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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