Exploring Perspectives: From the Bible to Contemporary Arts and Culture

“We believe that secular criticism of the Bible is not an ‘external’ critique about the legacy of the other, but a part of an inner dialogue. We listened to stories from the Bible even before we could speak. We studied the Bible for 10 years at school and celebrated Israel’s holidays even before we turned one. The protagonists of the Bible constitute a foundational part of our identity. This dialogue with them today is our dialogue with our forefathers and our identities.”

—Asaf Beiser and Natalie Marcus, Hayehudim Ba’im (Israeli Satire Show)

The Jewish Bible is referred to as the Tanakh, an acronym of the first letter of each of its three sections: Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), and K’tuvim (Writings, including the Book of Psalms and more). Israel celebrates the Tanakh as a foundational part of the country and its laws. All Israeli schoolchildren — religious and secular, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian — study the Tanakh, which often is referenced as a history book and a guide for exploring the country.

Israeli artists often use stories from the Tanakh as inspiration for their work, presenting different perspectives that give new meaning to stories from our tradition. Arts and culture — encompassing visual arts, literature, poetry, film, music, and more — provide a reflection on the heart of the people and the pulse of society; they bring to the surface themes and ideas that may not find expression in other ways. It is through the common language of art that one gets a hands-on appreciation of a society in the deepest sense.

Here we bring together the original text, a clip of Israeli satire from Hayehudim Ba’im (The Jews Are Coming), and one or two artist interpretations. We invite you to consider how bringing these together highlights new perspectives on Jewish tradition and our connection to Israel. As you read, watch, and explore, consider:

  • How do these works of art influence your relationship to the traditional story?
  • What new perspectives do you see through this exploration?
  • In what ways do these pieces connect you with Israel?
  • How might you use Israeli arts and culture to provide new perspectives on old stories?

 

Note: Before sharing the video clips, we suggest reviewing the content to make sure they are appropriate for your group

BRIT MILA | ברית מילה

“Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.” (Genesis, 17:10)

זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְרוּ בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ הִמּוֹל לָכֶם ל־זָכָר

Isaac and Ishmael by Aaron Shevo

In this 1982 joke and riddle book for teens, Devora Omer, a prominent Israeli author for young adults, draws inspiration from the sibling relations between Isaac and Ishmael. The cover, a painting by Aaron Shevo, reconfigures our perspective to see the characters as children, exploring everyday life with games.

THE BINDING OF ISAAC | עקדת יצחק

“Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” (Genesis, 22:12)

וַיֹּאמֶר אַל־תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל־הַנַּעַר וְאַל־תַּעַשׂ לוֹ מְאוּמָה כִּי  עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ מִמֶּנִּי

Akedat Isaac by Moshe Castel | 1947

Featured at the Gallery of Ein Harod, Moshe Castel’s glass artwork illustrates the Binding of Isaac as a cosmic whirlwind intertwined with ritual madness. Whereas Castel’s interpretation of the Akedah (binding) corresponds with senseless festivity, Haim Gouri’s poem touches on the trauma embedded in the story that continues to impact Israeli society today.

HERITAGE

By Haim Gouri (Translated by T. Carmi)

The ram came last of all. And Abraham
did not know that it came to answer the
boy’s question — first of his strength
when his day was on the wane.

The old man raised his head. Seeing
that it was no dream and that the angel
stood there — the knife slipped from his hand.

The boy, released from his bonds, saw
his father’s back.

Isaac, as the story goes, was not
sacrificed. He lived for many years, saw
what pleasure had to offer, until his
eyesight dimmed.

But he bequeathed that hour to his
offspring.  They are born with a knife in
their hearts.

ירושה

חיים‭ ‬גורי

הָאַיִל‭ ‬בָּא‭ ‬אַחֲרוֹן‭.‬
וְלֹא‭ ‬יָדַע‭ ‬אַבְרָהָם‭ ‬כִּי‭ ‬הוּא
מֵשִׁיב‭ ‬לִשְׁאֵלַת‭ ‬הַיֶּלֶד‭,‬
רֵאשִׁית‭-‬אוֹנוֹ‭ ‬בְּעֵת‭ ‬יוֹמוֹ‭ ‬עֶרֶב‭.‬

נָשָׂא‭ ‬רֹאשׁוֹ‭ ‬הַשָּׂב‭.‬
בִּרְאוֹתוֹ‭ ‬כִּי‭ ‬לֹא‭ ‬חָלַם‭ ‬חֲלוֹם
וְהַמַּלְאָךְ‭ ‬נִצָּב‭ ‬‮–‬
נָשְׁרָה‭ ‬הַמַּאֲכֶלֶת‭ ‬מִיָּדוֹ‭.‬

הַיֶּלֶד‭ ‬שֶׁהֻתַּר‭ ‬מֵאֲסוּרָיו
רָאָה‭ ‬אֶת‭ ‬גַּב‭ ‬אָבִיו‭.‬

יִצְחָק‭, ‬כַּמְּסֻפָּר‭, ‬לֹא‭ ‬הֹעֲלָה‭ ‬קָרְבָּן‭.‬
הוּא‭ ‬חַי‭ ‬יָמִים‭ ‬רַבִּים‭,‬
רָאָה‭ ‬בַּטּוֹב‭, ‬עַד‭ ‬אוֹר‭ ‬עֵינָיו‭ ‬כָּהָה‭.‬

אֲבָל‭ ‬אֶת‭ ‬הַשָּׁעָה‭ ‬הַהִיא‭ ‬הוֹרִישׁ‭ ‬לְצֶאֱצָאָיו‭.‬
הֵם‭ ‬נוֹלָדִים
וּמַאֲכֶלֶת‭ ‬בְּלִבָּם‭.‬

MOSES AND THE PEOPLE | משה והעם

“Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of God and all the rules; and all the people answered with one voice, saying, ‘All the things that God has commanded we will do!’” (Exodus, 24:3)

וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וַיְסַפֵּר לָעָם אֵתכׇּל־דִּבְרֵי יְהֹוָה וְאֵתכׇּל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים וַיַּעַןכׇּל־הָעָם קוֹל אֶחָד וַיֹּאמְרוּכׇּל־הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה נַעֲשֶׂה

Crossing the Red Sea by Haya Halifa

In this illustration, the artist Haya Halifa explores the Crossing of the Red Sea as a moment of redemption, highlighting via the color contrast the interconnectivity between God and the Israelites. This artwork was featured in 2021 at the Yotzrim Svivah (Creating Environments), a gallery dedicated to the work of Haredi women.

Kohelet | קהלת

“Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred; there is nothing new beneath the sun.” (Ecclesiastes, 1:9)

מַה־שֶּׁהָיָה הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה וּמַה־שֶּׁנַּעֲשָׂה הוּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה וְאֵיןכׇּל־חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ

Hidden Scrolls by Meira Ohad Dori | 2018

Featured in the Moshe Castel Museum in Ma’ale Adumim, this artwork grapples with the hidden meanings of the Megillah, focusing on the mysteries of Ecclesiastes. The floating figures and objects come together in an oil colored montage that invites a journey into the Biblical sources on which it draws.

MEGILLAT ESTHER | מגילת אסתר

“In the fortress Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. [Kish] had been exiled from Jerusalem in the group that was carried into exile along with King Jeconiah of Judah, which had been driven into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther—his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. When the king’s order and edict was proclaimed, and when many girls were assembled in the fortress Shushan under the supervision of Hegai, Esther too was taken into the king’s palace under the supervision of Hegai, guardian of the women.” (Esther, 2:5-8)

אִישׁ יְהוּדִי הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה וּשְׁמוֹ מׇרְדֳּכַי בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן־שִׁמְעִי בֶּן־קִישׁ אִישׁ יְמִינִי׃

אֲשֶׁר הׇגְלָה מִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִם־הַגֹּלָה אֲשֶׁר הׇגְלְתָה עִם יְכׇנְיָה מֶלֶךְ־יְהוּדָה אֲשֶׁר הֶגְלָה נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל׃

וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶת־הֲדַסָּה הִיא אֶסְתֵּר בַּת־דֹּדוֹ כִּי אֵין לָהּ אָב וָאֵם וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַת־תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה וּבְמוֹת אָבִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ לְקָחָהּ מׇרְדֳּכַי לוֹ לְבַת

Queen Esther by Ronit Charnika 

Illustrated on cardboard, this artwork features Queen Esther as a faceless figure. Her facelessness highlights the performative aspect of her figure, both as a costume in contemporary Purim celebrations and as an actor who aims to seduce the king.

WAYS FOR YOUR LEARNERS TO EXPERIENCE

Israeli arts and culture is a great tool to provide new perspectives on old stories. In addition to sharing these texts and artistic perspectives with your learners, we offer a few takeaways for you to consider as you adapt this for your needs and settings:

  • With each central text, we offer different media through which we can explore the stories.
  • Consider different access points that might help your learners engage meaningfully with the material you are bringing to them.
  • Think of the stories you are reading with your learners. How can you expand your “text” learning with various forms of art that will broaden the conversation?
  • In your working environment, are there any Israelis who can provide personal connections to these stories?
  • Allow your learners to create their own interpretations of the stories, whether through visual arts, writing, drama, etc. What is another perspective that your learners can add to the stories?

ARTISTS BIOS

Hayehudim Ba’im (The Jews Are Coming) is an edgy Israeli TV satire program that addresses all aspects of Israeli society, past and present, from the times of the Bible to the news of this year. Revisiting Jewish traditions and themes embedded in Israeli society, the writers offer viewers a multifaceted journey of closeness with tradition, cultural memory, and contemporary events.

Natalie Marcus is an award-winning screenwriter based in Tel Aviv who has worked on some of Israel’s top-rated shows, including an array of children’s programs. Born in 1981, she is the creator and head writer of Hayehudim Baim, The Jews are Coming. She teaches comedy writing and lectures about writing and Jewish history around the world.  

Asaf Beiser is an Israeli screenwriter, best known for his work creating the show Hayehudim Bayim, in partnership with Natalie Marcus. Born in 1976 in Rishon LeZion, Beiser earned a law degree before turning to television writing. Focusing on comedy and satire, Beiser has contributed to some of Israel’s leading TV shows including Eretz Nehederet. He was on the writers' team of the successful shows FaudaThe Gordin Cell, and the Israeli series The Good Cop.

Moshe Castel (1909-1991) was born in Jerusalem to a Sephardic Jewish family descended from Spain. Moshe studied art at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem and in Paris. The Moshe Castel Museum of Art opened in Ma’aleh Adumim in 2010 (https://www.castelmuseum.co.il/).

Meira Ohad Dori was born in Tel Aviv in 1951. Her art career has spanned decades and mediums. She is a painter, sculptor, and curator in museums across Israel. Notably she was a founder of the Association of Painters and Sculptors in Holon and curator at the College of Art — Jaffa 28 Gallery and the Steinberg Holon Mishkan for Culture and the Arts.

Aharon Shevo was born in 1943 in Hungary. As a child, the stories of the Bible sparked his imagination and remained a source of inspiration for his designs of stamps, coins and medals, and book illustrations. In 1951, he made aliyah with his family. He later studied Animation Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York. When he returned to Israel, he worked for an Israeli and American publisher and later taught graphic design in the “Emunah” College in Jerusalem, as well as in other colleges. Shevo especially worked on the illustration of books on biblical and Judaic topics for children.

Aharon Shevo was born in 1943 in Hungary. As a child, the stories of the Bible sparked his imagination and remained a source of inspiration for his designs of stamps, coins and medals, and book illustrations. In 1951, he made aliyah with his family. He later studied Animation Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York. When he returned to Israel, he worked for an Israeli and American publisher and later taught graphic design in the “Emunah” College in Jerusalem, as well as in other colleges. Shevo especially worked on the illustration of books on biblical and Judaic topics for children.

Haya Halifa is an orthodox Israeli artist who lives in Bnei-Brak. Born in 1964, Halifa was raised in Bat-Yam in a Jewish secular family and studied art from a young age. She practiced art as a hobby, and transformed her artistic passion into a career as she entered the Breslev community, seeking a way to voice her relations with religion. Studying the art of Judaica, Halifa decided to immerse herself in the Haredi women's world of art. Her work corresponds with Biblical tales, illustrating female protagonists, among other things. She has published a book titled Tikkun Khlali, and featured her artwork in galleries in Israel and the United States. Halifa is married and has three children.

Haim Gouri’s worldview was rooted in his experiences fighting for the independence of Israel, first in the pre-State Haganah and later in the IDF. Born in 1923 in Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated from Odessa, his commitment to Labor Zionist ideals led him to spend time in a kibbutz before ultimately settling in Jerusalem, where he lived with his wife in the same apartment for more than 50 years before his death in 2018.

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