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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and the Art of Tobi Kahn by Emily D. Bilski, Meditations by Nessa Rapoport, Essays by Leora Auslander, Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., Tom L. Freudenhelm, Jonathan Rosen, and Ruth Weisberg (Hudson Hills Press) 133 illustrations, 113 in full color

Exceptional sense of spare and stark design makes the objects pictured in this book an example of stunning craft.

Objects of the Spirit presents a unique collection of Jewish ceremonial objects created by the internationally renowned artist Tobi Kahn. In addition to crafting singular, functional pieces in bronze and wood, Kahn has created large-scale public works, communal spaces that are sites for spiritual contemplation—all beautifully illustrated in this publication.

Both Kahn's public spaces and his private devotional objects embody

the rise of spirituality in America and the desire for ritual in everyday life. The essays offer a wide range of insightful interpretations that address the universal, ecumenical need for ritual and spirituality, as well as the art historical and cultural references in Kahn's work.

This landmark title is published in conjunction with a traveling exhibition of Tobi Kahn's art, organized by the Avoda Institute, New York.

  • Leora Ausander is professor of modern European history, material culture, and gender studies at the University of Chicago.
  • Emiy D. Bilski is an independent scholar and curator specializing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century European art, cultural history, and contemporary art.
  • Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, professor of art history and theology at Saint Louis University, and founding director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Saint Louis (MOCRA).
  • Tom L. Freudenheim has been director of the Gilbert Collection, London, the Worcester Art Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, as well as deputy director of the Jüdisches Museum, Berlin, and assistant secretary for museums at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Nessa Rapport is a novelist and poet. Her most recent book is House on the River: A Summer Journey.
  • Jonathan Rosen is an author and editor whose essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and The American Scholar, among other journals and anthologies.
  • Ruth Weisberg is dean of fine arts, University of Southern California, as well as an artist and critic.

The Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue, Volume 1: History and Definition by Sholom Kalib (Judaic Traditions in Literature, Music, and Art: Syracuse University Press) Volume set fourth a comprehensive introduction to the various forms of worship music in historical perspective. The planned five volume work will be a monument to Eastern European Jewish music and worship practice.

The Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue, Volume 2: The Weekday Services by Sholom Kalib (Judaic Traditions in Literature, Music, and Art: Syracuse University Press) Provides the most comprehensive coverage to date of the intonation of prayers of all services of the Jewish calendar year, except those of the Sabbath and Biblically ordained holidays.

Volume 2 includes multiple renditions of every prayer, thus illustrating the broad diversity within traditional intonation of each prayer mode. This set comprises four books covering the fourteen weekday liturgical occasions, with annotated commentary.

In accordance with the traditional role assigned to the prayer leader of each service, renditions are presented at levels appropriate to the lay cantor (baal t'filo) as well the professional cantor (chazz'n). Liturgical texts that were traditionally intoned by cantor and choir, or by choir alone, are also included.

Annotative commentary explains the liturgical role and character of each service and analyzes the musical content of each prayer mode within it. It also explains the techniques employed in applying the prayer mode to specific liturgical texts and how the applications reflect the literal as well as spiritual content of the texts.

Excerpt: The present volume is the second in the five-volume series with the general title The Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue. The first was an introductory volume on the subject as a whole, with an accompanying book of illustrative musical examples, and carried the specific title Introduction: History and Definition. The second volume, by contrast, consists of the music of all liturgical occasions except the Sabbath, the three Biblically ordained Festivals and the High Holidays, with an accompanying volume of annotative commentary. It carries the specific title The Weekday Services. Volume 1 thus provides background knowledge for all subsequent volumes, and is referred to frequently in the annotative commentary of the present volume (titled Part Four).

The selections in parts 1—3, Musical Anthology, are arranged in the order of their texts in the traditional Siddur, beginning with the weekday ,morning service, followed by the services which ensue throughout the day. All other services appear according to their frequency and chronology within the Jewish liturgical calendar. The selections collectively present the musical tradition of this segment of the liturgy as it existed during its zenith period (see volume 1, part 1, p. 87 ff.). Because of the many selections necessary in a comprehensive anthology, the selections are divided into three parts, each bound separately for the convenience of the reader (see above, Summary Contents for an overview).

One result of this division is a change from the tentative title of volume 2 as stated in the preface of volume 1, part 1, p. x, namely, The Weekday, Minor Holiday and Life-Cycle Event Services. Subsequent work led to the division of the materials whereby each of parts 1—3 contains basically one of the three segments cited in the original title, yielding subtitles: for part 1, The Weekday Daily Services; for part 2, Minor Holiday and Public Fast Day Services; and for part 3, Midnight, Ninth of Ov and Life-Cycle Event Services. The title for the totality of volume 2 is now simply The Weekday Services.

The approach and structure of volumes 2 through 5 are the result of my many years of practice as a professional cantor, choir leader and professor of music theory. As explained in volume 1, circumstances affecting the music of the synagogue gradually changed during my lifetime, resulting in a continuous decline in the knowledge by congregants of all aspects of musical-liturgical tradition, particularly in the Eastern European-based synagogue into which I was born and raised. At the time I began to contemplate the present work in 1970, I envisioned a thorough documentation of the Eastern European tradition, modeled on the monumental volume, Baal Tefillah, by Abraham Baer (1877), on the musical-liturgical synagogal tradition of nineteenth-century Germany. With the passage of time, however, and in face of ever-new innovations adversely affecting the traditional element in the musical liturgy of the synagogue, I concluded that a much broader approach and structure was needed. My documentation would have to include every prayer text, as in the Baer Baal Tefillah, but in addition, it would have to:

a) provide multiple renditions of each prayer text, exemplifying the diversity of the musical as well as emotional expression within each nusach;

b) include advanced-chazzanic recitatives and choral compositions as extensions of basic nuschoos, as they were perceived throughout the generations in the Eastern European synagogue;

c) provide verbal explanation and analysis of the musical content of each nusach as well as of the relationship between the given basic nusach and its mentioned artistic expansions; and

d) concerning the Ephros volumes, a significant portion of the cantorial selections are drawn from the Baer Baal Tefillah or consists of adaptations of them.

From the viewpoint of the above stated objectives of the present work, more was needed, with a precise focus on the Eastern European tradition at its zenith.

Scorned My Nation: A Comparison of Translations of the Merchant of Venice into German, Hebrew, and Yiddish by Dror Abend-David (Volume 16 in Comparative Cultures and Literatures: Peter Lang)

Just as Biblical commentary interacts and intertwines with Biblical tales, so do translations and adaptations extend, complement, and critique Shakespeare’s plays, as well as shape what those texts mean in other cul­tures. Dror Abend-David, assistant professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, has applied this midrashic and Derridean prin­ciple to show how German, Hebrew, and Yiddish versions of The Merchant of Venice enlist Shakespeare’s play into such nation-building projects as German nationalism, Zionism, and Yiddish culture as the expression of a deterritorialized people. Scorned My Nation is an important contribution to studies of translation and adaptation, to Shakespeare studies, and to the histories of the three literary and theatrical traditions it explores.

– Michael Shapiro, Professor of English, University of Illinois

In a nutshell, though, the book’s most interesting contribution is the analysis of the way the central character, Shylock, a Jew, is changed in the various versions of the play to accomplish political ends.

In Scorned My Nation, the German history of The Merchant of Venice highlights the Central European detour that Shakespearean reception underwent in Hebrew and Yiddish. The complex Shakespearean character of Shylock speaks in many voices and for various purposes and is the only character that can provide the missing link between two con­tradictory Jewish stereotypes – a persecuted and victimized underling and a merciless and violent plaintive, holding out his knife to draw blood.

First, a little background: On March 30, 2000 , Abend-David attended a production of The Merchant of Venice under the direction of Jay Michaels at the Jan Hus Playhouse on Seventy-Fourth Street and First Avenue in Manhattan . The production, which was announced in The Jewish Week as “performed in Hebrew, German, and Yiddish,” took place almost entirely in English, with occasional expressions in German and Hebrew. The play was transported to Vienna and Berlin (representing Venice and Belmont , respectively) and to a period of time preceding the events of November 9, 1938 , known as Kristallnacht, which gave Shylock’s action a heroic meaning, and his waving of the bond in the face of Nazi officers seemed more a death wish than a legal scheme. Of course, Shylock speaks neither Hebrew nor Yiddish in the original play. The usage of the play as a parable for events related to the Holocaust is reminiscent of the treatment of The Merchant of Venice in productions such as those of German director George Tabori in 1978, Canadian director Tibor Egervari in 1993, and Israeli director Hanan Snir in 1995. At the end of the evening, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. Abend-David quickly asked who prepared the play script for this performance, as he was curious to know whether the interpretations of the aforementioned directors were used in Michaels’s production. Michaels, quite surprised by his ignorance, replied: “William Shakespeare.”

Michaels’s view, much like that of Israeli director Yossi Izrae’li, who presented a production of The Merchant of Venice in 1972 that featured Ku Klux Klan uniforms, a yellow star, and images of the crucifix, or even that of Avraham Morevski who, in 1938, published a long essay in which he presents The Merchant of Venice as a prophetic text endowed with divine inspiration, echoes the notion that, at bottom, the artist only delivers the original meaning of Shakespeare’s work.

Regardless of the languages into which The Merchant of Venice has been translated, and the different names that are given to adaptations of this play; regardless of the choices of settings for the play, such as Nazi Germany, a concentration camp, the Sinai Desert, or a corporate office; regardless of the representation of Shylock as a banker, a soldier, a prisoner in a concentration camp, a Palestinian refugee, or a Jewish terrorist; and regardless of the different names that Shylock assumes at different places and times, such as Josepho, Barabbas, Shaye, Weisskopf, David Supposnik, George Ziad, or even “Philip Roth”;  critics, scholars, dramaturges, and audiences still see in The Merchant of Venice, and in Shylock’s character, an Elizabethan play which features—as Alexander Pope is alleged to have said “the Jew / that Shakespeare drew.”

In Scorned My Nation, Abend-David argues that Shylock is not “the Jew / that Shakespeare drew,” and, similarly, that The Merchant of Venice, as it is often presented today is not the same romantic comedy—a happy triangle of three love stories—that it may be imagined to have been in London , and in 1594. In order to understand not only how The Merchant of Venice (and Shylock who, over the years, came to be seen as the main character in this play) was altered, one must pursue a four-hundred-year journey. The legwork for this journey takes the author through an endless number of translations, performances, literary and dramatic adaptations, prose and poetry adaptations, play scripts, manuscripts, scholarly articles, newspaper articles and reviews, memoirs, personal letters, personal interviews, and films, all of which reveal, not only the missing link between “Shakespeare’s Jew” and the contemporary image of Shylock’s character, but also a “missing link” in the historiography of modern Yiddish and Hebrew cultures, both of which were to be inspired by the texts of the Bible and of William Shakespeare.

Scorned My Nation is organized into three chapters with an epilogue:

  1. Shakespeare, Jews, and the Missing Link: German Translations and Adaptations of The Merchant of Venice
  2. A Love-Hate Relationship: German Tradition in Yiddish Translations and Adaptations of The Merchant of Venice
  3. Introverted and Extroverted Representations: Yiddish and Hebr3ew Representations of The Merchant of Venice and of Shylock’s Character during and after the Second World War

Epilogue: Shylock during the “Age of Reparations”: The Merchant of Venice as a Symbol of Contemporary Relations between Germans, Isralis, and Diaspora Jews

Certainly, Shakespeare’s reputation has been instrumental in making The Merchant of Venice one of the best-known modern texts that feature a Jewish character. In the first chapter, Abend-David discusses the reception of Shakespeare’s work in Germany as a national project that was seen as the cornerstone for the building (or Bildung) of a unified national culture. The reception of Shakespearean translation, not merely as literary activity, but as a national and political statement in favor of the formation of unified national German identity, rendered The Merchant of Venice a component within this national project, and a national and political statement about the status of Jews within the unified German state. He discusses, therefore, some of the ways in which the significance that was accorded to the Jewish population in Germany contributed to the growing significance of The Merchant of Venice in Germany (which soon surpassed the attention that the play received on the English stage), demonstrating some of the changes that the play had undergone at the hands of German translators, dramaturges, and critics.

In the second chapter, Abend-David discusses the interpretation, translation, and performance of The Merchant of Venice in Yiddish as a part of the effort to create a national Yiddish culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He discusses in this chapter the creation of a “German Model,” as Yiddish scholars adopted the German notion that sees in Shakespeare’s work a vehicle for the creation of a national culture. Within this model, the view of The Merchant of Venice as a “formal” or “national” proclamation about the status of Jews in relation to non-Jews certainly accorded this play a significance that could not be attributed to it in other, non-Jewish cultures. While the adoption of such a “German Model” was undertaken with a sense of great admiration for German culture in general, and the German translations of Shakespeare’s work in particular, The author also discusses a “love-hate” relationship that is marked by an early desire to emulate German culture, and a later tendency to assert the independence of Yiddish culture by moving away from the influence of German language, nationality, and tradition. Yiddish translations, performances, and interpretations hold on to a German tradition that places Shylock’s story “In der Mitte des Geschehens [In the middle of the action],” as well as the notion, which is quite natural for Jewish audiences, that the play is not a comedy, but rather a tense political drama, and perhaps even a tragedy. Because the national Yiddish project is, in fact, a project of “nonnationality” that attempts to provide a sense of cultural rather than political empowerment, the notion of Shylock’s social and political inferiority undergoes a small yet significant change: Shylock’s defeat in his relationship with Antonio is interpreted as a moral victory, seeing in the alleged physical inferiority of the Jews a moral and intellectual superiority. Even the notion of “black magic” is kept to some degree, as the “nonviolent” and “spiritual” qualities that Shylock is awarded in some Yiddish interpretations are seen as a “Cabalistic” victory in the spiritual realm that quickens the coming of the Messiah.

These moral, intellectual, perhaps even “spiritual” qualities are kept intact within Hebrew translations, performances, and interpretations that are discussed in the third chapter. Hebrew critics and translators also adopt a “German Model” that sees in the translation and performance of Shakespeare’s work a national statement, as well as a “Yiddish Model” that redeems Shylock’s image, presenting him as a non-violent character who scores a moral victory rather than a physical one in his dealings with Antonio. However, since the Hebrew translations of Shakespeare’s work were grasped as part of a deliberate national effort, rather than a cultural one, Shakespearean translation into Hebrew was understood as an act of political empowerment, and even of “revenge,” for the prior marginalization of Hebrew culture, ever since it was defined in this way in Peretz Smolenskin’s introduction to Isaak Salkinson’s 1874 translation of Othello. Accordingly, the translation of The Merchant of Venice was seen as a statement, perhaps even “revenge,” against anti-Semitism in texts such as Shimon Halkin’s 1929 translation that was performed in Tel Aviv in 1936 under the direction of Leopold Jessner, or in Ari Even Zahav’s adaptation of the play in his novel, Shylock—The Jew of Venice, that was published in l943. Moreover, Shylock’s high morals were not presented as compensation for his political and physical inferiority, but as an attribute that supplements his equality with non-Jews. The “Hebrew Shylock,” therefore, has been able to defy a previous economy that forced one to choose between moral and spiritual righteousness, and a social and physical ability to act in the real world. This “new economy,” which enabled Palestinian Jews, and later Israelis, to function in the physical realm of national creation while holding to a sense of Jewish “spirituality,” is also indicative, as Abend-David demonstrates in the third chapter, of a sense of “perpetual righteousness” that had made it difficult for them to recognize other “Shylocks” who may demand the “pound of flesh” that is owed to them by Zionist Jews: Diaspora Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Sephardic Jews, and Ultraorthodox Jews. In this chapter, he extends the discussion beyond the stage to encompass issues such as Zionism and the Jewish Diaspora, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Crown-Heights riots, and conflicting Jewish historiographies.

In the epilogue, Abend-David discusses the reception of The Merchant of Venice in Postwar Germany, and the special significance of this play as a starting point for a discussion of issues related to the memory of the Holocaust. He also discusses the contribution of German-Jewish and Israeli-Jewish actors and directors (as well as that of American-Jewish author Philip Roth) both to the reception of the play and to the discourse on the Holocaust in Postwar Germany. The relationships between German non-Jews, Diaspora Jews, and Israeli Jews onstage is used in the epilogue as a metaphor for the tensions, as well as the codependency, of these groups in the Postwar era. Finally, The Merchant of Venice is presented as a text that accompanies modern Jewish history, and to which one must return, however reluctantly, in order to explore the development of modern Jewish identity.

Scorned My Nation is, therefore, a historiography, a chronological account that links The Merchant of Venice, the romantic comedy that was presented in London at the end of the sixteenth century, with the highly charged historical and political drama that carries the same title at the end of the twentieth century. But, because the histories of the reception of this play in German, Yiddish, and Hebrew, which are described respectively in the three chapters of this book, often parallel rather than supplement one another, the narrative in this work does not always follow a strict chronological line, and the artificial boundary between “German,” “Hebrew” and “Yiddish” histories is often transgressed.

Scorned My Nation will prove useful to scholars of various disciplines, including Jewish History and Literature, History and Theory of Translation, Drama and Performance Studies, and Cultural Studies. By appealing to these different disciplines, he hopes to demonstrate that The Merchant of Venice is at once the subject of performance and a literary text, an object of translation and an icon of national autonomy, a text of historical significance, and a potent metaphor in a contemporary discourse of Jewish culture, politics, and identity.

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