April 25, 2017 · 3:47 pm
art by Laya Crust
Haftarah: Samuel II : 6:1- 7:17
The Torah reading of Shemini and the accompanying Haftarah both describe two tragic events. In the parsha two of Aaron’s sons- Nadav and Avihu- die because they have offered sacred sacrifices at the wrong time. In the haftarah one of King David’s attendants, Uzzah, is afraid the Ark of the Covenant will fall. He reaches out to steady it and dies as a result of this action. In both cases the men who died were trying to serve God but were punished because they were serving God but not within the proscribed boundaries. These incidents are examples of crossing boundaries with extreme results.
Within the haftarah we read how King David leads the ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem with great exuberant dancing and leaping. His wife Michal looks out of her window disparaging him for his less than regal behaviour. I based the painting at the top of this page on illustrations from a 19th Century book written and illustrated in Meshed, Persia. The book is a love story of Yusuf and Zulaikha (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife) as recounted in the Koran. The Sufi poet Jami (1414- 1492) wrote a passionate love poem about them which became very popular with the public. The painting below is from a Yusuf and Zulaikha book created in Meshed, Persia in 1853.
illustration from Jamil’s Yusuf and Zalaikha, collection of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
The text is written in Persian transliterated into Hebrew letters. The text was presumably written by a Jew but it is unknown whether or not the illustrations were painted by Jews. The patterning is lovely with the interlocking swirls inspired by leaves and vines. The clothing is interesting, very different from the styles we see in Western manuscripts art of the same period.
Meshed and Isfahan were two communities in Persia that had strong artistic Jewish communities. They produced illustrated Judeo-Persian books such as Yusuf and Zalaikha featured above; Ardashir-nameh -a book about Esther and Ahashverosh; and Musa-nameh which is the story of Moses.
Ardashir -Nameh, collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
The Jews had a long history in Persia, dating back to 700 BCE. The Jews continued to live there although their conditions varied depending on the forces in power. For instance from 1656 – 1663 there were forced conversions. The Jews, called “anusim” (forced converts), practised their Judaism in secret.
In 1839, almost 200 years later, Muslim riots burst into the Jewish quarter of Meshed and forcibly converted the entire community to Islam. Again the anusim lived outwardly as Muslims but continued to practice Judaism in secret. It wasn’t until after WWII Jews began to practise their faith openly.
Jewish manuscripts and ketuboth from Isfahan, Meshed, and other Persian communities are interesting and unique. It was fascinating to come across these beautiful illustrations and I had the wonderful experience of looking at the original books in the JTS library. They are colourful and evocative. It’s beautiful to see Jewish art done in Eastern style.
I hope you enjoyed this little taste of Persian Jewish culture.
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Tagged as Aaron, art, art history, bible, Bible stories, biblical art, Bnei Yisrael, dvar Torah, God, Haftarah, Isfahan, Israel, Jami, Jerusalem, Jewish Art, Jewish education, joseph, King David, Meshed, Michal, Persia, Potiphar's wife, Sufi poet, Torah study, Yusuf and Zulaikha
December 11, 2013 · 7:13 pm
We read the story of Joseph every year. It’s quite a tale. There is jealousy, subversion, lust, deception, desperation and at the end there is reconciliation. It’s a good adventure and provides inspiration for musicals and bedtime stories.
In reading and rereading it I was struck by how often clothing is mentioned. We all think of the special coat Jacob gives Joseph, the act that seems to be the catalyst for subsequent events. Throughout the saga of Joseph and his family events are punctuated by references to clothing. Sometimes the reference is to a garment being torn in mourning.
Often the change in an outfit announces the change in a scene or situation, as when Joseph is taken out of jail and given a set of clean clothing to wear before seeing Pharaoh.
Why was there this focus on clothing?
Clothing has been mentioned in previous Torah texts. Often – not always- it is related to deception or humiliation and shame. In the story of Adam and Eve clothing doesn’t appear until Adam and Eve have sinned and they put on fig leaves to cover themselves and hide from G-d. Noah, while drunk, is uncovered and thereby humiliated. In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob dons animal skins and Esau’s clothing in order to fool his father Isaac. Later Leah wears a veil at her wedding to trick Jacob into believing he’s marrying Rachel. In the next generation Joseph’s brothers grab his coat and dip it in blood to fool Jacob into thinking Joseph has died. Tamar deceives Yehudah by wearing the garb of a harlot and Potiphar’s wife grabs Joseph’s cloak and keeps it, fabricating (pun intended) a story, accusing Joseph of trying to molest her. The biggest masquerade of all is that of Joseph. Wearing Pharaoh’s ring, garments of fine linen and a gold chain, he entertains his brothers while hiding his true identity
The story of Joseph is a saga, a twisting tale of favouritism and sibling rivalry. Joseph began his life as the chosen son and was given an exceptional coat. He wore his fabulous coat, announcing to his brothers how wonderful he thought he was. Think of it- he wore his regal cloak- the mark of his father’s favouritism- to the fields where the brothers were working hard in the sun and he was visiting, not working. He was sold into slavery because of his arrogance. Being sold into slavery and transported to a foreign land Joseph faced huge challenges. He used his faith, intelligence and wits, rising to the highest position available in the country. Clothing and appearance continued to be elements in the saga. Sometimes they hindered Joseph and other times benefited him.
This story sets the scene for the next chapter of the history of B’nei Yisrael where the favoured descendants of Joseph become slaves. It’s a fascinating study. I thought about how the words wove a complicated and layered story. The repeated reference to clothing mirrored the layering of the narrative. I looked at the words as the threads of the story line. I wove those phrases dealing with nakedness, dress, and clothing and created 18 images for the Joseph story line.
It seems that much of Bereshit deals with deception and appearance. Faith in one G-d is the main message of Bereshit, but deception is another. In Joseph’s family- in the entire Jacob family chronicle – people tampered with appearance. Instead of speaking honestly to each other they often tried to get what they wanted by masquerading.
We live in a world where we are judged not only how we behave but also by what we wear. Clothing in our daily lives announce who we are and how we want to be seen. We live in a time and a society that is very tolerant of individuality (piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks, shaven heads, hemlines of all lengths, necklines of all depths). But we are still judged by our appearance. We can use our appearances and garb to get ahead, and to achieve our goals. We may be masquerading but the truth catches up with us. At the end of the day the world turns and things probably work out as they should. But- it’s probably more comfortable to wear the clothes that are real rather than dress up as someone else.
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Tagged as Adam and Eve, Bereshit, Egypt, Esau, Jacob, joseph, Joseph's brothers, masquerade, parsha, Pharaoh, Potiphar, Potiphar's wife, torah, VaYechi