Illuminated Hebrew Nudes

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I never seen this kind of thing before, the nude in illuminated Hebrew manuscripts.

The first is from a Scroll of Esther, probably German, ca. 1700. It is suggested that these are either allegorical figures or allude to Ahashverosh’s selection of the maidens, Vashti’s women, or female companions assigned to Esther.

The second is a from The Hamburg Miscellany, German, probably from Mainz, ca. 1427. A husband lies under a red blanket waiting while his wife either submerges or emerges from the mikveh. It’s an openly sexual, sweet and touching domestic figure.

The third and fourth are from Seder Berakhot, Vienna 1736 and from Seder Birkat ha-Mazon, Vienna 1724. If I understand correctly, these were costly books meant for women of a higher economic social class.

Both are from Skies of Parchment/Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts by Marc Michael Epstein.

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Lag Ba’Omer (Conflagration)

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Fire is a critical ritual marker in Judaism. On the combustible nature of religion,  you can read here about Lag Ba’Omer forest fires in Jerusalem. There are more pictures here. Sometimes ritual gets out of hand. You just need to know how to put it out.

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Benjamin Brown on Halakhic Labor Law: Statist or Democratic?

One of [Alan Brill’s] favorite articles by Prof. Benjamin Brown of Hebrew University has recently been translated and revised. It was first given in 2006 and here it is online a decade later with more documentation. “Trade Unions, Strikes, and the Renewal of Halakhic Labor Law: Ideologies in the Rulings of Rabbis Kook, Uziel, and Feinstein”

In the article, Brown asks how the three ideologies in the early 20th century: Socialism, Statism, and Democracy played themselves out in halakhic labor law. He specifically focuses on how Rabbis Kook and Uziel in Israel followed the statist-fascist direction of the Revisionists and Italian nationalism, while Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in the United States followed democratic thinking.

The Book of Doctrines and Opinions:

One of my favorite articles by Prof. Benjamin Brown of Hebrew University has recently been translated and revised. It was first given in 2006 and here it is online a decade later with more documentation. “Trade Unions, Strikes, and the Renewal of Halakhic Labor Law: Ideologies in the Rulings of Rabbis Kook, Uziel, and Feinstein”

In the article, Brown asks how the three ideologies in the early 20th century: Socialism, Statism and Democracy played themselves out in halakhic labor law. He specifically focuses on how Rabbis Kook and Uziel in Israel followed the statist-fascist direction of the Revisionists and Italian nationalism, while Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in the United States followed democratic thinking.

Brown asks: Why the difference and concludes that it was cultural-historical differences between the United States and Israel.

Brown focuses on his binary ideological categories but what if he started with cultural-historical categories and gave an historical…

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Glass and Stone (New Ways Alongside Around St John the Divine)

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I’ve been tracking this project since they broke ground. With people moving in, the new real estate alongside the north wall of St John the Divine proceeds apace. It looks like the space is about to open up in a matter of months if not weeks. Gothic revival and contemporary glass sidle up alongside and around each other. It used to be a parking lot with zero public access. Rather than obscure the north wall, now the new towers and the short staircase opened between them might just very well frame the cathedral in unexpected ways, allowing new ways into and around the sacred space in its dense and tight urban environment.

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(Horizontal) Demonic Desires (Ishay Rosen-Zvi_

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A few quick notes on Demonic Desires: “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity. Like all scholars of rabbinics, Rosen-Zvi parses carefully through tannaitic, mishnaic, amoraic, and post-amoraic sources. This is my general takeaway.

1] The yetzer  (translated usually as inclination) is not good, but demonic. The only yetzer that counts is the evil one. The motif of a good yetzer is identified by Rosen-Zvi as minority one in amoraic midrash, most famously the ones in Genesis Rabbah  according to which God created the person with two “yuds,” namely two yetzers,  and according to which a person would not build a home, marry, and have children without the yetzer. These have an important afterlife in medieval and modern Jewish thought and apologetics, but Rosen-Zvi argues that in the rabbinic literature these are outlier traditions.

2] The yetzer is not synonymous with sex. It is only sexualized in the Babylonian Talmud, but not in the Palestinian sources.

3] Sex is therefore not considered by the rabbis to be demonic per se, even in the Bavli, whose view of the world, according to Rosen-Zvi, is entirely sexualized.

4] This evil, deminic yetzer is not innate to the human person or to the physical body. It enters the person, the body from without like an alien god.

5] The body is therefore not innately evil in rabbinic thinking.

6] In terms of organization, the philosophical anthropology of the rabbis is not built on a vertical model of top-down control of mind over body.

7] It’s been my sense for some time now that rabbinic ontology is flat. Rosen-Zvi’s study of the yetzer implicitly suggests a horizontal design or layout. He himself points out that the demarcation between inside and outside is not so clear in rabbinic thought. He describes the human person in rabbinic thought as caught in the middle between God and the yetzer, evoking the image of three points graphed one next to the other across a line.

8] In rabbinic thought, neither God nor the yetzer are “me.”

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East Side Ziggurat

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Walking up Lexington Avenue, I stumbled across this architectural marker, calling attention to this building at the corner of E. 81st Street.

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Cued by the landmark plaque, I looked up. You can already see low to the ground the start of the terraced effect pulling the building facade off of and away from the street:

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I crossed the street to get a better look. You can see how the construction covering the water tower is pushed back from the front facade of the building:

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These were probably typical of the modest structures replaced by the new taller and more elegant East Side towers:

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No doubt, these next two buildings in the near vicinity of 133 E. 80th Street on Lexington Avenue were designed to meet the new zoning laws. The higher stories are pushed back. This one is more modern. It includes some neat little features:

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But this one is rather ugly:

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You can see the full and uneven look of 133 E. 80th Street from a better vantage point a couple of blocks south.

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As the architectural marker makes clear, there’s a reason for why this building looks so whimsical. By happy coincidence, this article about NYC’s zoning code was published in this Sunday’s Metropolitan section of the NYT.  You can read it here.

As the article makes clear, the concern from an urban planning perspective was to make sure that taller buildings not lead to too much urban congestion, and to make sure that they not block out the sun from the streets below.

Instead of a tall single block tower construction, it’s a combination of law and invention that gives this building and this piece of skyline their unique and even peculiar look, whose ultimate logic is saw-toothed.

One last point of note. 133 E. 80th Street along with several other buildings on the Upper East Side was designed by Rosario Candela. A very important architect during the 1920s, he was born in Sicily and came to the United States in 1906. 720 Park Avenue is also terraced, but not as wild.

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“Indecent” (Paula Vogel and Sholem Asch)

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A play about a play about lesbian love, history, religious hypocrisy, and the clash between free expression and community norms, Paula Vogel’s Indecent is now at the Vineyard Theater in NYC. “Created with the director Rebecca Taichman, “Indecent” is inspired by Sholem Asch’s Yiddish play ‘The God of Vengeance’ and events surrounding it. Swiftly shut down by the vice squad, its 1923 New York production contained the first kiss ever between two women on a Broadway stage. What stunned Ms. Vogel when she read it, though, as a 22-year-old graduate student at Cornell, came later in the play: a frankly erotic, achingly romantic, rain-splashed female love scene.” You can read a profile of Vogel and Taichman here and the very strong review here.

 

 

 

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