A New Exhibit Rescues America’s Religious History from Curatorial Oblivion

Aug. 21 2017

Although the Smithsonian has for a century held one of the most impressive collections of religious artifacts anywhere, only now, for the first time, has it created an exhibition dedicated solely to religion. Jenna Weissman Joselit writes in her review:

[The curator, Peter] Manseau has populated Religion in Early America with objects that range in scale and variety as well as religious affiliation. From a miniature Noah’s Ark, a child’s toy of the 1820s, to a mighty church bell from Paul Revere’s foundry (yes, that Paul Revere), the exhibition also contains the restrained bonnet of a Quaker woman, an early edition of the Book of Mormon, a thirteen-page handwritten text in Arabic that outlines the basic teachings of Islam, and a hand-woven basket used to “pass the plate” in a Baptist church in Virginia.

There’s something for everyone. Even the early republic’s tiny Jewish community—all but invisible amid the thousands of churches then thick on the ground—is present and accounted for, especially within the catalog, whose pages are flanked by images of a Torah scroll and a beribboned Torah mantle. I suspect that those with a penchant for quantifying—how many objects in the show represent the Jews? how many in the catalog?—are apt to be disappointed. But they shouldn’t be. Presence, not metrics, is the point.

As for why the Smithsonian has until now refrained from exhibits on religion per se, choosing instead to keep these and other artifacts in storage, part of the reason, writes Joselit, is that the Smithsonian’s “categories of classification kept one religion at arm’s length, boxed off (quite literally), from another.” But that’s not all:

[T]he American religious experience . . . didn’t fit the mold. Too new, too untried, too porous, too numerous, the American religious scene defied categorization. A blend of tradition and improvisation, its motley ceremonial objects were deemed unworthy of either study or display. More damning still, American religion lacked the supreme pedigree: historicity, the patina of old age.

Funny how things change. It’s those very disqualifications of yesteryear that render Religion in Early America a visual delight, a stimulating intellectual encounter as well as a necessary, if belated, corrective.

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More about: American Jewish History, American Religion, Arts & Culture, Museums, Religion

 

Hamas’s Deadly Escalation at the Gaza Border

Oct. 16 2018

Hamas’s weekly demonstration at the fence separating Gaza from Israel turned bloody last Friday, as operatives used explosives to blow a hole in the barrier and attempted to pass through. The IDF opened fire, killing three and scaring away the rest. Yoni Ben Menachem notes that the demonstrators’ tactics have been growing more aggressive and violent in recent weeks, and the violence is no longer limited to Fridays but is occurring around the clock:

The number of participants in the demonstrations has risen to 20,000. Extensive use has been made of lethal tactics such as throwing explosive charges and grenades at IDF soldiers, and there has been an increase in the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. At the same time, Hamas supplemented its burning tires with smoke generators at the border to create heavy smoke screens to shield Gazan rioters and allow them to get closer to the border fence and infiltrate into Israel. . . .

[S]ix months of ineffective demonstrations have not achieved anything connected with easing [Israel’s blockade of the Strip]. Therefore, Hamas has decided to increase military pressure on Israel. [Its] ultimate goal has not changed: the complete removal of the embargo; until this is achieved, the violent demonstrations at the border fence will continue.

Hamas’s overall objective is to take the IDF by surprise by blowing up the fence at several points and infiltrating into Israeli territory to harm IDF soldiers or abduct them and take them into the Gaza Strip. . . . The precedent of the 2011 deal in which one Israeli soldier was traded for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners has strengthened the feeling within Hamas that Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for bringing back captured soldiers alive. . . . Hamas also believes that the campaign is strengthening its position in Palestinian society and is getting the international community to understand that the Palestinian problem is still alive. . . .

The Hamas leadership is not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel. The Gaza street is strongly opposed to this, and the Hamas leadership understands that a new war with Israel will result in substantial damage to the organization. Therefore, the idea is to continue with the “Return March” campaign, which will not cost the organization too much and will maintain its rule without paying too high a price for terror.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security