The Tabernacle as a Biblical Lesson in Artistic Creativity

March 7 2018

The final chapters of the book of Exodus are largely concerned with the construction of the tabernacle—the portable precursor to the First Temple—used by the Israelites in the wilderness. After examining how these passages were understood by Christian theologians in Reformation-era England, Ranana Dine examines what can be gleaned from uniquely rabbinic readings:

For the [talmudic] rabbis, the tabernacle reflects God’s own creation of the world and other aspects of divinity—the command to the Israelites to construct the building is [a way in which He allows] people [to serve] as partners in divine creation. . . .

[The 20th-century exegete] Nechama Leibowitz, drawing on [these] earlier commentators, has drawn parallels between the Bible’s description of the tabernacle’s construction and the first creation narrative in Genesis. In particular, many of the verbs, such as “saw,” “blessed,” and “completed” occur in both texts, giving the impression that the construction of the tabernacle requires the same actions as God’s creation of the world. . . .

[In light of such interpretations], it is possible to read these passages . . . as suggesting that artistic creation—designing, construction, crafting—can be part of divine work, part of godly creation, and perhaps even require a bit of the divine spirit. By weaving or chiseling we too can participate in a type of creation, although we lack the [explicit] divine command today to build a dwelling place for God. . . . [Thus, in] Jewish theology, the beauty of the tabernacle and the Temple is godly in its essence, containing the traces of the human-divine partnership in ongoing creation.

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More about: Art, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Tabernacle

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war