The Jewish Observer,
8-14 Adar, 5777 March 7-12, 2017 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES -- 598th Web Ed.
ALAN D. LEVE CENTER FOR JEWISH STUDIES TO PRESENT ANTI-PROPHECY IN THE POETRY OF H.N. BIALIK
LOS ANGELES -- Robert Alter (Berkeley professor, will discuss Anti-Prophecy in the Poetry of H.N. Bialik, an Annual Arnold Band Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies, at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 9, at the UCLA Faculty Center.
Though H.N. Bialik knew the biblical Prophets in the Hebrew bible virtually by heart and could compose poetry in letter-perfect biblical Hebrew that would have been entirely intelligible to the Prophets themselves, his notion of the poet as prophet actually came to him from an iconic Russian poem by Pushkin, "The Prophet," based on Isaiah 6. There was an inherent strain in the notion of the Romantic poet as prophet that Bialik drew from Pushkin, and this led to a radical breakdown in his poetic vocation as he became increasingly galled by what he perceived as the distortion of his poetry by his readers. The lecture will focus on a close reading of his poem Davar ("Word").
The event is sponsored by the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. Funding Provided by Milt & Sheila Hyman, cosponsored by the UCLA Department of Comparative Literature and UCLA Department of Slavic, East European & Eurasian Languages.
Pre-registration required. To RSVP please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 267-5327.
IAC CONDEMNS ANTI-SEMITIC ATTACKS IN THE UNITED STATES
In recent weeks, many members of the Israeli-American community and the Jewish Community have been affected by a wave of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish institutions across the United States.
Toddlers attending pre-school at Jewish Community Centers have been shuffled in and out of their classrooms because of repeated bomb threats. Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated by thugs and hooligans. Jewish leaders and public figures have been threatened.
These attacks represent a disturbing trend that has been growing for the past several years in the United States. Hate groups with a wide range of radical ideologies continue to single out Jews, who remain a primary target of religious-based hate crimes in the United States.
The Israeli-American Council condemns all acts of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms. We cannot and will not accept this reality. Anti-Semitism has no place in our country, or in any other place, and must be confronted forcefully.
We are encouraged by recent statements made by President Trump, Vice President Pence and many other elected officials on both sides of the aisle, condemning these attacks.
Moving forward, we would like law enforcement agencies at all levels of government to take further steps and more vigorous measures to expose and combat these recent attacks, and bring the individuals behind them to justice.
Histories lessons are clear. Anti-Semitism is an insidious hatred that is not just a danger to the Jewish people, but an existential threat to all Americans and to the democratic values.
The Israeli-American community stands with the broader Jewish-American community, and pledges to work with our government and fellow Americans to do everything that we can to fight the evil of anti-Semitism in all of its forms.
ACCLAIMED ISRAELI CHOREOGRAPHERS ARE TEACHING AT UCLA THIS SPRING
LOS ANGELES – Shahar Biniamini, a celebrated Israeli choreographer whose work has been performed internationally, and Daniel Landau, a multidisciplinary artist, will serve as visiting lecturers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) this spring.
Biniamini and Landau will be in California from Jan. 2 to March 24. They are lecturing at UCLA through the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program, which is bringing 14 Israeli artists for residencies at top universities across the United States during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Biniamini has danced with the famed Batsheva Ensemble and Batsheva Dance Company and continues to teach and produce the Batsheva repertoire around the world. Biniamini is a well-known teacher of the movement language Gaga and assistant to Ohad Naharin who developed Gaga, which allows him to work with top dance companies and teach his works around the world. As an idependent dancer and artist, he creates choreographies for theaters and companies such as Frontier Danceland Company in Singapore and D.I.N in Sweden as well as videos, installations and sculptures which he presents in theaters, museums and galleries globally. Since 2013, he has been involved with the research group “Tnuda,” which he co-founded and is comprised of dancers, choreographers and scientists at the Weizmann Institute and works to explore the connection between science and movement.
Landau, holder of a music composition and new media degree from the Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands, gears his artistic installations towards interpreting the relationship between the body and technology. His work has been featured internationally in major venues, museums and festivals. He is the founder of Oh-man, Oh-machine - an art, science, and technology platform that has since included a conference, a laboratory, and workshops. In addition to his artistic success, from 2012-2016, he led the media studies department at Midrasha Faculty of the Arts at Beir Berl Academic College. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya.
The Visiting Israeli Artists program, an initiative of the Israel Institute, a D.C.-based academic institute that aims to enhance the study of modern Israel, brings Israeli filmmakers, choreographers, musicians, writers and visual artists for residencies at top universities and other cultural organizations in North America.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation founded the program in 2008 to foster interactions between the artists and their communities, exposing a broader audience to contemporary Israeli culture.
Since the program launched, there have been 68 residencies featuring 78 artists at colleges and universities across North America. The artists have included a recipient of The Israel Prize, Israel's most prestigious award; an Emmy nominee; recipients of Israel's highest literary awards, and many winners of multiple Israeli Oscars.
Ask the Rabbi
VASHTI -- A FRAUD MARRIED TO A FICTION
By RABBI DR RAYMOND APPLE
Megilat Esther, the Book of Esther, is both a narrative of historical events and a study of human dynamics. Both aspects are far from simple. Both are debated by the scholars.
What really happened in the Persia of Achashverosh and Esther, and why? What is the inside story of the dramatis personae?
Some figures are crucial to the story, others (like Harbonah and Zeresh) really only have walk-on parts. The four leading figures are the king and queen (both his queens in fact), Haman the Wicked, and Mordecai the Jew.
In the popular view, the king and his first wife are comic characters, silly and selfish, ruled by their instincts and incapable of serious thought. But there’s more to the story than that.
Among those who look more deeply is Yoram Hazony, author of "The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther" (Shalem Press, 1995). Limiting ourselves to his opening section, we see him painting a picture of a king who lives an almost fictional life. He is, in Hazony’s words, "the archetype of the political ruler: All spirit, he will do anything to feel he has control over others."
The feast and flattery with which the story begins shows Achashverosh at his best (or his worst). He thinks all that a king has to do is to strut, issue commands and expect instant obedience. The order he gives his (probably unloving and unloved) wife Vashti is therefore a ploy to show the nobles who is in charge.
We can guess how upset and disappointed he is when Vashti – whose point of view we will consider in detail in a moment – refuses to obey, thus "exposing his weakness before the entire aristocracy and even before the commoners."
We can imagine the thwarted king gnashing his teeth and wanting to cry. His own queen has made him a nobody! His own wife has humiliated him and exposed his feet of clay! The emperor has no clothes! How can he ever recapture his authority?
Baruch HaShem, he has toadies to help him out. He gratefully accepts the advice of a "Yes, Minister!" stooge who tells him that Vashti must be deposed and banished at once. Only this way will the king look strong once more and the empire’s menfolk feel empowered again. What a to-do it will be if the king’s wife can get away with being disobedient and all the other women follow suit!
What do we conclude? In Hazony’s words, "The person of the king is a fiction, a [mere] name and a face."
Hazony’s material on Vashti is sketchy; this article attempts to fill in some gaps.
If Achashverosh is a fiction, we can surely argue that Vashti is a fraud.
She is popularly thought of as a rather silly woman who flouts her husband’s wishes and is banished from the palace and the narrative. After the first chapter she never appears in the story again.
Feminists probably have a high opinion of her as a woman with a mind and will of her own, who refuses to dance at her husband’s bidding. They also probably compare her to the quiet Esther, who might (or might not) be more beautiful but is appropriately obedient and generally keeps her origins and her opinions to herself, until when it comes to the crunch she does stand up for her people.
Most people view Vashti as nothing more than the opening act of the story who sets the scene for the later events. This interpretation ignores the inherent fascination of Vashti, who is far from uninteresting in her own right, as the Midrash recognizes.
Vashti bears a name that in old Persian probably means "excellent" (possibly the original Vashti was an Elamite goddess), though those nationalists who insist that every biblical name is derived from Hebrew find some connection with the verb "shatah", to drink, since it was a royal drinking bout that proved her undoing.
Is it that the Vashti of the Megilah is a woman of dignity and integrity who refuses to dance naked before a group of the degenerate, the drunken and debauched?
When the king says "Dance!" (according to tradition, he means "wearing nothing but the crown," though cavorting without clothes is probably far from uncommon in those days), she retorts "No! I refuse!" Her embarrassed and angry husband has to show his authority by harshly disciplining and degrading her.
Vashti now disappears from the story and from history. The king has been crossed, but now he has exerted his royal power. Male honor has been saved. But before long he feels the lack of a wife – who can imagine a king without a queen? – even though he must certainly possess an overflowing harem to satisfy his sexual desires. Hazony thinks that having a queen will restore the king’s sense of self-worth, his image of himself as looking like a king ought to look.
The Vashti of the Midrash has lineage, as the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar and daughter of Sheshbazzar.
Achashverosh, in the eyes of the Midrash, began as her father’s menial servant, but of course now he is king. Possibly she refuses to obey him in order to show that really he’s a nobody. But that’s not the general opinion of her actions. The general view is that her modesty is affronted, and she is trying to assert her womanly rights.
But the truth is that her refusal to obey her husband is neither out of feminism or because of modesty. It is out of vanity; the sages posit that she has a rash (possibly leprosy), and she fears that the audience of nobles will think her ugly. This makes her something of a fraud because she has in fact willingly complied in the past when told to provide entertainment by prancing and dancing (though some say it was the harem girls who regularly danced while the queen secluded herself from public gaze).
At the same time she is not a very nice character. She is very aware of her royal dignity and has to show it by humiliating her maids, especially if they are Jewish, and making them work naked on Shabbat.
She hosts a separate banquet for the wives of the nobles merely in order to show off the treasures and works of art that decorate her chambers.
Since midrashic interpretations do not always agree, it should be mentioned that according to one view she is not so flighty at all but rather politically sophisticated. Her banquet for the women has serious political motivations.
Possibly in cahoots with the king, with whom she might well have a good or at least convenient relationship, she cynically organises the women’s banquet so she can take them all hostage if her husband is the subject of a coup during his banquet for the nobles. We can imagine why she feels this plan might be frustrated or jeopardised if she has to leave the women to their own devices for a while when she goes off to dance at the male extravaganza.
In all, Vashti is a fascinating character, interesting in her own right, giving later generations so much to think and talk about.
Oh yes, Purim is light-hearted and frivolous, but it has its serious side, and Vashti is part of it.
RABBI DR RAYMOND APPLE
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