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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘symbol’

Ancient Biblical Gardens “Bloom” Again

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

According to livescience.com, a newly discovered 7th century B.C. palace garden near Jerusalem could reveal details about how royals liked to let loose in ancient times.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and Germany’s Heidelberg University uncovered the royal garden at the site of Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz (communal farm) in Israel, and are leading the first full-scale excavation of this type of archaeological site in Israel.

“We have uncovered a very rare find,” archaeologist Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University said.

The garden was a massive and lush green space royals would use to relax. Such pleasure spots were once the ultimate symbol of power, according to the researchers.

Yori Yanover

French Court Confirms Palestinian Father Lied in Notorious Intifada Shooting

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

A French Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled in favor of  Dr. Yehuda David of Tel Hashomer Hospital, who had been found guilty of slander by a lower court, in a case involving a Palestinian man who claimed he was injured by the IDF  during the second Intifada.

The Palestinian man, Jamal al-Dura, and his 12-year-old son Muhammad, became the symbol of the Intifada, when they were caught in a fire exchange in the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza strip. The boy was killed in the incident, and the Palestinians accused Israel for his death, while Israeli officials insisted he was hit by Palestinian fire (However, there has never been evidence that the boy was killed at all, and the whole event may have been staged).

Television station France 2 showed footage of al-Dura and his father seeking cover while ostensibly caught in the crossfire between Palestinian gunmen and IDF soldiers. The France 2 coverage suggested the two had been targeted by the IDF. Muhammad al-Dura was hailed as a martyr throughout the Arab world. The accuracy of the France 2 report was widely debated in the years that followed.

But as the child’s father was relaying his story to the media, showing the scars he said he had sustained from Israeli fire, Dr. Yehuda David of Tel Hashomer Hospital revealed that the scars were, in reality, the result of surgery the father had undergone years before, after being attacked by Hamas activists suspecting him of working for Israel.

The father, Jamal al-Dura, decided to sue Dr. David in French court which last year ruled against the doctor simply because he revealed patient information from al-Dura’s medical records without his authorization. He was ordered to compensate al-Dura with €13,000, but appealed the ruling at a higher French Court.

“It couldn’t have turned out better,” David told Ynet News after the ruling against him had been overturned. “It means that I spoke the truth, and the father just lied.”

“We managed to deconstruct their false statements. All the scientific evidence that we collected for the past 12 years proves that the incident was staged and fake. They made up the father’s injury, and the IDF troops never shot the boy.”

David has been raising funds on a Facebook page, to fight what he calls the “Palestinian’s false anti-Israel propaganda,” and said that Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon has joined the effort.

Yori Yanover

MK Tibi Praises Palestinian ‘Martyrs’

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Raam-Taal MK Ahmad Tibi, remarking at a Palestinian Authority event commemorating Palestinian ‘martyrs,’ said last week that “the martyr is the symbol of the homeland.”

The NGO Palestinian Media Watch obtained and released the video, in which the Member of Knesset is also heard saying that “there is nothing more praiseworthy than those who die for the homeland.”

When questioned about his remarks, Tibi brushed off concerns as “Israeli ignorance.”

National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, after being briefed on the matter, wrote a letter to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, imploring him to prosecute Tibi.

“Your office has not hesitated to prosecute right-wing activists for less severe speeches,” Ben-Ari wrote. “The time has come to stop Tibi’s party.”

Jewish Press Staff

Kestenbaum Auction Includes Several Hebrew Books With Decidedly un-Hebraic Iconography

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Sale of Fine Judaica

Kestenbaum & Company

April 2, 2009

12 West 27th Street, N.Y.

13th Floor



The title page to a 1610 edition of 12th-century poet and legal scholar, Eliezer ben Nathan’s “Even Ha’ezer” (“Stone of Salvation,” per I Samuel 7:12) features a woodcut that looks fairly standard at first glance. Two pillars flank the central alignment of the Hebrew text, and two birds perch atop the columns. Beneath the pillars are two lions and two hands, configured in the manner of the priestly blessing, with a gap between the joined index and middle fingers and the ring and small fingers. This combination of hands and lions constitutes the printing mark of Moses ben Bezalel Katz of Prague, who was a Kohen.



Prague, Moses ben Bezalel Katz, 1610: Eliezer ben Nathan’s “Even Ha’ezer.” First edition. Courtesy of Kestenbaum & Company.


But the image on the bottom of the page is problematic. Two angels, with wings typically associated with birds of prey, carry an image of a bearded man with a hat, perhaps Katz. Some readers may recognize the motif as a knock-off of German artist Albrecht D?rer’s engraving, “Sudarium Displayed by Two Angels,” created nearly 100 years earlier. D?rer’s angels, positioned almost exactly like Katz’s, also carry an image of bearded man, but this one wears a crown of thorns. The sudarium, from the Latin for “sweat,” was believed by some Christians to be the cloth used to wipe Jesus’ face before the crucifixion. Since the cloth allegedly touched Jesus’ face directly and still held its impression in the fabric, it was considered a holy relic. There is no doubt that D?rer’s work was very well known in Prague at the time, which begs the question how and why Jewish scholars allowed Christological iconography in their books.



Albrecht D?rer, “Sudarium Displayed by Two Angels” (1513), Engraving on cream laid paper.



            Not only is the importing of Christian motifs into Jewish book art common, “Even Ha’ezer” was also one of several such examples in a recent auction at Kestenbaum & Company. The title page to Hans Jacob Hanau’s 1610 edition of Jacob ben Asher’s (also known as the Baal ha-Turim) “Arbah Turim” includes representations of Moses, Aaron, and the sacrifice of Isaac. In the illustration of Moses, the prophet’s head has sprouted horns, adopting an interpretation generally identified with anti-Semitic mistranslations of Exodus 34:30, which tells of Moses returning from Mount Sinai with a glowing face (literally “the skin of his face glowed”). But many Christian translations mistook “karan” for another form of the word, which means horn (as with the ram of Genesis 22:13, caught by its horns, “karnav,” in the brush).


This anti-Semitic reference found its way into yet another Jewish halachic book at the Kestenbaum auction, a 17th century work called “Sefer Pesach Me’ubin,” with commentary on the Haggadah by Chaim Benveniste (1603-1673), the chief rabbi of Izmir, Turkey.


            But Benveniste’s Passover work is hardly the most bizarre work in the auction. The so-called Prague Haggadah, which contains about 50 woodcuts, dates from 1526, and has its own redemption story. A Swiss businessman found a copy in an Italian antique shop in 1946 and purchased it. He died two years later and the book remained with his widow until she died recently in Switzerland. The man’s daughter inherited the work, and decided to research it, which led her to Daniel Kestenbaum.


            Prague Haggadahs are rare enough (five known complete copies exist) that Kestenbaum flew to California the next day. However, upon arriving, he was not able to get to the house, as access was blocked by military officials investigating the crash of an F-18 jet three doors away. No doubt, after surviving World War II Italy, withstanding a fighter jet crash down the street did not faze the book.


            The Haggadah’s fascinating illustrations include Pharaoh’s army skewering firstborn children like shish kabob as Pharaoh bathes in their blood, and some very Dutch-looking Egyptian soldiers drowning in the Red Sea. A page devoted to the prayer recited upon opening the door for Elijah “Shefoch chamatcha,” (“Pour out Your anger upon the Gentiles who do not know You,”) contains another reference to the sudarium, this time two men holding a lion’s image (perhaps for the tribe of Judah, but the catalog calls it the “Bohemian coat of arms”). The page also includes the Messiah riding what the catalog calls a donkey, but more closely resembles a horse; Adam and Eve bearing apples; Judith carrying Holophernes’ severed head; and a scene the catalog identifies not entirely convincingly as “the mighty Samson grasping the Gates of Gaza.”



Rabbit hunt from Prague Haggadah, Gershom Cohen, 1526.



            Another page of the Haggadah features a contested element of the Passover repertoire: a rabbit hunt. An armor-clad man on horseback blows a horn, as three dogs chase two rabbits. One wonders why the rabbits cannot turn on their assailants, as they are quite muscular and about the same size as the dogs, and it remains ambiguous whether the rabbits have managed to penetrate a net and are running to freedom or whether the net is about to ensnare them. Either way, rabbits have nothing to do with Passover and are not even kosher (per Leviticus 11:6).


            The rabbits are a phenomenon that extends beyond the Prague Haggadah, most notably to the c. 1490 German Haggadah by Meir Jaffe. Rabbinic interpretations have tended to adopt one of two trajectories. Either the rabbits symbolize the Jews fleeing anti-Semitism, or they are a pun (“jag den Has” is German for rabbit hunt) on the mnemonic “Yaknehaz,” which explains the proper order of the Passover Seder for Saturday night, when it must incorporate the Havdalah service.


            Both interpretations are problematic. The former may be refuted insofar as any animal would do to symbolize the Jews as hunted prey, so why the rabbit? The second theory might be questioned insofar as the motif does not first surface in German-speaking areas, and also since the mid-14th century Barcelona Haggadah includes very different images: dogs pouring wine into glasses held by the hares, as the hares disrobe. A very good argument can be made that the hare hunt is borrowed from medieval Christian manuscripts, in which the hare symbolizes fertility and promiscuity (thus “multiplying like rabbits”).


            But such interpretations are dangerous and should be carefully analyzed, according to Marc Michael Epstein, director of the Jewish studies program at Vassar College. In his fantastic book, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature, Epstein notes that the hare also mysteriously surfaces in Jewish images of Esau returning from the hunt. In fact, Epstein observes, non-Jewish illustrations of the episode always cast Esau’s prey as kosher, while Jewish artistic depictions opt for the non-kosher hare. To further complicate matters, Epstein notes that halachah tends to frown upon hunting to begin with.


Epstein argues instead that Jews embraced the symbol of the hare for its speed and ability to flee danger. “Christians, who were the hunters, had defined the Jews, their quarry, as hares: the majority culture imposed the symbol upon the minority,” he writes in Dreams. “Once branded with this sign of calumny, Jews set about, very matter-of-factly to redeem it and transform it from an emblem of infamy to a superlative metaphor for Jewish self-definition.”


            Epstein concludes that Jewish books adopted the hare hunt as an attempt to rescue it from its anti-Semitic context and to embrace it as a symbol of Jewish courage. Once it was already incorporated into the Jewish canon, it was re-employed in the Haggadah (including the Prague Haggadah) due to its relevance to the Yaknehaz pun.


Epstein’s scholarship is particularly important in its insistence that we not take Christian motifs which surface in Jewish art for granted. There is surely borrowing, and Christian artists often drew from Jewish texts and artistic motifs. But in the cases of the sudarium, Moses’ horns, and the hare hunt, the borrowing might have also involved sly efforts by Jewish artists or patrons to re-package and to “own” the images.


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


I encourage everyone who is further interested in this topic to read Marc Michael Epstein’s entire book, which is accessible online for free, http://vassar.academia.edu/documents/0008/6587/Dreams_of_SubversionAE.pdf.

Menachem Wecker

Is It Kosher To Laugh At Swastikas?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008


We Have Ways of Making You Laugh:

120 Funny Swastika Cartoons

By Sam Gross

Simon & Schuster, 2008, 128 pages, $20




Swastikas have been popping up lately in the most unusual places. The Wesley Acres Methodist retirement home in Alabama recently remodeled to try masking its swastika-shaped building. A restaurant in India called Hitlers’ Cross, which bore a swastika logo, came under fire in 2006 and was pressured to change its name to Cross Café. The Dubai-based Conqueror Real Estate appeared in the news a few months ago for using the catchphrase, “The world is yours,” beside an image of Hitler.


Yet when Europe tried to ban swastikas in 2005, Hindu groups balked at the proposition, reminding the world that swastikas derive from ancient symbols for peace. Indeed the swastika appears beside the cross, the Star of David, and the crescent moon on the facade of the Baha’i Temple in Chicago.


When considering Sam Gross’s new book of cartoons, We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons, it is important to consider this larger narrative surrounding the symbol, which has come to epitomize anti-Semitism. No doubt the notion of a funny swastika will horrify many of this column’s readers. How can one even consider laughing at a Holocaust joke, thereby disrespecting the memories of its many victims? Surely some topics must be off-limits to jokes.


The press release from Simon & Schuster anticipates this sort of criticism. The book, it explains, “shrewdly hijacks comedy in its aim to strip the super-charged swastika of its stature – and its power.” Gross, who has published cartoons in The New Yorker for nearly 40 years (including a particularly iconic one about frog legs), initially conceived of the book in 1997, when he saw a television report of a person who drew swastikas. “When there’s a news item about the swastika, the media seem to approach the symbol with a combination of fear and awe,” Gross writes. “I decided on an opposite approach, with no idea where it would take me.”



[Goose-stepping] Cover shot. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster



It took him on a path to 500 cartoons containing swastikas, including one that depicts a man finishing his third spray-painted swastika on a wall, as an impressed woman clasps her arms to her chest and asks, “Gosh! Where do you get your ideas?” In another, a waiter shows a wine bottle to a patron sitting alone at a table. “It’s an obedient wine,” he declares of the bottle, which has a swastika on the label. A third image shows two unhappy men dressed in suits staring at a hole in the bottom of a wall, with a Nazi banner hanging above it. “We have white mice,” one says.


Several drawings mock the Nazi-adopted “goose-step.” A Nazi on a park bench offers food to a goose, another with sunglasses is led by a Seeing Eye goose, a third is teased by a snail goose-stepping behind him, and a fourth is rebuked by his officer, “You goose-step like a girl!” Another man, dressed with a boater hat, baton and tuxedo evocative of a barbershop quartet, instructs a goose-stepping Nazi, “No! This is how you do the cakewalk.” And another illustration shows a woman wearing a hat and a Nazi armband riding a goose. She holds the reins in both hands and tells a bird flying behind, “Mother Goose is a different person. I’m Mother Goose-step.”


Having to collapse a cartoon to mere text is somewhat akin to explaining a joke, so this synopsis surely does not do justice to Gross’ cartoons. But if one inspects most of the reviews the book is getting, one gets the impression the reviewers do not think the book deserves justice. Steven Heller, writing on the blog Design Observer, argues there is a precedent for Holocaust funnies, like Saul Steinberg’s 1946 cartoon of “Hitler attempting to draw different iterations of the swastika on a wall,” which “spoke volumes about the failure of the Third Reich and its leadership.” Still, Heller argued Gross “has accomplished little more than exploit emotions that for many people are still raw.”


Most viciously, Doree Lewak observes in The Huffington Post that the book arrives coterminously with Israel’s 60th birthday, and its very name is “a nod to the enduring Nazi ethos.” Gross is “misguided,” and “There’s tacky and then there’s poor taste. The category for this book fits several pegs below the latter.”


Lewak declares herself unsurprised that the 74-year-old cartoonist is Jewish and an American, who was “spared the horrors of the Holocaust, and obviously the good sense to know when to draw – or rather in this case, not draw – the line.” In Lewak’s estimation, it is still about 100 years too soon for Holocaust jokes, “Like it’s not spraypainted everywhere it shouldn’t be, now it’s spraypainted in our literature too?” She adds, “To ask the public to accept its return backed by a retooled PR pitch is too much to ask. And it shouldn’t be asked of us. We have a name for that sort of thing: shanda, Mr. Gross. Not the right book, not the right time.”


It is very important for critics to voice this sort of criticism. The works were created to lead to discussion, and Gross can hardly be unpleased with the responses it is receiving. But there may be something to be said for the post-modern notion of “owning” a symbol or a text. During the Holocaust, Nazis owned the symbol and its interpretation; Gross is trying to steal it back. I am not a survivor, and indeed am not nearly old enough to be confused with one, so Lewak might extend her same criticism to me, but I wonder if Gross is not directing his works at my generation more than his own.


If approached from an art perspective, rather than a politics or sociological one (though of course they cannot be split as easily as orange sections), the works in Gross’ book are not unlike Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “MAUS,” which tells the animated version of the Holocaust using a menagerie of mice, cats, dogs and pigs. Spiegelman’s book was controversial at first, but has now been mostly canonized as a serious interrogation of the Holocaust. Whether Gross’ book is headed down that path is debatable, but like “MAUS,” it offers a different perspective on World War II.


Surely, Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” is not the only way to approach Holocaust memory. When we are seeking history and documentary, we can turn to any of the many wonderful projects and organizations devoted to preserving the facts of the Holocaust. But art, and particularly humorous art, which should never be confused with history, offers another avenue that helps some of us, who did not endure the horrors of the war, find a way to talk about and relate to them.


Surely this is not for everyone, but instead of attacking Sam Gross and all but accusing him of being a self-hating Jew, we should give him the benefit of the doubt and recognize the his cartoons’ potential to do good.


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

Menachem Wecker

Kosher Tidbits from around the Web – January 16, 2008

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Do you love salsa, but are tired of the nominal selection you find in your local stores? Well, Chachie’s (a California-based company) makes kosher refrigerated salsa in flavors you have only dreamt about — Deli style, California style, Roasted Tomatillo just to name a few. For more information including locations visit their website.

Traveling to Scotland and wondering where you are going to eat? Well, wonder no more. L’Chaim Restaurant is now open for business and serving meals Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings.

Now, just in case you were wondering the kosher symbol of a K with a menorah on top–Menorah K–is the symbol of Kosher Supervision Service of Khal Beth Medrash Hagadol of Boro Park.

And finally, Jacksonville Florida has a new deli under the supervision of the local Chabad Rabbi. The new Epicurean Delight kosher bakery and delicatessen opened last week to the delight of kosher and deli eating customers.


Chumi Friedman

A Book For Metsaholics

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Of the writing of baseball books there is no end. Of the writing of good baseball books there is not nearly enough. For every The Glory of Their Times or Ball Four or The Boys of Summer or Baseball’s Great Experiment, there are hundreds and hundreds of instantly forgettable hack jobs, clip jobs and ghost jobs.

So as a baseball fan – and more important, a Mets fan – it was with much pleasure that the Monitor recently devoured a book by Dana Brand, a professor of English and American literature at Hofstra University, titled, with perfect appropriateness, Mets Fan (McFarland & Company).

It’s a slim (201 pages including the index), soft-covered volume with a hardcover price ($29.95) – and it’s the best exploration yet written about what it means to be a Mets fan, about the all too many lowlights and all too few highlights of Mets history, and about the profound emotional and psychological differences between Mets fans and Yankees fans.

Some selections to savor on a cold winter day and, if you’re a fan of baseball and fine writing, to whet your appetite for the rest of the book:

“There is no good reason why I should care about the New York Mets,” writes Brand in his first chapter. “Like all baseball teams, they are a business. I should care no more about their success than I care about the success of a movie studio or television network. Yet I choose to care, deeply and powerfully. I have cared about the Mets for 45 years and probably will for the rest of my life. I enjoy my loyalty. I enjoy the irrationality and intensity of my loyalty.”

Of the “Meet the Mets” theme song Brand writes, “It is so sweet and so tacky. So Mets. This isn’t a song with which you charge to the top of the standings, or celebrate triumph or a glorious tradition. It is not a song for champions. They must have figured this when they wrote it. You can hear in the song an understanding that an expansion team in 1962 could not get away with taking itself too seriously. It would need to get by on charm. It could not compel your respect or admiration. It would just have to be nice and a little corny. You would come and meet the Mets the way you would come and meet a nutty neighbor who put out a bowl of pretzels and a bottle of soda on a coaster on a table with too many magazines. You knew the line about ‘knocking those home runs over the wall’ was, well, not true.”

Here’s Brand on that strange breed of fan who claims to like both of New York City’s big league baseball teams:

“You can’t root for both the Mets and the Yankees because each team offers a different portal into the pleasure of baseball. If you want what the Yankees will give you, it doesn’t make sense to root for the Mets. They’re failures, no fun. In order to root for the Mets, you have to renounce any desire you have for the monotony of dominance. You have to think it’s absurd to get excited about, or have your heart broken by, a team that has won so many times. You have to cherish triumph because it is unexpected and rare. When John Sterling screams ‘The Yankees win! The YAAANNNNNKKEEEESS WIN!!!!!!’ you have to enjoy the contempt you feel for the idiocy of his exuberance.”

Brand’s tale on Ed Kranepool, a Met for 18 seasons, longer than any other player and a symbol of lovable futility: “Eddie didn’t do anything like he was supposed to. He was like a grouchy robot that a kid can’t get to operate…. So the Yankees had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and we had Eddie Kranepool. How come theirs worked and ours didn’t? Ours even had a weird name…. He never became a power hitter. He was an okay first baseman. One year he hit .280 and then there was a year when after all the smoke cleared, there was a .323 next to his name and no one could figure out how it got there…. Eddie was more the Mets than anyone else. He was a beloved disappointment. An incompetent who became indispensable.”

Finally, Brand plumbs the psyche of Mets fans: “The pleasure of being a Mets fan is that hitting the jackpot still feels the way it should. You hope. You lose. You lose some more. And someday you win. And you remember the pleasure of winning all your life…. I hope the Mets never become like the Yankees. I want my baseball to be like real life, seasoned with failure and disappointment, ennobled by hope, and studded with just a few spectacular moments of pure joy.”

Jason Maoz

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/a-book-for-metsaholics/2007/12/05/

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