Yael Maly did not intend to stir up trouble in the national-religious sector (with which she identifies). But she expected some unease with her latest book, Omanut Kaparshanut (Art as Commentary), which looks at the Pentateuch through the eyes of art, incorporating an expression of Western and Christian inspiration.
The unease she anticipated from this group never materialized, but Maly was surprised to find that it was her secular readers who took umbrage at her project, criticizing it as a way to impose interpretations. Jews on founding artefacts of Christian and Western civilization.
It was never his program.
“I have been participating in the development of my knowledge and my approach to the arts for many years,” recalls Maly. “I love the visual arts. I have drawn and painted since I was a child, but my energies were mostly focused on Jewish studies. One of the goals of my learning was the history of the midrashim and this is what I taught after I graduated. Now 66, Maly was born and raised in Petah Tikva and then lived for several years in the Golan Heights, where she and her husband David were active in the struggle to keep this territory in Israel. They eventually moved to the Old City of Jerusalem, to participate in another struggle – to join the founders of the Ir David Foundation, which aims to renew and strengthen the Jewish community in the City of David, which is also part of the neighborhood. from Silwan where they still live.
A mother of seven children and a grandmother, she began years ago to teach Bible studies, a subject in which she has always been involved in the arts in the Holy Scriptures. She studied art history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and after earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, was reluctant to pursue or earn a doctorate in the field.
“My eldest son, Matania, suggested to me that instead of writing a thesis that very few people would read, I would write a book on this topic – which would highlight the connection that I have always made in such a way. intuitive, between the Bible and the world of art. . I took his advice; after all, he knew me better than anyone. This is how the project finally materialized in the two volumes of Art as a Commentary, in which I present the weekly part of Torah through the lens and commentary of the art – be it my own interpretation or that of famous painters and sculptors of past centuries. as contemporary artists – to illustrate these texts. Maly says the artistic works revealed intriguing societal ideas, some of which even surprised her.
“For example, I realized how little the average Israeli knows about the impact and influence Christians have on the arts and their view of the Holy Scriptures. The events recorded in the Bible play a prominent role in the Western Christian tradition and in their artistic expression, and this was something I had to emphasize. When asked if the Christian aspects of her book aroused reservations among religious students and readers of her work, Maly said that while it was something she expected, it did not happen. not produced.
“On the contrary, I found a real thirst and an interest in knowing more. Surprisingly, the reviews came from a totally unexpected direction – secularists and arts aficionados, for example, were suspicious of my project and my motives. They saw it as a sly way of appropriating the treasures of the Christian artistic world and of imposing a Jewish framework. Comments of this nature have come from laymen as well as scholars, and I must say I was unpleasantly surprised. She emphasizes the importance of her approach.
“I think it introduces some valuable aspects. We should educate our young people, young students, before college in preparatory classes, to understand and appreciate how important these texts have been and still are, and how they have inspired such great artists through the ages in the Christian and Western world. Maly’s two volumes explore artistic interpretations by the most famous masters of painting and sculpture of the weekly portions of the Five Books of Moses, each with a text written by Maly herself, blending several traditions of biblical interpretation from different time periods, improving understanding and relevance. Maly recalls, for example, that while she was working on Parshat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26: 1-29: 8), which includes a list of plagues and diseases that God would unleash if people did not obey her, she was ‘t still aware that humanity would be facing the pandemic that afflicts us now, but in hindsight, she remembers that it was a difficult time to live.
As for the impact of the volumes, Maly says many of her students have told her that she opened up a whole new world to them.
“It was the best reward for my hard work. These young people recognized something new, and this was done through the connection with our sacred texts. I couldn’t ask for more.