Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Chassidishe/ Christian Ark Encounter

In response to the previous post about the Chinese Noah's Ark, someone asked an interesting question:

"A friendly comment: Are you prepared if anyone visiting the museum asks you the following possibly innocent or possibly unfriendly question? The museum is all about gaining greater appreciation for Tanach and the Creator's wondrous creation. Why do you also have interpretations from Goyim about the Teiva? Who's interested in their interpretations? And who's interested that the Biblical story captured Goyim's imagination alongside with their Da Vincis and Rembrandts?"

We are indeed prepared with an answer to this question. But in my opinion, nobody is going to ask it. 

I came across a fascinating report from ten years ago on a heimishe news site, about a traveling Noah's Ark exhibition which visited Talmud Torah Tiferes Bunim Munkach in Boro Park. The photos (some of which are displayed here) show a trailer that has been converted to look like Noah's Ark. Inside was a charmingly diverse and random collection of live animals (alpacas, goats and rabbits), arcade games (?!), taxidermy (specifically, a dove, a raven, and a moose's head)... and artistic models of Noah's Ark by Christian artists.

Alas, I was unable to find out anything more about this mysterious exhibit. I don't know who made it or where else it visited. But it doesn't surprise me in the least that it was very enthusiastically received.

Pictures and models of Noah's Ark are so innately charming that you can't help but love them. I think that this appeal itself is partly about the concentration of diverse animals helping us appreciate the wonders of God's creation. And these models are not theological interpretations (which might be threatening) - they are artistic interpretations. Almost nobody even attempts to make Biblically-accurate models, because the shape just wouldn't look as appealing, and the seven pairs of each of the kosher animals would be too repetitive. Furthermore, it's the sheer diversity of different styles of ark which adds to the appeal.

It's true that art is not prominent in charedi culture. However, it is not entirely as foreign as some might suppose. There is one charedi art gallery in the Jerusalem charedi neighborhood of Makor Baruch. And that's "highbrow" art - the art of the ark is something with much broader appeal. In fact, artistic representations of Noah's Ark have long been part of Jewish tradition, appearing in shuls as well as sefarim, from medieval manuscripts to more recent works such as Tze'ena u'Re'ena.

As for the actual answer to the hypothetical question: Yes, I think charedim will find it interesting (and validating) to see how this story from Tanach is so powerful that it has captured the imagination of people all over the world. And the fact that each nation put their own animals on the ark is certainly helpful in understanding why it is a particular group of animals that is so significant in the Torah. 

I'll go even further. My initial concern about creating such an exhibit was the questions that might come up about the scientific aspects of the ark and the flood story. But I don't think that these questions will come up either - and if they do, they can be easily deflected by saying that it's an artistic exhibit rather than a theological exhibit, and that the museum does not get into such questions. 

I don't think that the charedi community should be underestimated. Everyone can grasp the concept of art. And I think that they will especially appreciate the three arks that we have by an Israeli artist, which are very similar, but with one crucial difference: one depicts Noah as a typical bareheaded man, one depicts him with a Conservative-style tallis, and one depicts him as a Chassid! It's the spiritual evolution of Noach!

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  1. I imagine most of these arks are made by Christians, drawing on the same source as Jews do. But there is also the common belief among religious peoples (not just Jews) that the prevalence of flood stories among all world civilizations- not just the Jewish-Christian-Islamic worlds, but many if not all others- attests to the factuality of the story. That is, if it happened as commonly understood, of *course* every world civilization would have the story.

    That belief doesn't quite hold up under examination, but of course that doesn't keep people from believing it.

    1. Nachum - you cant read Akkadian, and you've never seen an actual original flood story clay tablet, (as opposed to what someone *tells* you is an accurate copy.) You don't believe the Moroni tablet myths, do you? Shouldn't you be a little more skeptical of the supposed "Gilgamesh epic"? The supposed existence of "flood stories" - none of which were ever known to anyone until the 19th century - strikes me as little different than Higher Criticism, aka, Higher Anti-Semitism. Anything to undermine the uniqueness of the Jews and the Bible.

      P. Slifkin, who writes "theological interpretations might be threatening" - you've drank deeply from the well of left-wing belief systems. In a classic display of projection, they tell themselves Charedim feel "threatened" by their perspectives (the same as they say the religious are "frightened" of homosexuals, "intimidated" by women, etc etc ad nausem.) No religious Jew of any type fits this imaginary mold of the left. The correct word to describe their attitude to theological interpretations range from "mildly bemused" to "disgusted" - not "threatened". Flies do not threaten a horse.

    2. "That belief doesn't quite hold up under examination" explain please

    3. @GP,
      What of the “supposed” Gilgamesh Epic should you be skeptical about? And why do you characterise it as “supposed”? You don’t think the Epic was composed many millennia ago?

    4. "No religious Jew of any type fits this imaginary mold of the left."

      Can you stop exaggerating?

    5. Efraim: Not every culture has a flood story. Every culture has a *disaster* story. The fact that they're not all floods may indicate that there's a human need here rather than a literal world-wide flood.

      *Almost* all are floods, but that can be explained simply by the fact that almost all human civilizations arose by rivers, and the worst disaster when you live by a river is, well, a flood. One civilization that didn't arise by a river is the Tibetans...and, indeed, their disaster story is an avalanche story.

      Add to that that, of course, none of those other flood stories are identical to the Jewish one, and the ones that are the closest have some differences that seem to have been changed for obvious reasons.

      Finally, there's nothing in Jewish belief that requires us to believe that the flood was worldwide, or even literal.

      Of course, there is evidence that there *was* a flood (much earlier than we think, though), and then there's the boat at the top of Mount Ararat. :-)

      GP: I'm sorry, that sounds a bit unhinged. I don't have to be a scholar to believe that not everything is a giant conspiracy.

    6. The disaster story among the Mancunians was that the sun shone for a month.

    7. Hey hey GP, Nachum's original statement was only (as far as I can understand, Nachum I apologize if I am changing what you meant) saying that to a religious person, seeing Arks from other cultures helps to confirm one's emuna in the story of the Mabul. He was addressing the question that was posed to R' Slifkin of "Why should we care about non-Jews' interpretations of the Flood?" which kinda means "Why would the religious patrons of the museum care about non-Jews' interpretations of the Flood?" And he (Nachum) answered that religious Jews feel good - vindicated, even, perhaps - when it is demonstrated that other cultures have a version of our mesorah.

      Therefore, any comment about Gilgamesh or Mormonism is irrelevant, as Nachum is not addressing the academic validity of that argument.

      It's kinda funny, actually. GP's first paragraph is a bit of a post-modern frum perspective. Throughout the 20th century, Permission to Believe and Receive and other such works (Jewish and Christian) went to great lengths to "prove" the Bible or the Mesorah, and this was lauded as a Wonderful Thing. The current wave of thought - perhaps in reaction to the response, which is "wait, it doesn't really work" - is "My emuna does not need your pathetic proof!" which unfortunately was never the point. The Tanach being "proven" true via secular means is not necessary for my emuna, but it is always helpful and reassuring and goshdarnit cool when it happens.

      And R' Slifkin, I would have though that a month of sunshine in the British Isles would herald the advent of Mashiach!

    8. Gilgamesh is good at answering a single specific question, which is "If the Torah is historical, why do we never find external corroboration of the major events contained in it?". And the answer is, we actually do. It doesn't have to exactly match the Torah's account. Of course, there are different ways you can (try to) dismiss the Flood (or Creation, the Exodus, the Conquest, etc.)

    9. Nachum - of course not everything is a conspiracy. And yet myths and lies are told every day, around the world. I'm just saying, employ the same skepticism to claims of scholarship that you would to religion. Really, these crumbling fragments, which you wont show me and no one can read anyway, describe this epic flood story? I'm supposed to just believe you, because "trust me, I'm an archeologist"? You actually read this, or you "reconstructed" it, based upon what you perceive to be the crumbling remains of the letter muph, which may or may not be the middle letter of the ancient Addadian word for "water"?

      Yosef R - not sure what you're getting at. Emunah isn't a factor here. To the contrary, some who accept the existence of flood myths think it corroborates the Biblical account. Others say the opposite. It's a wash. My comments to Nachum are not relevant to that.

    10. Yosef, that's certainly all true. I remember once pointing out to a rebbe of mine in MTA a discovery about tidal and wind patterns in the Suez area that seemed to show how the sea could, indeed, have split. His response was, "That's very interesting, but I didn't need it to convince me it happened." Others, of course, need it.

      But I'm reminded of something one of my professors at YU, Moshe Bernstein, an expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls, once wrote: Someone once said to him, "Wow, the text of Tanach in the Dead Sea Scrolls is exactly like that of our Tanach! That proves our text is correct!" And Bernstein answered him, "Well, yes, it is, except for the places it isn't." And his interlocutor waved it off with, "Well, all those other examples are incorrect texts they were sticking in geniza." And Prof. Bernstein wrote, "No, you don't get to do it that way. That's intellectually dishonest."

      So I'm not the type to say, "Everywhere it backs me up proves my point and everywhere it doesn't is just the stuff written by apikorsim." At least I'm going to *deal* with it.

      Which brings me to happy's point: I certainly see another value. Assuming that people, or at least some people, back then were familiar with the Mesopotamian versions- after all, Avraham *came* from there- we can also look at the differences and see what message the Torah is trying to send as opposed to the pagan versions. Why a dove and not a raven? Why Noach's family and not his servants? Etc. etc. Of course, that necessitates moving past a simple "Well, it *was* a dove and not a raven," in which case the whole message would be lost.

      GP, you're being ridiculous, or maybe a troll. Not everything is a conspiracy. "which you wont show me and no one can read anyway"? Won't show you? Go look them up on line, or in a museum. They're there. No one can read anyway? Give me a break. Plenty of people can read them. (The people who originally discovered them were frum Christians.) Once in a shiur R' Leiman (who is a gadol b'torah and, as he would say, a good frum Yid) reached behind him, picked up a replica of an Akkadian text he owns, and...began to read. If R' Leiman hasn't unmasked this "great conspiracy," then it doesn't exist.

      It all reminds me of the controversy in the 1970's or so over the perush of Yehuda HaChassid on the Torah, which R' Leiman was also involved in. There were some passages which ran contrary to things we all "know" to be the "proper" view of the authorship of the Torah. So R' Moshe Feinstein declared those passages- and only those passages- to be forgeries, using the somewhat circular reasoning of "We know Yehuda HaChasid was frum, and we know a frum Jew wouldn't write that, so..." (R' Moshe used the "it's a forgery" solution on other occasions as well.)

      R' Menashe Klein, who had a wicked sense of humor, reacted by saying that he couldn't imagine R' Moshe would write anything so foolish, so that part of the Igrot Moshe must have been...a forgery. :-)

      Are there forgeries? Of course. Are there scholars with agendas? Of course. But you don't get to pick and choose based on what makes *you* comfortable.

    11. Because OF COURSE a little post about a cute exhibit and how people will feel about it would mutate into a whole discussion about comparative Ancient Near East studies...

      (My point was that Nachum was NOT doing that.)

      And Nachum: Classic Dr. Bernstein.

    12. Actually, the reason why the Torah mentions a dove is because, well, it *was* a dove. The message is not lost on Chazal, who though it *was* actually a dove. Nothing simple about it.

      שלח נח את העורב לידע מה בעולם הלך לו ומצא נבלת אדם בראשי ההרים וישב לו על מאכלו ולא השיב שליחותו לשולחיו. שלח את היונה והשיבה שליחותה שנאמר ותבא אליו היונה לעת ערב והנה עלה זית טרף בפיה. ולמה עלה זית אלא אמרה היונה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבון כל העולמי' יהיו מזונותי מרורין כזית זה ונתונים בידיך ואל יהיו מתוקים ונתונים ביד בשר ודם. מיכאן אמרו שולח דברים ביד טמא כשולח ביד כסיל ושולח דברי ביד טהור כשולח ביד ציר נאמן לשולחיו.

    13. Nachum - you're basically saying about the academic establishment what people used to think about the media: that maybe there's an agenda or misrepresentation here or there, but on the whole you can trust it. I think we've all seen how foolish that thinking was. You can't trust anything until its actually been proven. The hard sciences have proven many of their theories, even if initially doubted, had substance. The soft sciences? Not so much.

      (As for "going to the museum" - you realize nothing of what you see is actually real. They're all essentially paper mache models, or maybe some other material nowadays, of some squeeze someone supposedly made 150 years ago, which is now lost. They're no different than the models you can see of the golden tablets handed to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni. You believe those too?)

    14. Very nice. Did you know there are aggadatas that have very different interpretations?

    15. The point is, the fact that Chazal obviously understood it to be real dove didn't stop them from learning other messages from the it. The whole idea of דרוש is that you can learn Torah true messages that do not necessarily relate to the literal meaning of the thing you are interpreting. Like the דרוש of the Zohar כי תצא למלחמה על אוביך דא איהו יצה"ר דאנן צריכין למיפק לקבליה במלין דאורייתא ולקטרגא ליה וכדין יתמסר בידא דב"נ כמה דאתמר ונתנו ה' אלהיך בידך ושבית שביו. Nobody would say the Zohar means the literal mitzvah of יפת תואר is not true, but we learn other messages from it.
      If you have an aggada that learns the dove was דוקא *not* real, I would be glad to see it.

    16. Sorry, I can't hold back but expound on that message of Chazal מיכאן אמרו שולח דברים ביד טמא כשולח ביד כסיל ושולח דברי ביד טהור כשולח ביד ציר נאמן לשולחיו. A טמא is somebody who comes from a מקום טמא, an academic. He is sent to teach Torah in a Bible or Talmud class. Even if he is "personally observant", his entire "mesorah", his entire derech halimud, is כל כולו טמא, he is teaching the Torah in a טמא fashion. What does he find? A נבילה. That is כשולח ביד כסיל . But you send a בן תורה to teach, that is שולח דברי ביד טהור. He has a derech halimud that is טהור. He teaches אמונה טהורה. Such as רבון כל העולמי' יהיו מזונותי מרורין כזית זה ונתונים בידיך ואל יהיו מתוקים ונתונים ביד בשר ודם. That is כשולח ביד ציר נאמן לשולחיו. Very relevant to the previous discussion with GP. That's all! דרוש וקבל שכר!!!

    17. "As for "going to the museum" - you realize nothing of what you see is actually real. They're all essentially paper mache models, or maybe some other material nowadays, of some squeeze someone supposedly made 150 years ago, which is now lost. They're no different than the models you can see of the golden tablets handed to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni. You believe those too?"

      You've got to be kidding me. Museums are full of actual artifacts.

      You remind me of the ger to whom Hillel had to point out that you have to take *certain* things on faith.

      Happy, you have no idea who R' Leiman even is, do you? Or R' Bernstein? If you did, you wouldn't say such chutzpadik things about them.

    18. Chas v'shalom, I didn't mean it about R' Leiman. From what I have read from him, he seems like a tzadik gamur. Which is really amazing, for somebody who goes into academic "Torah" to not be tainted by kefirah. Like Yosef HaTzadik and אשת פוטיפר. He is a real צדיק באמונתו יחיה.

      About the other person, I have no idea, maybe he is a tzadik as well. But I am not inclined to trust somebody who told me in the name of his "rebbe" that everything until Matan Torah may not be literal.

    19. Wow, you really hold paper, do you? You keep those petty little grievances in your mind forever. Trust me, I don't remember anything you say past one thread.

      As long as you bring it up, no rebbe of mine ever said that everything until Matan Torah may not be literal. He said it's not *kefirah* to believe the same. There's a world of difference there. See all the Chabad apologists who mumble, "Well, it's not *kefirah* to believe the Rebbe is Mashiach..."

      "Which is really amazing, for somebody who goes into academic "Torah" to not be tainted by kefirah."

      I had many great rebbeim who "went into academic 'Torah'" (sic, shame on you) and were far less "tainted" than some people I'm sure you revere. YU is chockablock full of such people. So is Israel. But why do I bother? If I named anyone, you'd probably just keep expanding your definition of "tainted" and "kefirah" to include them.

      On his website, R' Leiman approvingly quotes this poem:

      He drew a circle that shut me out –
      Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
      But Love and I had the wit to win:
      We drew a circle that took him in.

      When you reach to R' Leiman's ankles in knowledge of Torah, of scholarship, and of Yirat Shamayim, get back to me.

    20. Yes Nachum, you are correct. Museums *do* have genuine artifacts too. Sigh. I really did think you were better than that. Whatever. I guess its really hard for people to get away from cherished beliefs, even when they know better. Boy, when Crighton wrote about the Gell-Mann amnesia effect, he sure knew what he was talking about.

    21. Looks like you have trouble remembering a lot of things, including what your rebbeim said.

      "One of my rebbeim, one of the frummest people I've ever known, said that we're free to say it's all allegorical until Matan Torah. He himself didn't believe that, but was basing himself on many "accepted" works of hashkafa by saying so."

      (If that's what you call "frum", I'd hate to see what you call "frei"!) Today you have a different girsa: "He said it's not *kefirah* to believe the same". Not as bad, but still wrong. Denying one and a half of the ה' חומשי תורה is no less kefira than denying תחית מתים.

      "YU is chockablock full of such people. So is Israel. "

      Sorry, "Torah" academics have spread enough kefira that they don't deserve the benefit of the doubt. It would have been better for most of them to go into Hindu studies, rather than corrupting the Torah. R' Leiman is a rare exception that proves the rule. Not for naught did the Gedolim warn about YU 🏳️‍🌈.

    22. Aren't you clever.

  2. I don't know about Tze'ena u'Re'ena as a source. My late rav and teacher, Eliezer Cohen, once described it as the Torah with everything but the sex and violence removed. 😀

    1. Well, there's an Artscroll edition, so it's kosher. :-)

  3. Would be more entertaining if they used one of the prevalent images of the gay lions

    1. Perverted sickos have invariably
      One track mind

    2. Wonderful, reaffirming(moderator including)once more the Chazal: In order to permit themselves immoral degenerate sexuality was the purpose Yisrael would worship idols?!

  4. "they built the altar and plastered it with plaster, and they wrote on it all of the words of the Torah in seventy languages, as it is stated: “And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law clearly elucidated” (Deuteronomy 27:8), indicating that it was to be written in every language" (Mishnah, Sotah 7 5 , Koren - Steinsaltz).

  5. You should just tell them that it's perfectly fine to include contributions from goyim - after all, there were only goyim on the Teiva!

  6. There's a zoo in England run or founded by Christians called Noah's Ark and they have a room with an exhibit dedicated to the story of the Teyvah along with a scale model. I loved it. I think the story has universal appeal

    1. According to us it certainly does - all humanity was saved.

    2. Not just humanity..........

  7. I'm waiting for a Noach with the neutral black knitted kipah! ;)

  8. I would like to have seen that ark in Boro Park. It's neat.

  9. Maybe your museum can post some photos of it. ACJA


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