Artwork by Aviva Yunger
February 13-March 13, 2005
Bergen County Y
605 Pascack Road, Washington, NJ
The first question a viewer ought to pose regarding any work of art that includes text is: if we strip you of your text, are you significantly changed? And if the change is simply a superficial, external one, do we truly need that text? In the visual arts, the onus lies upon any embedded text to justify itself, just as it lies on any images that find their way into literary texts.
Texts have a habit of attaching themselves to the host and sucking the aesthetic life out of it. The choice technique of extraction involves “narrative.” Narrative refers to the story of the painting. Painters like Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and Frederic Remington really engage in illustration or storytelling and, though their work hardly includes significant text portions, their work is much more about a text than about forms. In specific, Remington’s paintings find themselves fascinated far more by the notion of horses than by particular browns, reds, diagonals and curves; in fact, he sees the horse as coincidentally featuring forms and colors and lines as opposed to the opposite model which offers a far more promising aesthetic.
Much Judaica suffers the same condition. If the abstract watercolor painting contains “Next Year in Jerusalem” stenciled in handsome, round calligraphy across the bottom, its aesthetic sins are forgiven and it magically transforms into Judaica before the viewer’s very eyes, and the viewer is expected to overlook poor craftsmanship. The same holds for many Menorahs and Kiddush cups. All too often, the forms are not organic and aesthetically correct, because viewers let them cover up their technique with the literalness of the subject matter.
And yet, this discussion somehow seems to apply to Judaica, but not “Kabbalica”. By “Kabbalica” I refer to those pieces that are ritual objects, but involve Kabbalah instead of Jewish narratives. Aviva Yunger’s work fits in this category, and the pieces seem to use text in such a central role that their visual currency is more a synthesis of image and text, almost like a graphic novel. They seem to resist any of the previous nomenclature, precisely because they exhibit a different sense of textuality. Where text serves as a nametag in Judaica that refers to the image, in Kabbalica, the text is more inherent.
Viewers delight in successfully identifying Judaica – that is a mezuzah, this is a challah tray – and the text confirms the viewers original estimation – yes, this is a mezuzah because it contains G-d’s Name and the Shema. This literal game of “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” works for Judaica in the utilitarian sense, but it is not high art. Kabbalica, on the other hand, uses text as image and image as text. A letter yod carries geometric implications: it is a point without coordinates and thus suggests certain notions of transcendent knowledge, while the letters of the word sukkah – samech, kaf, heh – suggest the architectural structure of the sukka’s framework (two and a half walls, three walls or four walls). The form follows the content.
Yunger’s work reflects this notion of useful text that creates rather than refers. Take the mixed media collage “The Hand of G-d” (2002). This collage on hand-made paper contains a sliced composition with red and green. The red is bright, almost a Crayola primary red, while the green has a lot of brown and yellow in it, and thus has a muddy feel to it. A hamsa (hand) floats in the middle of the composition, and it looks as if it could double as a flying dove, if needed.
The names of the 12 tribes and corresponding stones adorn the hand, and the picture has an overall illustrative quality to it with the hamsa floating in the middle, rarely interacting with the paper’s boundaries. Yunger says she created this image because her seven-year-old daughter once said to her, “Mommy, I think that the hand of G-d would be beautiful on this paper.”
This raises several questions about inspiration and about image making. Firstly, Yunger aims to teach with her art. She uses her Kabbalistic art to educate her audience about energies, about meaning, and about spiritual universes. This type of art carries a 19th century Romantic notion of the artist conveying personalized messages. Where the Classicists and the neo-Classicists tried to divorce themselves from their work – an aesthetic form of journalistic objectivity or a camera lens – the Romantics felt that they wanted to convey precisely those personal feelings that they held as individuals. This creates advantages and disadvantages. Many viewers (probably many Ashkenazi viewers) see potential heresy in a Kabbalistic vocabulary. How dare she try to portray G-d’s hand, many will say.
When Yunger speaks of seeing Hebrew letters in her dreams and capturing them on paper, she adopts a vocabulary that is foreign to many viewers. The disadvantage is tremendous potential for alienation; the advantage is the very same potential for education.
Ana Bechoach has a black magic feel to it, almost like the artist scratching into the black surface to reveal buried colors beneath. The impasto application of the materials recalls that of Georges Rouault, and the yellow substance surrounding the words has a waxy feel to it. The first letter of each word is enlarged to reveal the aleph-bet structure of the poem. To Yunger, “The prayer consists of seven sentences which correspond to the seven levels of spirituality. By reciting Ana Bechoach, one connects with the 42 encoded Names of G-d.”
Situated somewhat more vertically than the others, Keriat Shema shows a hamsa in a form that looks human. The border involves intricate flowery yellow detail, lending the image an Indian or Persian miniature quality with the inside space rendered a deep maroon. The text of Shema surrounds the hamsa and illustrates Yunger’s notion that, “Each word of the Shema corresponds to one of the organs of the human body,” Yunger literally maps out the text as a body.
It is Connection that carries the exhibits title. This image contains a wide variety of textures that, upon further inspection, turn out to be letters, candles and gravestones. Yunger reveals that the image features Hanukkah candles, Shabbos candles and the gravesite of sages. “This piece is a visual reminder of some simple physical actions that are available to us; its intent is to assist us in connecting or tapping into higher energy levels,” Yunger says.
Ultimately, it appears that the vertical lines in Connection are really what Yunger is talking about. The internal structures – whether spiritual, mystical, organic – tie together seemingly disparate elements. Yunger’s lines draw together text and image, icon and form, in a grand machine that aims at producing an aesthetic, as well as an educational experience. Most interestingly, though, it demands a reevaluation of our vocabulary with which to engage text and image.
Moreover, if we are to allow the images to speak, we must allow for an occasionally blurry boundary in which images sometimes slip into text and text slips into image, and where aesthetics, spirituality and education are sometimes indistinguishable from one another.
Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the “Yeshiva University Commentator”. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at email@example.com.
For more information on Aviva Yunger, visit http://avivayunger.com/.
Posts Tagged ‘Keriat Shema’
We concluded with a question. Rahab was a member of one of the seven Canaanite nations whom we were commanded to destroy. How was Joshua allowed to let her live, let alone marry her?
We also examined to whom the prohibition against marrying those of the seven Canaanite nations applies. We were left with two questions: yours, and another regarding the legality of marrying a convert from the seven nations that inhabited the land, a procedure which Joshua himself had forbidden.
* * *
We have a further difficulty about Joshua marrying Rahab based on the following Gemara (Berachot 8b): “Rava said to his children [that they should follow with particular care], When you cut meat, do not cut it upon your hand. Some say it is on account of danger [that one will seriously injure or cut one’s hand off – see Rashi ad loc.]; others say it is because he may ruin the meal [even a small cut will cause blood to ooze on the food, which will repulse those dining” (Rashi ad loc.)].
He further added, “Do not sit on the bed of an Aramean woman, and do not pass behind a synagogue when the congregation is praying.” The Gemara explains Rava’s instruction. “Do not sit on the bed of an Aramean woman, some say this means, Do not go to bed before first reciting the Keriat Shema.” Rashi (ad loc.) states that a bed where one did not recite the Keriat Shema is likened to the bed of an Aramean woman.
Another explanation given is that Rava meant that they should not marry a proselyte. The Gemara offers no explanation for this instruction. Some suggest that Rava was a Kohen, according to a statement found in Rosh Hashana 18a and Yevamot 105a. But Tosafot [s.v. “Rabbah VeAbaye” (Rosh Hashana 18a) and s.v. “Rava VeAbaye” (Yevamot 105a)] dismiss this theory and explain that the Gemara refers to Rabbah, who was a Kohen. But if, in fact, Rava was a Kohen as well, one may wonder why he would instruct his sons not to marry a convert when converts are already biblically forbidden to a Kohen.
To explain this we cite another Gemara (Bava Batra 110a), which illustrates Rava’s actual intention. Rava meant that one who marries a woman must investigate her brothers, as the verse states (Exodus 6:23), “Vayikach aharon et elisheva bat aminadav achot nachshon lo le’isha [vateled lo et nadav ve’et avihu ve’et elazar ve’et itamar] – Aaron took Elisheva, the daughter of Aminadav, the sister of Nachshon, for a wife [and she bore him Nadav and Avihu and Eleazar and Itamar].”
The Gemara asks: Since it states “the daughter of Aminadav,” isn’t it obvious that she is the sister of Nachshon? What do these extra words in the verse teach us? From this we learn that one who takes a wife must investigate her brothers, for we learned in a baraita (Masechet Sofrim 15:10) that most children resemble the mother’s brothers.
We find similar instructions to those of Rava in another Gemara (Pesachim 112b), but there the Gemara identifies the instructions as being those of R. Yehuda HaNasi to his sons. Thus, this is still another reason for Joshua not to have married Rahab.
In Joshua (ch. 6) we find that when the Israelites entered Jericho, they destroyed and plundered the city, but then it states (Joshua 6:25), “Ve’et rachav hazona ve’et beit aviha ve’et kol asher lah hecheya yehoshua, vateshev bekerev yisrael ad hayom hazeh ki hechbia et hamal’achim asher shalach yehoshua leraggel et yericho – Yehoshua kept alive Rahab the harlot and her father’s house and all that belonged to her and she [and her family] dwelled in the midst of Israel until this very day, because she hid the messengers that Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”
Radak (ad loc.) explains that the words “kept alive” mean that Joshua issued a command to keep the oath that was made to Rahab by the messengers (Caleb and Pinehas) to keep her and her family alive (Joshua 2:14).
Others explain that the term “kept alive” means that Joshua arranged for them food, money, and inheritance (land) in order that they may live, as evidenced by the verse’s continuation, “[A]nd she dwelled in the midst of Israel until this very day.”
The word hecheya, kept alive, is also explained to refer to Joshua marrying Rahab, for when Bnei Yisrael saw that Joshua took Rahab for a wife, they all cleaved to her father’s house (see Tosafot, Megilla 14b s.v. “de’igga’yera”). To answer the obvious question regarding the prohibition of not intermarrying with the seven nations, it is explained that Rahab and her father’s house were not indigenous to Canaan but had recently come there, and therefore were not considered as belonging to the seven nations.
Radak then offers an alternate explanation postulating that Rahab and her family were indeed of the seven nations, but when Joshua’s messengers arrived in Jericho, she [and presumably her family, as well] converted. As the Children of Israel had not yet entered the land, the instructions against leaving any of the inhabitants alive and not marrying them were not yet applicable. This interpretation follows the opinion that the seven nations are only forbidden in marriage in their gentile state, but not if they had converted.
The issue in the case he discusses involved a synagogue where they do not regularly wait for the rabbi before starting Chazarat HaShatz. In his answer R. Sternbuch cites the Rema (O.C. 124:3), who notes that we are not to wait for individuals who pray at length, even if they happen to be people of importance in that city. Nor should we wait for a great scholar who has not yet arrived before starting the service. He adds, however, that the Mishna Berura (124:13) as well as the Magen Avraham (124:7) advise that today we wait for the rabbi before starting Chazarat HaShatz.
R. Sternbuch cites the Gaon R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski’s Teshuvot (siman 5) that were published in 5742 (1982), where it is stated: “We cannot change the custom of waiting for the Rav (or Av Beit Din) during the tefilla; all these [honors] are based on our holy Torah and from them we may not budge … and if, Heaven forbid, we depart from their ways even by as little as an iota, the entire Torah will fall, Heaven forbid.”
R. Grodzinski also remarks: “It is enough that in our generation we do not add practices of our own if there is no need to do so. However, we may not negate, or move away from, any of the words of our holy sages, the great men with vision who provide us with all our needs.” It seems, according to R. Grodzinski, that a congregation where it has become the custom not to wait for the rabbi strikes at the very foundation of the Torah by denying their rabbi the honor due to him, and this might negatively affect how their prayer ascends to heaven.”
R. Grodzinski continues: “It is only permitted [to do so] on such occasions when the Rav prays at great length and he himself requests [by motioning] that they [are allowed to] not wait [for him to conclude his Shemoneh Esreh].”
R. Sternbuch explains that this is in accord with Aruch HaShulchan’s ruling (Orach Chayyim 124:8) that in such an instance the rabbi should request that they not wait for him. He notes that we find likewise (Ri Migash 180) that we may not impose on the congregation an excessive wait, and that is why, when R. Akiva prayed with the congregation (Berachot 31a, as noted previously), he would cut short his usually lengthy prayers so as “not to inconvenience the congregation (torach hatzibbur).”
But in truth it seems that the rabbi should not make light of the honor of the Torah and consistently request that the congregation not wait for him. Therefore, at least on Shabbat [when there is more time available], he should not be lenient with his kavod, but should require the congregation to wait for him, and thus kevod haTorah will be upheld.
R. Sternbuch cites the Chazon Ish (Even HaEzer 148), who posits that a scholar should not constantly forgo the honor due to him because, if he does so, all the other scholars will constantly be compelled to forgo their honor. He also cites Tractate Kiddushin (33a), where we find that R. Shimon beRebbi (a disciple of R. Yehuda HaNassi) as well as Abaye were particular about the honor due to them as sages.
R. Sternbuch then cites Keter Rosh, where we find that the Vilna Gaon was very scrupulous in this regard because he saw it as a matter of honor due to the Torah, and that was in spite of his personal difficulty in concentrating on his prayer when he knew that the congregation was waiting for him to conclude. He notes that, as a general rule, we can therefore conclude that on Shabbat the rabbi should not forgo the honor due to him. The congregation should wait for him to conclude his prayer, for then they will know that they must honor the rabbi and the Torah.
R. Sternbuch then asks a related question, “I find a difficulty. Is not the honor due to the rabbi, a Torah scholar, a requirement and a positive command, as stated (Leviticus 19:32), “Mipnei seiva takum ve’hadarta penei zaken, ve’yareita meElokeicha, ani Hashem … – You shall rise in the presence of an old person and honor the countenance of an elder, and revere your G-d, I am Hashem”? The term elder (zaken) refers to one who has acquired wisdom (zeh kanah chochma, see Rashi ad loc.), and Rambam lists this as mitzva #209 of mitzvot aseh, the positive precepts. This mitzva is possibly greater than some other positive commands (due to its comparison at the conclusion of the verse to the honor one gives Hashem) or as great as the positive command to sanctify the kohanim (Leviticus 21:8), “Vekiddashto ki et lechem elokecha hu makriv, kadosh yihyeh lach ki kadosh ani Hashem mekadish’chem … – You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d; he shall remain holy to you, for holy am I, Hashem, who sanctifies you.” Rambam lists it as mitzva #31 of the positive precepts. R. Sternbuch obviously bases this on the Mishna in Tractate Horayot (13a), which states the order of precedence among people based on holiness and lineage: A priest has precedence over a Levite; a Levite over an Israelite; an Israelite over a mamzer (one born of a prohibited relationship), and so on. The Mishna notes the following exception: “If, however, the mamzer is a scholar and the High Priest is an am ha’aretz (ignorant), the mamzer ersed in the law has precedence over the ignorant High Priest.”
R. Sternbuch now asks, “Why, according to the mitzva of ‘Vekiddashto’, does the Kohen take precedence over the scholar (the exception being where the scholar is so great that all the Kohanim show deference to him, as we see in Tractate Gittin 59b)? This is difficult to understand, as the honor due to the scholar is not always less than that due to the Kohen, and sometimes actually greater, as we noted in the Mishna in Horayot.
R. Sternbuch offers the following explanation: “The honor that we offer the scholar is singularly different from the honor accorded to the Kohen, and is demonstrated by details such as rising in his presence.”
In the reading of the Torah, calling the Kohen first is not a specific honor, but rather it follows the order of precedence of the Mishna in Horayot. Since this is not one of the specific honors due to a scholar, we do not have to honor the rabbi in that situation, except that it would be a lack of respect to call another Yisrael before the rabbi for shelishi, the third aliyah (the first available after Kohen and Levi.)
There is no requirement to stand before Kohanim or to accord them the other honors given to a scholar, as “VeKiddashto” only emphasizes their precedence when it comes to mitzvot. The same would apply to Levites, whose honor also precedes that of others, concludes R. Sternbuch.
The Gaon R. Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (Responsa Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 2:99), is equally strict concerning the honor accorded to the rabbi. Even in cases where the honor is not one mandated by the Torah or by our sages, but was instituted by the congregation itself, such as walking around the bimah upon the conclusion of one’s aliyah to the Torah in order to shake the rabbi’s hand, a custom which the congregation now wanted to rescind, R. Feinstein did not allow its discontinuation. He emphasizes that even in such a case this custom of kavod accorded to the rabbi must continue, as rescinding it will cause diminution of the honor given to the rabbi.
Regarding Keriat Shema, even though we do not find any source that specifically requires us to wait for the rabbi, we deduce that we should do so from the following:
R. Yosef Caro (Orach Chayyim 61:3) states as follows, “Keriat Shema contains 245 words (tevot) and in order to achieve [the number] 248, which corresponds to the number of limbs in the body [and is also the number of the positive precepts], the chazzan concludes the Shema recital with ‘Hashem Elokeichem Emet’ – and then he repeats this verse.” The Rema adds, “And with this, when they hear these three words said by the chazzan, the congregation’s requirement is fulfilled …”
We can see that if there are individuals who do not say the words of Keriat Shema as fast as the chazzan, they will unfortunately not have fulfilled the requirement of 248 words. Therefore, just as in the Shemoneh Esreh, we should wait for those who say the Shema “word by word”; thus waiting for the rabbi is the logical solution.
To summarize, we see that there are two rules related to waiting for the rabbi: first, it is an honor due to the rabbi; second, it is of important halachic benefit for the members of the congregation.
We also note that this honor accorded to the rabbi specifically at the prayer service is rooted, as we noted earlier, in the Gemara (Berachot 31a) describing the custom of R. Akiva who, cognizant of any inconvenience caused to the congregation, would cut his prayers short when praying with them. It is obvious that concern for their possible inconvenience must have been the result of an existing practice – to wait for R. Akiva, as well as for other scholars, before starting the Reader’s Repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh.
In fact, to wait for the rabbi to finish before starting the Reader’s Repetition, or proceeding with the recital of the Shema, is not the gabbai’s dilemma, but rather the rabbi’s prerogative. And we would be well advised to emulate the age-old way in which a rabbi has to be honored.