As the 2012 Artist-in-Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI), at Brandeis University, I am creating an exiting exhibit for the Kniznick Gallery , at Brandeis entitled Occupy Sanhedrin. This exhibit examines religious and secular roles of Jewish women from the time of the Second Temple to the present. In addition to original photographs, the exhibition will features a site-specific installation— a participatory rendition of the Sanhedrin (rabbinic court). Occupy Sanhedrin explores jurisprudence in relation to the female body, illustrating how justice can actually be encountered between the folds of the flesh. Brandeis University is generously underwriting my travel and living expenses while in residence. To pay for much of the actual exhibition costs, I need to do additional fundraising to supplement the materials’ stipend that Brandeis has Provided. I would appreciate any support to make my vision possible!
The Greek word Sanhedrin refers to the legal/court system that the people of Israel lived by during the Second Temple Period. [Its root is the Greek synedrion or sitting together in counsel.] The Great Sanhedrin, played a role similar to our Supreme Court, but was composed of one Chief Justice, one assistant Chief Justice and 69 general members, 71 men in all. In the Great Sanhedrin women were barred from deciding any matters of justice, even with regard to questions that pertained to their own bodies. In the male space of the Great Sanhedrin, binding decisions were made about all aspects of the lives of the Jews.
We learn about the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, an elaborate six-volume documentation of the disputation about laws derived from interpretations of the Bible. The Talmud is a dynamic document that includes the Mishnah, which offers an explicit interpretation of Biblical text. Each Mishnah, in turn, is followed by Gemara, which is a commentary and set of debates about the Mishnah. The Talmud records many rabbis’ discussions about all aspects of the law over the course of three centuries.
In one section of the Talmud, titled Tractate Sanhedrin, 36b-37a, the Talmud poses an explicit and surprising connection between the female form and the architectural arrangement of the Great Sanhedrin. Strangely, the description of the physical structure of the Sanhedrin is linked to a passage in The Song of Songs 7:3: “Thy navel is like a round goblet, wherein no mingled wine is wanting; thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” Why would the Great Sanhedrin be constructed to reflect the shape and sensuality of a woman's body, specifically her navel? Why is the foundational structure of justice depicted as a passive female body? Why is justice tucked into folds of the flesh at all?
Perhaps it is that enticing image of the Sanhedrin that has led Jews and non-Jews alike to argue for its reinstatement. For example, in 1806 France, Napoleon Bonaparte reconvened the Great Sanhedrin after its absence for 18 centuries, to deal with issues among Jews living within his empire. His Grand Sanhedrin gained its authority both from the sovereignty of the state and the sovereignty of tradition. We learn from this that history’s boundaries are permeable. In our search for agency we, too, can look to history and claim it for ourselves; we, too, can confront the past with an embodied present.
Consider the very act of sitting, a political gesture itself that can be manipulated to achieve various goals. In Genesis 31:34-35, for example, Rachel hides Laban’s idols by sitting on them and telling her father that she cannot rise because is menstruating. Cleverly, she made use of a custom designed to limit female jurisdiction over her own body to her advantage. Rachel gains agency by remaining physically still. Sit-ins during the civil rights era were a powerful force for social change. In Hebrew the word “to sit is lashevet, but also can mean to dwell or settle land (occupy).
In the gallery, you are invited to create a counsel of justice for yourself and to claim agency over your own body by sitting and Occupying Sanhedrin! We can sit together and occupy Sanhedrin, creating our own just space.
I invite you to see the fruits of your investment between Thursday, March 29th and Friday, May 18, 2012 at the Kniznick Gallery at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA.
Note: A final Itemized exhibition expense report is available to all potential funders, please request.
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