Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Transgressing the Law

Haleluyahs filled the room as our session began with a song. Drawn from  Psalm 148:1-6, these lyrics ended with an unusual line Chok natan v'lo ya'avor.   Chok natan means the law as given. V'la ya'avor, but it can't be transgressed.

Or as the link translates: He hath also established them for ever and ever; He hath made a decree which shall not be transgressed.  "What does that mean?" asked the rabbi.  In each of our sessions, I always look for the connection to our theme, my personal search for "find Outside-Inside", the "find Waldo" equivalent. Sometimes I have to dig a bit with the ah-ha only coming as I write. This seemed to address it up front, a discussion on boundary transgressions.

Rabbi Davis reminisced about when he was interviewed for his current post.  He was asked,"What is your Chok ya'avor." What is your bottom line?  What won't you do?

"Is there a time when it is OK to transgress the law?" he asked.

We replied...
   To save a life
   An issue of conscience
   When the law is wrong (eg. Jim Crow laws)
   To survive

He noted that there is a hierarchy of laws and Torah law has priority over rabbis' laws.  Additionally it is possible to violate a law intentionally, by accident, or because one didn't know that there was such a law. Circumstances can matter.

Having established that some transgressions may be acceptable despite Chok ya'avor, we moved into a discussion of Ruth, both her genealogy and geography. In the handout (Ruth1) we turned to Ruth 1:1-6.  In brief, Elimelech married Naomi and they had two sons, the sons married and then all of the men died leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law
Ruth and Orpah. Now the salient part of this is that both Ruth
and Orpah were Moabite women.

The Moabites, as their name implies, are descendants of Moab who was a child of Lot and his eldest daughter.  The Ammonites descended from Lot's incest with his younger daughter. We turned to Genesis 19:30-38 where we find that after Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt and Sodom and  Gomorrah were destroyed, Lot and his daughters became cave dwellers, certain that they were the only ones left on earth. Out of that fear, his daughters sought to perpetuate the human race by laying with their father. You can find both the lands associated with the two sons, Moab and Ammon, on the maps of the region.

Where else do the Moabites appear? Well as the children of Israel traveled to Moab, the king of Moab was frightened of their large numbers.  He sought to have a curse put upon them Numbers 22:7.

God had cautioned the Israelites not to mess with either the Moabites (Deut: 2: 8-9) or the Ammonites as their land was to go to the descendants of Lot.

And then we come to Deut 23:4-7 
which instructs us that the Moabites and Ammonites cannot be admitted to the congregation of the Lord.  And why is this?  They weren't good hosts.  They failed to offer the Israelites food and drink when they traversed their land.  Even though the Israelites had plenty of manna, the test is not want, but hosting generously. In addition they went so far as to curse them which turned into a bit of a boomerang with God turning it into a blessing instead.  The punishment is quite harsh with ten generations suffering under this restriction.  And then lo and behold, along comes Ruth, a Moabite.  Not only is she a Moabite, but she ultimately becomes the great-grandmother of David. How does this come to pass after the Moabites are persona non-grata?

Rashi notes while a Moabite and Ammonite are banned, it says nothing of a Moabitess or an Ammonitess.  A more contemporary view is proposed by Lesleigh Stahlberg (Ruth2 handout) in which he considers this story as supporting the embrace of same-sex marriage over strict law abidance. The marriage of Ruth and Boaz, celebrated by the community and God, may mean that this is a biblical precedent for  "communal transgression of a law in the name of love."

The upshot of this discussion is that not all rules are written in stone, despite those two tablets that were. When they are and when they aren't was not always apparent.

Kathe Kollwitz - Woman With Dead Child 1903 (PD-Art-70)
Following this discussion Jan Rubenstein took us into an exploration of work by Kathe Kollwitz and Roger Shimomura.  Kollwitz focused on themes of hunger, poverty and war.  She was an expressionist and the first woman admitted to the Prussian Academy of Arts. Under the Nazis her work was banned and she was unable to exhibit.  War was a central experience in her life and her art, losing both a child and a grandchild to it.  She served as the moral conscience to Germany. Jan shared many of her woodcuts with several from her war series as well as etchings like the very powerful Woman With Dead Child where the woman's body merges with her child.  A museum of Kollwitz's work now exists in Berlin.

Roger Shimomura was born in 1939.  His family was moved from Seattle to the Japanese internment camps in Washington and Idaho and were there from 1941-43.  He was influenced by Warhol and a show recently ended at Augsburg College titled Mistaken Identity.  The name references the identity that was placed upon him, perceived as a non-American, despite being born an American.  A large assortment of his work can be found at the Greg Kucera Gallery. Some is cartoon-like while other work reflects traditional Japanese imagery with a twist that speaks to his experience.  I especially liked one of a young child on a tricycle, the age that he would have been during his internment. that says through barbed wire "Our American eyes, aslant like Kamikazi, blink in disbelief as barbed wire encircles and machine guns take aim."

Jan closed by offering us a source at MOMA if we would like more information on printmaking.


The last part of our session was led by Aaron Greenberg/Silver who currently has a show of papercuts that make use of words at the Tychman Shapiro Gallery.  Aaron grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York, but has been in Minneapolis for the past eight years. He has worked in watercolor, clay, prints, metal sculpture and for the past five years, papercuts. He prefers the ease and accessibility of this medium. Aaron shared a number of his works with us.  Often his inspiration comes from words that he hears in synagogue.  The show is up through March 26th.







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