him?”

“He should pray to G-d to give him strength to endure the trouble. He should console himself with his reflection that there isn’t a man on earth who doesn’t meet with misfortune.”

More Questions

The king continued to question the sages. “When do we reveal our true strength of character?”

“In misfortune,” was the reply.

The king and all the wise men of the court were impressed with the Jewish sages. “Truly the wisdom of G-d resides in their hearts,” they said. “Lucky are the people who follow in their Torah, they will be blessed all their days.”

The king blessed the sages and provided lodging for them in his palace. “Tomorrow, I have more questions to ask,” he said.

The Second Day

On the second day, the king made a grand feast and he again began questioning the sages.

“How can we always remain truthful?” the king asked.

“We must begin to realize how disgraceful lying is.”

“What should a person always think about?”

“The goodness of G-d and His kind bounty to all of His creations.”

“How can a man develop patience?”

“He must reflect that the life of a man is full of suffering.”

“What should a king avoid?”

“He should avoid graft and only associate with the righteous.”

“What is the most difficult thing for a king?”

“To master himself.”

“How can we silence those who slander us?”

“By doing good.”

“How can we acquire a good name?”

“By dealing kindly with one’s fellowmen.”

“To whom shall we do good?”

“First to our parents, our family, our friends and then to fellowmen.”

The King Is Overawed By The Sages

As the king continued to question the sages he became more overawed by their brilliance.

“Truly the voice of G-d speaks through them,” he said.

“How can one drive away a care?” the king asked.

“You must look for social intercourse with people,” was the reply.

“How can one guard oneself against anger?”

“By reflecting on the consequences.”

“How can a stranger gain respect?”

“By being modest and upright.”

“Which of our works endures forever?”

“The works of righteousness.”

The king continued questioning the Jewish sages for seven days. Every sage had his chance to answer a question. At the conclusion of the questioning, the king arose from his throne and thanked the wise men of Israel for their sagacious advice. He gave each sage three measures of gold and he assigned to each a servant to wait upon him.

Placed In Separate Houses

The following day the king ordered his servant Aristeas to take them to an island outside the city and lodge each of them in a separate house.

When this was done, the king requested the wise men to begin their translation of the Torah. He provided them with food and drink and he locked the doors behind him.

G-d placed the same thoughts in the mind of each of the sages and they wrote the same explanations. After 72 days they sent for the king and they gave him their scrolls bearing the translation of the Torah. He compared them all and he saw that they agreed in every way. The king then ordered his carpenters to build an ark and he placed the scrolls in it, to preserve them for future generations.

The Translation Of The Torah

7 Tevet 5772 – January 2, 2012

King Ptolemy of Egypt had heard that the Jews possessed the Torah, the five books of Moshe, which contained much wisdom and excellent laws. He desired to have this Torah translated into Greek so that he, too, might learn its contents.

He decided to prepare a wonderful gift for the Jews. He ordered his artisans to fashion: a table of gold, two gold vases, two silver ones and two golden cups. He had exquisite figures carved upon them and had them studded with 5,000 gems of various sizes. The king personally supervised the construction and when it was finished he was very pleased.

The king placed these presents in a chest and he wrote a sealed letter to Elazar Kohen Gadol, which he entrusted to the hands of his loyal servant, Aristeas. The servant arrived in Yerushalayim and delivered to Elazar the presents and the letter, which read as follows: “Ptolemy, King of Egypt, sends to Elazar Kohen Gadol peace! “As I have heard that you Jews possess an excellent law, I therefore beg of you to send me 72 of your wise men who understand the Torah in order that they may translate it for me into the Greek language. In gratitude for your friendly consideration, please accept the gifts that I am sending you with my servant Aristeas.”

The Priest Accepts

When the Kohen Gadol received the letter and presents from Aristeas, he was elated and rejoiced exceedingly. He said to the king’s servant, “I beg of you, please remain here for several days while I choose the 72 wise men who will return with you to Egypt.”

Aristeas remained in Yerushalayim viewing the sights including the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash. He was so impressed that he wrote a long letter to the king describing the scenes. He described the long gowns that the kohanim wore, which covered their bodies down to the ankles. He described the mizbayach upon which the kohanim ascended to offer korbanos, the pure marble that covered the floors and the sparkling spring waters that washed the floors continuously.

Part of the letter read as follows: “The sincerity and zeal of the priests is indescribable. Not a word was spoken as they did their work, realizing that it was holy work. I was privileged to see Elazar Kohen Gadol. His robe was magnificent; its hem was ringed with golden bells that chimed beautiful melodies as he walked. On his chest was the plaque of law, studded with 12 scintillating diamonds encased in solid gold. I was overawed by its majesty and beauty. From there I viewed the city, its walls and fortifications. In every street I found gardens and vineyards and thousands of sheep and cattle roaming the fields. Israel is truly a prosperous nation and a blessed people, dwelling in the protection of their G-d. Lucky are the people who possess such a G-d.”

The Sages Are Chosen

Elazar Kohen Gadol chose 72 of the sages of Yerushalayim and he presented them to the king’s servant and said to him: “Treat the men with respect and grant them whatever they may request of you. After they are through with their translation, let the king not detain them even one day.”

Elazar continued, “If I did not consider the blessings that the translation of the holy Torah can bring to all humanity, I would not permit these Sages to depart from here. My soul is entwined with theirs and only with the greatest of reluctance do we part from each other.”

Greeted By The King

Aristeas and the sages arrived in Alexandria, Egypt. The king and a large multitude of people turned out to greet them. A parade was held in their honor and when they arrived in the king’s palace the king greeted them and gave them his blessing.

“Have you brought the Torah scroll with you?” the king asked.

“Here it is,” they answered.

They took out the sefer Torah that was encased in a golden mantel and was inscribed in golden letters. As they unrolled the parchment, the king noted the beautiful penmanship and the fine texture of the parchment as each part was sewn to each other. He was impressed and awed as he regarded it. He blessed the 72 sages and also the Kohen Gadol and he bowed before them seven times. He clasped the hands of each sage and said: “Today is the happiest day of my life. I will not forget it.”

The Banquet

The king then ordered a magnificent feast to be held in honor of the sages. He invited all the ministers, officials and leaders of the country to participate in the festivities. Because they were strangers the Jewish sages sat apart, for that was the custom in Egypt.

Before the banquet began, one of the sages arose and offered the following prayer:

An Ancient ‘Obsession’ with Sukkot Iconography

20 Tishri 5772 – October 18, 2011
In some ways, Sukkot is the most contemporary of holidays. Many pay good money and invest a lot of time and effort to obtain a beautiful etrog-indeed its biblical name is “fruit of the beautiful tree”-and the most visually appealing lulav, hadasim and aravot. There are various schools of thought on whether to refrigerate or not to refrigerate, to wrap in aluminum foil or wet paper towel, all with the goal of preventing the four species from spoiling and jeopardizing their smell and visual appearance. There is no specific requirement that the schach covering the sukkah be alive-indeed it cannot be made of something still attached to the ground-but the entire atmosphere of Sukkot is one of growth, natural living, and disengaging from our comfort zone. Indeed, it is on the extended Sukkot holiday that a prayer is offered for rain, the source of life.

 

But although Sukkot emphasizes the present-and a recently created annual design competition called Sukkah City has lent the ritual a postmodern thrust-there is something primordial about its symbols. The lulav and etrog, whether alongside each other or appearing separately, are some of the most prominent symbols in early Jewish art.

 

 


Byzantine mosaic at Huldah. Sixth century

 

 

A second century silver coin (image one), in the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, shows a lulav and etrog (though it might look more like a flower vase or a lamp to modern eyes), while another silver coin of the Bar Kokhba revolt at the Israel Museum, also minted in 134-135 CE, depicts a bunch of grapes (with the paleo-Hebrew inscription “Simeon”) on one side, and a lulav (with the paleo-Hebrew phrase “For the freedom of Jerusalem”) on the other side.

 

Other Sukkot-related ancient pieces in the Israel Museum’s collection include fourth century glass and gold leaf beads discovered in Roman catacombs, and a fifth century Jewish tombstone, which was laid for a Hannah, who died on the eve of Pesach in 438 CE. The stone comes from the cemetery at Zoar, on the Dead Sea shores. On the stone, painted in red, are a menorah, a shofar, the Temple façade and a lulav.

 

 


Tetradrachma (Greek silver coin) with lulav and etrog. Minted 134 CE. Israel Museum

 

 

The beads, according to the Israel Museum website, were the bases of bowls or cups, which were made by affixing the gold to a glass disk and then creating another layer of glass on top of the gold leaf. “Of the hundreds of known bases, many bear Christian motifs, while some are decorated with biblical or general scenes,” according to an entry on the museum site by Yael Israeli. “Only about a dozen have Jewish features, incorporating most of the characteristic motifs of Jewish art in the late Roman and Byzantine periods, commemorating the Temple, its ritual appurtenances, and its ceremonies.” The beads depict an ark, Torah scrolls, menorahs, a shofar, and a lulav and etrog, among other symbols.

 

A fourth century Roman or Byzantine bowl fragment (image two) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which resembles the Israel Museum beads, shows two menorahs, a shofar, and an ark. According to the Met website, the circular object alongside the menorah could be matzah (one wonders whether that’s really a justified call to make), while an etrog flanks the other side of the shofar. The unlikely Met explanation, which more closely resembles an interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs, is that “this fragment of gold glass may have been the base of a drinking vessel used during the Passover festival and buried with its owner to bless him in the afterlife.”

 


Detail of floor mosaic at synagogue at Hamat, near Tiberias. Fourth century

 

 

The lulav and etrog, along with a shofar, a menorah, and an incense shovel, also appear in a Byzantine mosaic at Huldah (image three). The mosaic, which bears the Greek inscription “Praise to the people,” depicts the etrog with a pair of leaves attached to the stem (pittom). The etrog in the fourth century mosaic on the floor of the synagogue at Hamat, near Teverya, does not include leaves growing on the etrog stem, which seems to emanate from a lulav. A shofar, incense shovel, and menorah also appear in the mosaic.

 

The lulav motif also appears in a fourth century Egyptian bronze lamp (with a menorah-handle, a shofar and an etrog), in second-fourth century Jewish medallions (in the collection of the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum of Archaeology, University of Haifa), and in a 500-629 hexagonal Byzantine glass bottle at the Metropolitan Museum.

 

 


Roman or Byzantine bowl fragments with Menorah, Shofar, and Torah Ark. Fourth century. Glass, gold leaf. Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

So why were Jewish artists and patrons so obsessed with the lulav and etrog? While the prospect that they might have simply fallen in love with the ritual of Sukkot is a tempting one to pursue, art history-and particularly religious art history-rarely works that way.

 

As Steven Fine explains in his book, Art & Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology, the lulav form might have evolved from the symbol of the victory palm, which first appeared on coins between 480 and 445 B.C.E. “The date palm would have been an expedient choice for the Roman minters in designing coins to be used by Palestinian Jews,” Fine writes. “Jews might raise no objection to the date palm as a ‘graven image’ in violation of their tradition of ‘anti-idolism.’ Jews used date palms in their own artistic and literary creations, where it often held an important position.”

 

Fine cites Psalm 92:13 and its reference, “the righteous will flourish like a date palm ” as sources for Jewish fascination with the palm, which later “metamorphosed” from the victory palm into the lulav in Jewish coins during the first revolt against Rome. “The lulav represents the festival of Sukkot,” Fine writes, “and often was thought to represent victory in early literature.”

 

Although many readers might prefer a more “Jewish” explanation of the phenomenon, the lulav form does seem to have proliferated-at least in ancient times-with no small help from pagan symbolism. But what might have started as a pagan motif quickly became assimilated into a Jewish context and started to evolve its own identity. Ancient food for thought, perhaps, as we navigate the most contemporary of holidays.


 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

An Ancient ‘Obsession’ with Sukkot Iconography

20 Tishri 5772 – October 18, 2011
In some ways, Sukkot is the most contemporary of holidays. Many pay good money and invest a lot of time and effort to obtain a beautiful etrog-indeed its biblical name is “fruit of the beautiful tree”-and the most visually appealing lulav, hadasim and aravot. There are various schools of thought on whether to refrigerate or not to refrigerate, to wrap in aluminum foil or wet paper towel, all with the goal of preventing the four species from spoiling and jeopardizing their smell and visual appearance. There is no specific requirement that the schach covering the sukkah be alive-indeed it cannot be made of something still attached to the ground-but the entire atmosphere of Sukkot is one of growth, natural living, and disengaging from our comfort zone. Indeed, it is on the extended Sukkot holiday that a prayer is offered for rain, the source of life.

 

But although Sukkot emphasizes the present-and a recently created annual design competition called Sukkah City has lent the ritual a postmodern thrust-there is something primordial about its symbols. The lulav and etrog, whether alongside each other or appearing separately, are some of the most prominent symbols in early Jewish art.

 

 


Byzantine mosaic at Huldah. Sixth century

 

 

A second century silver coin (image one), in the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, shows a lulav and etrog (though it might look more like a flower vase or a lamp to modern eyes), while another silver coin of the Bar Kokhba revolt at the Israel Museum, also minted in 134-135 CE, depicts a bunch of grapes (with the paleo-Hebrew inscription “Simeon”) on one side, and a lulav (with the paleo-Hebrew phrase “For the freedom of Jerusalem”) on the other side.

 

Other Sukkot-related ancient pieces in the Israel Museum’s collection include fourth century glass and gold leaf beads discovered in Roman catacombs, and a fifth century Jewish tombstone, which was laid for a Hannah, who died on the eve of Pesach in 438 CE. The stone comes from the cemetery at Zoar, on the Dead Sea shores. On the stone, painted in red, are a menorah, a shofar, the Temple façade and a lulav.

 

 


Tetradrachma (Greek silver coin) with lulav and etrog. Minted 134 CE. Israel Museum

 

 

The beads, according to the Israel Museum website, were the bases of bowls or cups, which were made by affixing the gold to a glass disk and then creating another layer of glass on top of the gold leaf. “Of the hundreds of known bases, many bear Christian motifs, while some are decorated with biblical or general scenes,” according to an entry on the museum site by Yael Israeli. “Only about a dozen have Jewish features, incorporating most of the characteristic motifs of Jewish art in the late Roman and Byzantine periods, commemorating the Temple, its ritual appurtenances, and its ceremonies.” The beads depict an ark, Torah scrolls, menorahs, a shofar, and a lulav and etrog, among other symbols.

 

A fourth century Roman or Byzantine bowl fragment (image two) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which resembles the Israel Museum beads, shows two menorahs, a shofar, and an ark. According to the Met website, the circular object alongside the menorah could be matzah (one wonders whether that’s really a justified call to make), while an etrog flanks the other side of the shofar. The unlikely Met explanation, which more closely resembles an interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs, is that “this fragment of gold glass may have been the base of a drinking vessel used during the Passover festival and buried with its owner to bless him in the afterlife.”

 


Detail of floor mosaic at synagogue at Hamat, near Tiberias. Fourth century

 

 

The lulav and etrog, along with a shofar, a menorah, and an incense shovel, also appear in a Byzantine mosaic at Huldah (image three). The mosaic, which bears the Greek inscription “Praise to the people,” depicts the etrog with a pair of leaves attached to the stem (pittom). The etrog in the fourth century mosaic on the floor of the synagogue at Hamat, near Teverya, does not include leaves growing on the etrog stem, which seems to emanate from a lulav. A shofar, incense shovel, and menorah also appear in the mosaic.

 

The lulav motif also appears in a fourth century Egyptian bronze lamp (with a menorah-handle, a shofar and an etrog), in second-fourth century Jewish medallions (in the collection of the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum of Archaeology, University of Haifa), and in a 500-629 hexagonal Byzantine glass bottle at the Metropolitan Museum.

 

 


Roman or Byzantine bowl fragments with Menorah, Shofar, and Torah Ark. Fourth century. Glass, gold leaf. Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

So why were Jewish artists and patrons so obsessed with the lulav and etrog? While the prospect that they might have simply fallen in love with the ritual of Sukkot is a tempting one to pursue, art history-and particularly religious art history-rarely works that way.

 

As Steven Fine explains in his book, Art & Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology, the lulav form might have evolved from the symbol of the victory palm, which first appeared on coins between 480 and 445 B.C.E. “The date palm would have been an expedient choice for the Roman minters in designing coins to be used by Palestinian Jews,” Fine writes. “Jews might raise no objection to the date palm as a ‘graven image’ in violation of their tradition of ‘anti-idolism.’ Jews used date palms in their own artistic and literary creations, where it often held an important position.”

 

Fine cites Psalm 92:13 and its reference, “the righteous will flourish like a date palm ” as sources for Jewish fascination with the palm, which later “metamorphosed” from the victory palm into the lulav in Jewish coins during the first revolt against Rome. “The lulav represents the festival of Sukkot,” Fine writes, “and often was thought to represent victory in early literature.”

 

Although many readers might prefer a more “Jewish” explanation of the phenomenon, the lulav form does seem to have proliferated-at least in ancient times-with no small help from pagan symbolism. But what might have started as a pagan motif quickly became assimilated into a Jewish context and started to evolve its own identity. Ancient food for thought, perhaps, as we navigate the most contemporary of holidays.


 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

An Ancient ‘Obsession’ with Sukkot Iconography

20 Tishri 5772 – October 18, 2011
In some ways, Sukkot is the most contemporary of holidays. Many pay good money and invest a lot of time and effort to obtain a beautiful etrog-indeed its biblical name is “fruit of the beautiful tree”-and the most visually appealing lulav, hadasim and aravot. There are various schools of thought on whether to refrigerate or not to refrigerate, to wrap in aluminum foil or wet paper towel, all with the goal of preventing the four species from spoiling and jeopardizing their smell and visual appearance. There is no specific requirement that the schach covering the sukkah be alive-indeed it cannot be made of something still attached to the ground-but the entire atmosphere of Sukkot is one of growth, natural living, and disengaging from our comfort zone. Indeed, it is on the extended Sukkot holiday that a prayer is offered for rain, the source of life.

 

But although Sukkot emphasizes the present-and a recently created annual design competition called Sukkah City has lent the ritual a postmodern thrust-there is something primordial about its symbols. The lulav and etrog, whether alongside each other or appearing separately, are some of the most prominent symbols in early Jewish art.

 

 


Byzantine mosaic at Huldah. Sixth century

 

 

A second century silver coin (image one), in the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, shows a lulav and etrog (though it might look more like a flower vase or a lamp to modern eyes), while another silver coin of the Bar Kokhba revolt at the Israel Museum, also minted in 134-135 CE, depicts a bunch of grapes (with the paleo-Hebrew inscription “Simeon”) on one side, and a lulav (with the paleo-Hebrew phrase “For the freedom of Jerusalem”) on the other side.

 

Other Sukkot-related ancient pieces in the Israel Museum’s collection include fourth century glass and gold leaf beads discovered in Roman catacombs, and a fifth century Jewish tombstone, which was laid for a Hannah, who died on the eve of Pesach in 438 CE. The stone comes from the cemetery at Zoar, on the Dead Sea shores. On the stone, painted in red, are a menorah, a shofar, the Temple façade and a lulav.

 

 


Tetradrachma (Greek silver coin) with lulav and etrog. Minted 134 CE. Israel Museum

 

 

The beads, according to the Israel Museum website, were the bases of bowls or cups, which were made by affixing the gold to a glass disk and then creating another layer of glass on top of the gold leaf. “Of the hundreds of known bases, many bear Christian motifs, while some are decorated with biblical or general scenes,” according to an entry on the museum site by Yael Israeli. “Only about a dozen have Jewish features, incorporating most of the characteristic motifs of Jewish art in the late Roman and Byzantine periods, commemorating the Temple, its ritual appurtenances, and its ceremonies.” The beads depict an ark, Torah scrolls, menorahs, a shofar, and a lulav and etrog, among other symbols.

 

A fourth century Roman or Byzantine bowl fragment (image two) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which resembles the Israel Museum beads, shows two menorahs, a shofar, and an ark. According to the Met website, the circular object alongside the menorah could be matzah (one wonders whether that’s really a justified call to make), while an etrog flanks the other side of the shofar. The unlikely Met explanation, which more closely resembles an interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs, is that “this fragment of gold glass may have been the base of a drinking vessel used during the Passover festival and buried with its owner to bless him in the afterlife.”

 


Detail of floor mosaic at synagogue at Hamat, near Tiberias. Fourth century

 

 

The lulav and etrog, along with a shofar, a menorah, and an incense shovel, also appear in a Byzantine mosaic at Huldah (image three). The mosaic, which bears the Greek inscription “Praise to the people,” depicts the etrog with a pair of leaves attached to the stem (pittom). The etrog in the fourth century mosaic on the floor of the synagogue at Hamat, near Teverya, does not include leaves growing on the etrog stem, which seems to emanate from a lulav. A shofar, incense shovel, and menorah also appear in the mosaic.

 

The lulav motif also appears in a fourth century Egyptian bronze lamp (with a menorah-handle, a shofar and an etrog), in second-fourth century Jewish medallions (in the collection of the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum of Archaeology, University of Haifa), and in a 500-629 hexagonal Byzantine glass bottle at the Metropolitan Museum.

 

 


Roman or Byzantine bowl fragments with Menorah, Shofar, and Torah Ark. Fourth century. Glass, gold leaf. Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

So why were Jewish artists and patrons so obsessed with the lulav and etrog? While the prospect that they might have simply fallen in love with the ritual of Sukkot is a tempting one to pursue, art history-and particularly religious art history-rarely works that way.

 

As Steven Fine explains in his book, Art & Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology, the lulav form might have evolved from the symbol of the victory palm, which first appeared on coins between 480 and 445 B.C.E. “The date palm would have been an expedient choice for the Roman minters in designing coins to be used by Palestinian Jews,” Fine writes. “Jews might raise no objection to the date palm as a ‘graven image’ in violation of their tradition of ‘anti-idolism.’ Jews used date palms in their own artistic and literary creations, where it often held an important position.”

 

Fine cites Psalm 92:13 and its reference, “the righteous will flourish like a date palm ” as sources for Jewish fascination with the palm, which later “metamorphosed” from the victory palm into the lulav in Jewish coins during the first revolt against Rome. “The lulav represents the festival of Sukkot,” Fine writes, “and often was thought to represent victory in early literature.”

 

Although many readers might prefer a more “Jewish” explanation of the phenomenon, the lulav form does seem to have proliferated-at least in ancient times-with no small help from pagan symbolism. But what might have started as a pagan motif quickly became assimilated into a Jewish context and started to evolve its own identity. Ancient food for thought, perhaps, as we navigate the most contemporary of holidays.


 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Israeli White Wines For The Summer

27 Sivan 5771 – June 29, 2011

If you’re located in the Northern Hemisphere, July signals the time of year when the weather can be hot enough to make you both thirsty and a bit more than uncomfortable. Our minds go to the efficiency of the air-conditioning in our homes, automobiles, and offices, and our palates take us to dishes that are light and not infrequently intentionally served cold. When we think of wine it is most logical for our thoughts to turn to white wines for, in addition to being served well chilled, those indeed tend to be crisper and more refreshing than reds.


Even as a youth I knew that dry white wines are not white at all. Made from grapes whose skin is gold, green or yellowish, their color can range from pale straw-like to yellow or golden. I also learned at an early age that although most white wines are made for consumption in their youth, the very best of them can be cellared for 20, 30 or even more years.


Several years ago, together with our Israeli cousins, many Americans came to the conclusion that drinking white wines was not as sophisticated as drinking reds. Some went as far as to give away all of their whites. That, frankly, was a badly informed decision, for as true wine lovers know, the very best white wines can be no less complex, deep or long-lived as even the best of reds. Whether made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc or Viognier, white wines tend to be more refreshing than reds because in addition to lacking the tannins of reds they are at their best when served well chilled. Simply stated, because we tend to eat dishes that are lighter in the summer, white wines go down more easily than reds.


As to what foods match well with white wines, I have only one rule: lighter dishes should be accompanied by lighter wines (e.g. Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, and unoaked Chardonnay), while medium or heavier dishes should be matched with medium- to full-bodied whites (e.g. oaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Semillon).


Following are reviews of a collection of kosher Israeli white wines that are particularly well suited to the months of summer:


Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Chardonnay, Odem Organic Vineyard, 2008: Bright burnished gold in color, full-bodied, opening with a note of butterscotch on the nose. On first attack summer fruits and pears, those yielding to notes of citrus and crème brûlée. Gentle wood and a near-buttery texture balanced finely with acidity. Not a lively wine but indeed destined to be complex, mouth-filling and, for lack of a better term, delicious. Drink now-2018. $14. Score: 94.


Castel, “C,” Chardonnay, Blanc du Castel, 2008: Light, bright gold in color, full-bodied but with balance so finely tuned that the wine seems to float on the palate. On first attack, grapefruit and grapefruit pith on a seductive creamy and vanilla nose, the wine then opening in the glass to reveal pear, apricot, fig and melon aromas and flavors, all on a mineral-rich background. Long, deep, complex, and elegant. Drink now-2014. $42. Score: 93.


Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Chardonnay, 2008: Lighter gold and, although full-bodied, neither as dense or as oaky as with past releases. All of which is just fine, for after distinct notes of butterscotch and poached pears the wine opens to reveal citrus, melon and light toasty notes that prove subtle, complex, elegant and long. Drink now-2018. $22. Score: 92.


Yatir, Viognier, 2010: Unoaked, thus maintaining its fresh fruit character and crisp nature. Light- to medium-bodied, opening with floral and nutty aromas and flavors, going on to show a generous mouthful of pear, apricot and litchi fruits, all on a background that hints of spices and, on the finish, a note of litchi. Round, lively and generous. Drink now-2014. $32. Score: 91.


Yatir, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010: Fermented in stainless steel and then transferred to primarily older oak for two months, light straw colored with a hint of a green tint and just a bare and thus tantalizing hint of the oak. Light and refined, as fresh and lively on the nose as on the palate, showing aromas and flavors of citrus, pears and apples, those along with notes of guava and minerals that arise from mid-palate on. A fine balance between ripeness and finely tuned acidity. Drink now-2012. $32. Score: 90.


Carmel, Regional, Sauvignon Blanc, Upper Galilee, 2010: Light glistening gold, unoaked and showing fine aromatics and lively acidity to support aromas and flavors of passion fruit, pink grapefruit and star fruit (carambola), all on a background that hints nicely of freshly mown grass. Very nice indeed, reflecting the ongoing local improvement with this variety. Drink now-2013. Score: 90.


Galil Mountain, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010: Light gold with green and orange tints. Unoaked, pure, crisp and well focused, with peach, citrus, tangerine and mango aromas and flavors. From mid-palate on delightful notes of key lime pie and stony minerals. Refreshing, with appealing complexity. Drink now. $18. Score: 90.


Galil Mountain, Viognier, 2010: Medium-bodied, light bright gold showing a hint of smoky oak to complement a generous mouthful of green gage plums, litchis, Anjou pears and, from mid-palate on, a note of honeydew melon. Tangy, lively and long. Drink now. Score: 90.


Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Viognier, 2009: On the opening nose light notes of oak and flowers, those parting to make way for aromas and flavors of white peaches, pears and spices and, from mid-palate to a generous finish, notes of green-gage plums. Drink now-2013. $20. Score: 90.


Binyamina, Avnei Hachoshen, Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier, Yashfeh, 2009: A medium-bodied blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier (50%, 30%, and 20% respectively). Aged in new and old oak for six months, shows a complex nose on which butternuts and ripe pears continuing to the glass and opening to reveal notes of honeydew melon and citrus peel. Finishes generously with a near-buttery texture. Drink now-2013. $16. Score: 89.


Barkan, Reserve, Chardonnay, 2009: Light gold, slightly muted when first poured but opening in the glass to show green apple, pear and green almond notes. Medium-bodied, with an appealing hint of bitterness on the finish. Drink now. $16. Score: 88.


Psagot, Viognier, 2010: Developed in new French oak for six months, light bright gold in color, medium-bodied, with generous acidity that calls to mind green apples, the acidity in fine balance with notes of spicy oak. Opens in the glass to reveal appealing spiced pears, litchis and almonds. Generous 14% alcohol, but not a sign of heat. Drink now or in the next year or so. $20. Score: 88.


Tzuba, Tel Tzuba, Chardonnay, 2009: Light bright gold in color, developed partly in stainless steel, partly in barriques (50% of which were new), and with no malolactic fermentation. Opens a bit flat but don’t let that put you off, for all this needs is a few minutes in the glass to reveal aromas and flavors of green apples, peaches and nectarines. Medium-bodied, with appealing notes of Anjou pears that come in on the finish. Drink now. $22. Score: 88.


Next month: kosher white wines from the U.S., Europe, New Zealand, and South America.

 

Daniel Rogov is a premier kosher wine critic and the author of two annual books, “Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines” and “Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines.” He can be reached by e-mail at drogov@cheerful.com, and his books can be ordered at www.danielrogov.com.

A Treasure To Keep

22 Elul 5770 – September 1, 2010

When my neighbor asked me if I was missing any jewelry, I immediately thought of the gift my husband gave me 25 years ago at our wedding. In the yichud room, he presented me with a beautiful three-tone gold bracelet with diamond chips. I treasured that gift until I lost it.

For many years, I searched for that bracelet until I finally gave up. I accepted the loss, yet in the back of my mind, I always had faith that the bracelet would turn up.

My neighbor went on to explain how her children had shown her a bracelet. They were playing in her storage room with some boxes and found the jewelry. My neighbor, who does not know the difference between real and costume jewelry, gave the assumed fake bracelet to a single 33-year-old woman who cleans the neighborhood kindergarten. The woman lives with her parents in a low socio-economic neighborhood in Israel.

The young woman was thrilled to receive such lovely costume jewelry, and immediately became attached to the gift. One day, her grandfather noticed the bracelet and asked her how she came upon such an expensive piece of jewelry. When she explained that this was a gift from the mother of a kindergarten student and that the bracelet was surely not genuine, the grandfather insisted that they check with a jeweler. Sure enough, the jeweler ascertained that the bracelet was authentic and expensive. The family insisted that the young woman return the gift. The young woman found it very difficult to do so and called my neighbor.

My neighbor started to think about where she had found the bracelet and whose it could be. She then remembered those boxes in her storage room. Years ago, while cleaning my house for Passover, I came across some empty, multi-colored boxes and offered them to my neighbor as toys for her children. She took them off my hands, and I was happy to part with the clutter. The bracelet was in one of those boxes.

Needless to say, when my neighbor described the bracelet, I was overwhelmed that my treasure had been found. My neighbor called the young woman and explained that the bracelet was mine and how it had been lost. So returning the bracelet was a mitzvah. The young woman spoke to her rabbi, who told her that she must return it. Yet she was not prepared to do so. She had become so attached to the gift that she felt it was her own, and, based on the fact that I had given up searching for it, she felt that I had accepted the reality that my bracelet was gone.

I finally called this young woman and explained that the gift had come from my groom on our wedding day. She sympathized, yet went on to say that she was an older single woman who did not know when or if she would ever receive a piece of jewelry from a groom. Despite her hesitations, she finally sadly returned my bracelet.

I blessed her that one day soon, she would meet her husband in the merit of the mitzvah of returning a lost item, a mitzvah that had been especially difficult for her to do.

Last week, I received a phone call from this young woman. She had just gotten engaged to a fine young man. Her gift from her future groom was a gold bracelet.

She now had her own treasure to keep.

Who’s Afraid Of The Little Old Winemaker?

13 Sivan 5770 – May 26, 2010
The aristocratic atmosphere in the elegant hotel that hosted Israel’s wine competition did not disclose the scene that was about to take place: A small boutique winery from the Shomron, Hararei Kedem, won two gold medals and one silver medal. Hundreds of professional and amateur sommeliers watched in astonishment as the man with the beard and long sidelocks (who did not look particularly relevant to the glamorous event) hesitantly ascended to the podium to accept his medals.

 

“There are two factors in this achievement,” said Ariel Sheetrit. “The first is that our vineyard is located in the blessed biblical inheritance of Joseph. The second is that we fulfilled the laws of the Shemittah year. We simply did not attend to the vineyard, as dictated by the Torah, and didn’t take finances into account.”

 

Sheetrit accepted his medals with thanks and walked off the stage. His award-winning wines were produced from the grapes of the sixth year of the seven- year Shemittah cycle. The experts told him that if he would not prune his vines during the Shemittah year, his entire vineyard would collapse. But just the opposite occurred – precisely what the Torah promises to the Jews who fulfill the laws of Shemittah: “And I will give you my blessing in the sixth year, and it will make produce for three years” (Leviticus 25:3). In the sixth year of the seven-year cycle, Sheetrit’s vineyard produced more than three times its annual average. Usually, a great increase in yield will reduce the quality of the grapes. But in Sheetrit’s case, both quantity and quality were extraordinary – as attested to by the medals.

 

At the beginning of the Shemittah year, Sheetrit divided his time between the permissible tasks in his vineyard and a strictly Jewish construction company that he had established. One of the major projects built by the company was the beautiful synagogue and yeshiva perched on a ridge overlooking his vineyard. The building permits were issued 11 years ago, and the Housing Ministry even helped with some partial funding for the project. But the majority of the funding came from donations, while the building was painstakingly erected – stone by stone – by Sheetrit and his friends.

 

Sheetrit thought that during the Shemittah year he would divert most of his energies from agriculture to construction, but a work accident forced him to change his plans. “I guess that our Father in heaven wants me to learn Torah during the Shemittah year,” he said with a smile. When he was released from the hospital, Sheetrit joined the many young men learning Torah in the new study hall.

 

You may want to know where you can find more people like Ariel Sheetrit. I’m sorry to ruin your preconceptions, but in complete contrast to the media brainwashing, the place where you can find him and others like him is in Yitzhar – the settlement that the government and media love to hate.

 

* * *

 

The Hararei Kedem Vineyards

 

This week, the Ministry of Defense announced plans to destroy the Od YosefChai synagogue and yeshiva that Ariel Sheetrit and his friends built. The last time in history that I can recall an official state decision to single out a synagogue for destruction was on Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht was preceded by a long period of dehumanization directed at the Jews of Germany.

 

There is no reason to turn to the Israeli courts in an attempt to counter this evil antiSemitism. The fact that this building had all the necessary authorizations, and that thousands of Arab buildings are sprouting throughout our land like mushrooms after the rain, does not interest the court.

 

The people of truth in our land do not have courts to protect them from the abuse of the authorities. Turning to them just lends legitimacy to the mechanism of evil directly aimed at Sheetrit and his friends. They fear people like them like darkness that fears light.

 

Remember this: a small-time criminal acts against the law; a medium criminal bypasses the law; and a big criminal uses the law.

 

Any soldier, policeman or citizen who takes part in the destruction of the synagogue, God forbid, is a very big criminal – a first-class, law-abiding criminal. He is a pawn in the war that the anti-Semitic minority has declared on the truest Jews in Israel.

 

Ariel Sheetrit is just one of the recipients of your donations to the annual Manhigut Yehudit tree-planting project. May he go from strength to strength as he continues to build and settle every inch of our Holy Land.

Leipzig Machzor: A Vision from the Past

17 Heshvan 5770 – November 4, 2009

Pursuit of Knowledge: 600 Years of Leipzig University

Grolier Club; 47 East 60th Street, New York

Mon – Fri; 10am – 5pm; 212 838 6690

 


Seven hundred years ago in a synagogue in southwest Germany near the Rhine River, the chazzan opened a new machzor on Yom Kippur as he began Kol Nidrei.  The congregation glanced up and gasped as they saw the new prayer book he was davening from.  A freshly written large-scale parchment book presented itself to them, specially made for the bimah, to be used on all the holidays, resplendent with brightly colored illuminations and richly adorned with gold-leaf and precious lapis lazuli decorations. 


Thus, what we know as the Leipzig Machzor, currently on view at the Grolier Club until November 21, began its congregational life, filling whoever saw it with wonder, awe and a touch of puzzlement as to how such a beautiful object could be part of Jewish ritual life.  This illuminated manuscript, considered “the most sumptuous of the south German illuminated machzorim [that] has the most extensive array of text illustrations (Bezalel Narkiss)” is one of a handful of such manuscripts that have survived from the years between 1258 and 1340.  All were written in southern Germany, and most were illuminated in a distinctive style that borrows from Christian manuscripts of the same era and distinguished by a peculiar kind of depiction of the human figures found therein.



Leipzig Machzor (ca.1300) Ms. V. 1102
Courtesy Leipzig University Library

 

We know from a hidden signature in one of the decorated text panels that the first volume was written by the same scribe, Menachem, who created the Bird’s Head Haggadah at about the same time.  That haggadah is distinguished by illuminations in which all the human figures have bird heads instead of human faces.  They wear the same medieval costumes and distinctive “Jew hats” as in our machzor.  It’s just that they aren’t fully human.

The Leipzig Machzor employs a similar kind of human distortion; all of the heads seem to have normal faces, always in profile, except that they have large beaks instead of noses.  Similarly their mouths have been replaced by the downward curve of the bird-like beak.  They look fully human until you look more closely.


A later manuscript, the Tripartate Machzor from 1320 also features figurative illuminations, except here all the male figures have normal human faces whereas the women are depicted with animal heads.  What are we to make of these distortions?


While it is tempting to simply attribute such distortions to a pious fear of violating the Second Commandment, the inconsistencies between manuscripts are puzzling.  Scholarly opinion is much vexed over this issue, especially considering that the dominant rabbinic authority of the time and region, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (d.1293) ruled that figurative illuminations in prayer books “did not violate the biblical injunction against idolatrous images.”  Nonetheless “he raised the issue of their distracting the worshiper during prayer.” Even so, he permitted these images in prayer books. (Jewish Texts on the Visual Arts by Vivian B. Mann, pg.106)  If distraction was the issue, wouldn’t human figures looking like animals be even more disturbing, especially in a machzor that could be easily seen by much of the assembled congregation?  A comprehensive answer may never be fully resolved since, as scholar Marc Michael Epstein has commented, “each manuscript represents a particular constellation of patrons, artist and [local] rabbinic advisors,” almost all of whom are absent from the historical record.


In the exhibition, the Leipzig Machzor is open to the beginning of the chazzan’s repetition of Mincha for Yom Kippur. The text is contained within an elaborate medieval gate, topped by crenellated battlements, flanked by pointed towers.  The gold leaf glistens and surrounds the initial word, Eitan, also written in gold leaf set off by a deep blue background ornamented with delicate floral tracery.  Beneath the double arches the remainder of the piyut is inscribed in square Ashkenazi script, describing how Abraham (Eitan) recognized the One God when all others were blinded by idolatry.  This is the exact same piyut we say today, seven hundred years later.  Some of the standard prayers are abbreviated such as the communal response “Remember us for life,” the brocha “Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Abraham” and “You are eternally mighty .” At the bottom of this page the piyut continues “The beloved (m’ahav) only son [Isaac] of his mother, [gave up] his soul wholeheartedly to the slaughter.”  Arranged along the very bottom of the page is a scene containing six figures depicting a conflated narrative from the Midrash Rabbah (38:13) and other midrashic sources.

 



Leipzig Machzor (ca. 1300) Detail of Nimrod, Terah, Abraham, Haran

Courtesy Leipzig University Library

On the extreme left Nimrod is seated on a throne, wearing a crown and holding a staff.  He gestures upwards asserting his authority, demanding that Abraham worship fire.  Before him is the bearded figure of Terah in a turban, evidently explaining the wayward behavior of his son Abraham in destroying his idols.  At his feet is a servant pleading with the king to rescind his death sentence of Abraham. Next are two clean-shaven figures in Jew’s hats, Abraham and his brother Haran.  Abraham is more assertive, thrusting both hands forward while Haran equivocates, one hand up the other down.  Finally on the right edge we see Abraham again, now engulfed in flames while Heavenly hands save him from the fiery furnace.


This illumination dramatically depicts Abraham’s blind faith in the one G-d, a faith he alone possessed.  By many accounts this was one of Abraham’s 10 tests. He was ready to renounce his father, as well as the powerful king Nimrod and brave the flames of death in testament to the reality of G-d.  The pictorial scheme of this page forcefully links the title word, Eitan meaning mighty, with tz’dakah meaning righteousness, and m’ahav, beloved, with a midrashic image that transcends the simple text to create a deeper and more complex meaning, a visual piyut on the textual piyut itself.


As the chazzan (and his congregation peering over his shoulders) gazed at this page such an interpretation must have dawned on them.  What an insight and inspiration to have as the awesome Day of Atonement is slowly slipping by, presenting us with the enormous challenge of now continuing our lives, forgiven surely, but still needing the strength to continue our teshuvah, overcome our tests of faith and struggle with sin that will certainly tempt us. 


Seven hundred years after it was created the Leipzig Machzor still inspires us to strengthen our faith by Abraham’s example.  Perhaps no less so this medieval manuscript will inspire us to create new works of art in image and text, even illuminated machzorim, that pay homage and even challenge the achievements of our forefathers so long ago.


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

Why Was The Prato Haggadah Left Unfinished?

29 Av 5769 – August 19, 2009

Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages


Through August 23, 2009


The Metropolitan Museum of Art


1000 Fifth Avenue, New York City



 

 


When the Cistercian abbot Stephen Harding commissioned an illuminated bible in 1109, he wanted to ensure its accuracy. So he did what any good scholar (but very few medieval Church leaders) would do; he sought rabbinic counsel so that he could have access to the original Hebrew. The so-called St. Stephen’s Bible, which can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibit, Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages, represents a rare collaboration of rabbinic and Christian scholarship.

 

Unfortunately, the exhibit missed the opportunity to show whether any of the illuminations in the 12th-century manuscript actually reflect rabbinic biblical interpretations. The only page from the bible that appears in the exhibit is the opening page to the Gospel of John, which shows a giant eagle clawing out the eye of the third-century heretic Arius. It is hard to imagine the rabbis would have had much insight for the Cîteaux monastic community on New Testament passages, though it is worth noting that certain books from Christian scripture, like the book of Matthew, were rumored to have been composed originally in Hebrew. There is thus a remote possibility that rabbinic wisdom might have been relevant even for New Testament passages.

 

 


Page with “Ha Lachma Anya.” the Prato Haggadah. Spain, ca. 1300.

 

 

Either way, another manuscript in the Pen and Parchment exhibit is surely worth addressing in Jewish terms. The Prato Haggadah, which dates to 14th century Spain, was mysteriously abandoned mid-project. The first page, “Ha Lachma Anya (This is the bread of our affliction”), which does not appear in the exhibit, boasts a very expansive palette: gold leaf, red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and brown. The page features a rabbit hunt and “grotesque” hybrid forms – what appear to be dogs with human or horse legs and dragons eating leaves. Surrounding the enlarged initial “Ha” is an architectural structure, a typical element in Christian miniatures. And it might even have a church spire in the center.

 

Later pages like “Avadim Hayinu (We were slaves)” feature other grotesques. One might be a sphinx, which is surely interesting given the centrality of Egypt in the Haggadah narrative – though this sphinx has wings, which appears to be a feature of Greek rather than Egyptian sphinxes. Another illustration depicts two dragons, their long necks intertwined, biting each other’s wings. (Strangely the red-headed dragon has a green wing, while the green-headed dragon has a red wing.) As the reader proceeds through the book, the grotesques grow even stranger. On the page “Tzey U’limad (Go out and learn),” a bird has a human head, with a tall hat, and a long flowing beard. The hybrid either has long hair or sidecurls that might hint to a Jewish identity.

 

By the time readers get to the page “V’avarti (And I [God is speaking] will go out),” they encounter forms in the margin that are simply outlined, and the gold leaf is incomplete. Pen and Parchment focuses on the unfinished parts of the manuscript, and instead of showing the brilliant colors and rich symbols, the exhibit contains just two unfinished pages. “The resulting incomplete state is revelatory,” the curators explain, “as the various stages in the process of the illumination of a manuscript, including the accomplished underdrawing, are visible. Many of the letters show the next stage, in which gesso was applied in order to prepare the parchment for an application of gold leaf.”

 

 


Paschal Lamb; Rabban Gamaliel Teaching Students. From the Prato Haggadah. Spain, ca. 1300.

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, MS 9478.

 

 

The Metropolitan curators’ suggestion that the Haggadah presents an opportunity to examine materials and process in its unfinished state is echoed on the website of the library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, which owns the manuscript. The JTS site calls the reasons for the uncompleted state “obscure,” and adds that the “unfinished nature of the codex” allows for viewing the stages of producing an illuminated manuscript: “the scribal arrangement of the text; the artist’s preparatory drawings; the application of gesso to cushion gold or silver leaf; the addition of the leaf; the painting of a wide variety of pigments; and the outlining of the illuminations with ink.”

 

This column will not present a reason for the Haggadah’s incomplete state where the curators at the Metropolitan Museum and the librarians at JTS say it is unknown. But there is another curious incompleteness to the Haggadah – this one intentional – that will be obvious to readers who are very familiar with the text of the Haggadah. The illuminator, whether he knew Hebrew or was simply copying from a preexistent text, truncated many of the words in the Haggadah.

 

 


Dayyeinu Text and Hybrid Creatures. From the Prato Haggadah. Spain, ca. 1300.

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, MS 9478.

 

 

Wherever a word has been cut short there is a vertical line above the final letter. This suggests to the reader that there are missing letters, sort of like the Hebrew grammatical device of the Dagesh Hazak Mashlim (the strong, compensatory vowel), which hints to the reader that a letter had been deleted. In the Dayyeinu Text and Hybrid Creatures pages, eight words are truncated (three repeated): “hama[n],” “hashaba[t],” “hichnisa[nu],” “l’ere[tz],” and “yis[rael].”

 

Throughout the manuscript there are many such shortenings of words, some of them on relatively obscure words. This begs the question as to whether the intended reader (presumably the patron) knew the Haggadah by heart, or whether the manuscript was intended to be decorative rather than functional. Writing on the early 16th-century Floersheim Haggadah, which also features truncated words, in the 2005 edition of Ars Judaica, Yael Zirlin notes different notations in the acronyms designed to avoid writing G-d’s name in the manuscript. She is thus led to believe that different parts of the manuscripts were composed at different times. But she does not address the truncated words.

 

 


Book of the Maccabees Universiteitsbibliotheek, Leiden, Cod. Perizoni F 17, f. 21v-22r, Battle Scene c. 850-925 St. Gall, Switzerland Ink on parchment, with some paint
8 7/8 x 6 15/16 in. (22.5 x 17.6 cm) Leiden University Library, (F 17, f. 21v-22r)

 

 

The JTS website helps a bit. “Although it includes the standard biblical, talmudic, and midrashic texts, as well as the liturgical poetry common to other Spanish Haggadot, the Prato Haggadah lacks all elements associated with the Passover meal,” it states, noting the absence of kiddush, blessings for matzah and marror, or any instructions for the Seder. “Scholars have suggested that Haggadot of this kind may have been written to be read publicly in the synagogue, after which people would return to their homes for the meal.” In fact, this format, where a Haggadah would be read in synagogue for the benefit of those who could not lead or attend a Seder, is found in other Spanish Haggadot, the JTS site explains.

 

Perhaps the Prato was intended to be read in a communal setting by someone who knew the text so well that he could decipher word parts rather than complete words. What is clear, though, is that the manuscript that the Metropolitan Museum is now showing might be as thought provoking in the elements it lacks as it is in the ones it contains.


 


Note to readers: I encourage everyone interested in this topic to view the Prato Haggadah at the following link: http://www.jtslibrarytreasures.org/prato/prato.html.

Also please visit the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit blog at http://blog.metmuseum.org/penandparchment/

 

 


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

Why Was The Prato Haggadah Left Unfinished?

29 Av 5769 – August 19, 2009

Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages

Through August 23, 2009

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue, New York City

http://www.metmuseum.org

 

 

When the Cistercian abbot Stephen Harding commissioned an illuminated bible in 1109, he wanted to ensure its accuracy. So he did what any good scholar (but very few medieval Church leaders) would do; he sought rabbinic counsel so that he could have access to the original Hebrew. The so-called St. Stephen’s Bible, which can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibit, Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages, represents a rare collaboration of rabbinic and Christian scholarship.

 

Unfortunately, the exhibit missed the opportunity to show whether any of the illuminations in the 12th-century manuscript actually reflect rabbinic biblical interpretations. The only page from the bible that appears in the exhibit is the opening page to the Gospel of John, which shows a giant eagle clawing out the eye of the third-century heretic Arius. It is hard to imagine the rabbis would have had much insight for the C?teaux monastic community on New Testament passages, though it is worth noting that certain books from Christian scripture, like the book of Matthew, were rumored to have been composed originally in Hebrew. There is thus a remote possibility that rabbinic wisdom might have been relevant even for New Testament passages.

 

 

Page with “Ha Lachma Anya.” the Prato Haggadah. Spain, ca. 1300.

 

 

Either way, another manuscript in the Pen and Parchment exhibit is surely worth addressing in Jewish terms. The Prato Haggadah, which dates to 14th century Spain, was mysteriously abandoned mid-project. The first page, “Ha Lachma Anya (This is the bread of our affliction”), which does not appear in the exhibit, boasts a very expansive palette: gold leaf, red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and brown. The page features a rabbit hunt and “grotesque” hybrid forms – what appear to be dogs with human or horse legs and dragons eating leaves. Surrounding the enlarged initial “Ha” is an architectural structure, a typical element in Christian miniatures. And it might even have a church spire in the center.

 

Later pages like “Avadim Hayinu (We were slaves)” feature other grotesques. One might be a sphinx, which is surely interesting given the centrality of Egypt in the Haggadah narrative – though this sphinx has wings, which appears to be a feature of Greek rather than Egyptian sphinxes. Another illustration depicts two dragons, their long necks intertwined, biting each other’s wings. (Strangely the red-headed dragon has a green wing, while the green-headed dragon has a red wing.) As the reader proceeds through the book, the grotesques grow even stranger. On the page “Tzey U’limad (Go out and learn),” a bird has a human head, with a tall hat, and a long flowing beard. The hybrid either has long hair or sidecurls that might hint to a Jewish identity.

 

By the time readers get to the page “V’avarti (And I [God is speaking] will go out),” they encounter forms in the margin that are simply outlined, and the gold leaf is incomplete. Pen and Parchment focuses on the unfinished parts of the manuscript, and instead of showing the brilliant colors and rich symbols, the exhibit contains just two unfinished pages. “The resulting incomplete state is revelatory,” the curators explain, “as the various stages in the process of the illumination of a manuscript, including the accomplished underdrawing, are visible. Many of the letters show the next stage, in which gesso was applied in order to prepare the parchment for an application of gold leaf.”

 

 

Paschal Lamb; Rabban Gamaliel Teaching Students. From the Prato Haggadah. Spain, ca. 1300.

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, MS 9478.

 

 

The Metropolitan curators’ suggestion that the Haggadah presents an opportunity to examine materials and process in its unfinished state is echoed on the website of the library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, which owns the manuscript. The JTS site calls the reasons for the uncompleted state “obscure,” and adds that the “unfinished nature of the codex” allows for viewing the stages of producing an illuminated manuscript: “the scribal arrangement of the text; the artist’s preparatory drawings; the application of gesso to cushion gold or silver leaf; the addition of the leaf; the painting of a wide variety of pigments; and the outlining of the illuminations with ink.”

 

This column will not present a reason for the Haggadah’s incomplete state where the curators at the Metropolitan Museum and the librarians at JTS say it is unknown. But there is another curious incompleteness to the Haggadah – this one intentional – that will be obvious to readers who are very familiar with the text of the Haggadah. The illuminator, whether he knew Hebrew or was simply copying from a preexistent text, truncated many of the words in the Haggadah.

 

 

Dayyeinu Text and Hybrid Creatures. From the Prato Haggadah. Spain, ca. 1300.

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, MS 9478.

 

 

Wherever a word has been cut short there is a vertical line above the final letter. This suggests to the reader that there are missing letters, sort of like the Hebrew grammatical device of the Dagesh Hazak Mashlim (the strong, compensatory vowel), which hints to the reader that a letter had been deleted. In the Dayyeinu Text and Hybrid Creatures pages, eight words are truncated (three repeated): “hama[n],” “hashaba[t],” “hichnisa[nu],” “l’ere[tz],” and “yis[rael].”

 

Throughout the manuscript there are many such shortenings of words, some of them on relatively obscure words. This begs the question as to whether the intended reader (presumably the patron) knew the Haggadah by heart, or whether the manuscript was intended to be decorative rather than functional. Writing on the early 16th-century Floersheim Haggadah, which also features truncated words, in the 2005 edition of Ars Judaica, Yael Zirlin notes different notations in the acronyms designed to avoid writing G-d’s name in the manuscript. She is thus led to believe that different parts of the manuscripts were composed at different times. But she does not address the truncated words.

 

 

Book of the Maccabees Universiteitsbibliotheek, Leiden, Cod. Perizoni F 17, f. 21v-22r, Battle Scene c. 850-925 St. Gall, Switzerland Ink on parchment, with some paint8 7/8 x 6 15/16 in. (22.5 x 17.6 cm) Leiden University Library, (F 17, f. 21v-22r)

 

 

The JTS website helps a bit. “Although it includes the standard biblical, talmudic, and midrashic texts, as well as the liturgical poetry common to other Spanish Haggadot, the Prato Haggadah lacks all elements associated with the Passover meal,” it states, noting the absence of kiddush, blessings for matzah and marror, or any instructions for the Seder. “Scholars have suggested that Haggadot of this kind may have been written to be read publicly in the synagogue, after which people would return to their homes for the meal.” In fact, this format, where a Haggadah would be read in synagogue for the benefit of those who could not lead or attend a Seder, is found in other Spanish Haggadot, the JTS site explains.

 

Perhaps the Prato was intended to be read in a communal setting by someone who knew the text so well that he could decipher word parts rather than complete words. What is clear, though, is that the manuscript that the Metropolitan Museum is now showing might be as thought provoking in the elements it lacks as it is in the ones it contains.

 

Note to readers: I encourage everyone interested in this topic to view the Prato Haggadah at the following link: http://www.jtslibrarytreasures.org/prato/prato.html.

Also please visit the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit blog at http://blog.metmuseum.org/penandparchment/

 

 

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

Lost And Found – A True Story

20 Kislev 5769 – December 17, 2008

Gone. The money was gone. I bit my lips and felt my eyes fill with tears. This was hard earned money that I received from a client whom I had worked for all month. It wasn’t physical work, but I had worked hard mentally and emotionally for many hours- but the money was gone and I needed it for so many things.

“Yossi, the exterminator was here this afternoon,” I told my husband. “He told me I should take the children outside so we wouldn’t breathe in the chemicals. He must have taken the money.”

“He’s a religious man,” my husband countered immediately. “It is forbidden to suspect him.””Ok, I take it back. He should be blessed,” I muttered. “But I wish I knew where that money was.”

“Maybe you put it in your pocket?” my helpful husband suggested.

I checked again. No money.

“Maybe you changed clothes?”

“You don’t remember that I’ve been wearing this outfit all day?” No, of course he didn’t remember since he never noticed in the first place. Again I searched the house, again, my pockets, again, my pocketbook. I went through every place I thought the money could be. Hashem, I NEED that money. Tears started spilling down my cheeks.

Wait, let’s change gears, I told myself. This happened at a time when the news often reported suicide bombings on buses. Think what could have happened. If it was decreed that we suffer, at least it’s through money and not through –  I don’t want to even think of it. I’m healthy, my husband and children are healthy!

Gratitude actually started seeping into my heart. Thank you, Hashem, for all the good you constantly shower on us! A family, a home, the privilege of living here in Eretz Yisrael! Hashem, you know our financial situation. If You could somehow get that money back to us? And now that I mention it, two years ago, my gold bracelet disappeared, too. If I had it, I could sell it and maybe get some money that way but thank you for not decreeing something worse on us. I trust You, Hashem, You can do anything, and I accept Your decree with love!I felt full of joy, and suddenly my mind cleared and I remembered that although I had been wearing this outfit when the client paid me I had been wearing my coat over it!

I hurried over to the hook in our front closet, stuck my hand into the pocket and felt my fingers close over crisp bills. Baruch Hashem!

That evening, my husband’s cousin was making a bar mitzva for her son. It was before Chanukah and, believe me, I had what to do at home. Well, I guessed I could drop in for a few minutes, say mazel tov, and disappear. I arrived at the hall, and saw that it was almost empty. As I said, this was at the time of the Pigu’im and many people preferred not to go out. There were a grand total of four women sitting at the ladies’ tables. So much for a cameo in-and-out appearance. I sat down, and because I was still under the influence of what had happened earlier, I told the women about the Hashgacha Pratis I had experienced with the lost-and-found money.

My husband’s cousin listened, wide-eyed. When I finished, she said, “That reminds me. I have a gold bracelet that someone left at my Binyomin’s bar mitzva five years ago. I asked everyone I thought could have lost it, if it was theirs. I feel so bad every time I look at it and think of the poor soul who lost it.”

I started laughing. “I also lost a bracelet, but it was only two years ago.”

“Well, Binyomin is now 18, so I know his bar mitzva was five years ago. Also,” she examined my wrist, “the bracelet was much bigger than your size.”

“It was big on me,” I agreed. “That’s why it fell off.”

The next day, my husband’s cousin called me up, and held the bracelet in her hand as I described it. On Chanukah she came by with my bracelet (the five years that had gone by had telescoped in my mind to two years – everyone makes mistakes), but the real gift was the new knowledge of the power of prayer, of Hashem’s love and how He concerns Himself with each individual, and of the importance of joy.

Happy Chanukah To All!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/lessons-in-emunah/lost-and-found-a-true-story/2008/12/17/

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