Belated (But Not Completely Outdated) Happy New Year

I know Anne Laurie handled the start-of-holiday greetings, so I’m tagging on behind, with a few hours (and roughly 100 shofar blasts) to go in Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year.

Really, I’m doing so just to give me an excuse to post this image:



I know of vanishingly few fine-art images of Jewish ritual life — even fewer of views of religious practice out in the world.  So when my art-historically sophisticated wife sent this on, it was a surprise.

Anyway, I find this holiday one of those that works on me, atheist-Jew that I am.  The two stories read on the two days of services come from the Abraham cycle.  Day one, we read of the expulsion of Ishmael and Hagar from the camp.  Day two, the binding of Isaac.*  Terrifying stuff, terribly sad, much grist for thought.

And then, after the chanting is done, apples and honey all round!  As we say in my family, so to you:  may the coming year be as sweet as this apple and this honey.

Open thread, y’all.

*If you want to read a brilliant, horrific account of the path the Akedah — the Isaac sacrifice story — took in Jewish history, look no further than Shalom Spiegel’s classic, The Last Trial.  For an equally brilliant dissection of the literary technique in the story, the first chapter of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. is so good I believe every writer should read it.  Here’s the essay on its own. (In it, Auerbach compares the story of the sacrifice of Isaac to the scene in the Oddyssey, book 19, when Odysseus’ housekeeper recognizes the long-lost hero by the old scar on his leg.  Just a brilliant bit of literary analysis, and a great introduction to thinking about one’s own writing from the point of view of technique and desired ends.)

Image:  Alexander Gierymski, The Feast of Trumpets, 1884.

15 replies
  1. 1
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    And what is the image? I love it, but you usually include an identifier.

    Also, there is an asterisk that isn’t doing anything except making my OCDar all twitchy.

    Also too, post has a 1:32 am timestamp but it is only now showing up at 10:30 am?? And I’m the first to comment?

  2. 2
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    And I am remiss, Tom, I meant to wish you Shana Tovah, most sincerely, but got all caught up in my complainin’ and confuzzlement and forgot to add it.

  3. 3
    scav says:

    Painting looks to be Feast of trumpets I by Aleksander Gierymski at least. Googling binding of Isaac should prove very amusing to add to my digit-trail — the ads that follow could go in at least two highly contradictory ways!

  4. 4
    scav says:

    @scav: Was not expecting a video game as top (relevant!) response The Binding of Isaac takes on religion in a randomly generated Zelda-styled Roguelike (sic). Complex and dark stories indeed, just the thing to throw into a family holiday dinner.

    But then again, ghost stories were the original Christmas fare.

  5. 5
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    Day two, the binding of Isaac.*

    * supplying a footnote because it makes me crazy when there isn’t one.


    L’shanah Tovah, all.

  6. 6
    Manyakitty says:

    L’shanah tovah! I am an oddball kosher Jew who doesn’t follow many of the other rules. As such, I’m a congregation of one. I need to find my uncle and listen to him blow the shofar, but just in case:

  7. 7

    @scav: Yup.

    As for time stamp — meant to post this at 1:32 p.m. — and screwed up.

  8. 8
    Avery Greynold says:

    As an atheist-atheist that I am, there are only a couple religions I respect for their culture, and Judaism is the top of the list. If only there was a lite religion-ish version of it for us noobs. Like Christianity has. A few fun holidays, some catchy sayings and stories, and no reading required.

  9. 9
    scav says:

    @Tom Levenson: And thank you absolutely for Aleksander Gierymski. What an interesting period and evolution he spanned. The stuff of his at night and twilight!
    I’ll just link to a few überpages, here, (NB txt in Polish for the faint of heart) and here (NB page 4 of 5, links at bottom). Still haven’t found a really good biography with paintings yet.

    ah gut yohr! to all indeed.

  10. 10
    peggy says:

    “Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man you must be puttin’ me on”
    God says, “No”, Abe say “What?”
    God say “You can do what you want Abe but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run”

    Well Abe said, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
    God say, “Out on Highway 61”

    Bob Dylan – Highway 61

  11. 11
    shortstop says:

    The light in that painting is incredible. I’ve never seen it before. שנה טובה!

  12. 12
    Bloix says:

    This is a painting of the ceremony of tashlich, a somewhat superstitious (or metaphorical) Rosh Hashanah ritual in which one empties one’s pockets (of lint, or crumbs, that you’ve put there in advance for the purpose) into a body of water while asking God to wash away your sins just as the water carries away the bits of litter.

    Today, observant Jews still do it seriously and more secular Jews do it for the pleasant walk to the water and an introduction to belief for children.

    Here are some pictures of modern secular Jews observing tashlich in Rhode Island, with a description of the ritual:

  13. 13
    Ohio Mom says:

    I will add to Bolix’s explanation that this painting is titled “Feast of the Trumpets” because feast=holiday and trumpets=shofars (the ram’s horn that is blown during the Rosh Hashanah service). Very happy to be introduced to this work of art.

    A couple of years ago the rabbi of my town’s Humanistic congregation announced that after decades of trying to make sense of the Binding of Isaac story, he was giving up. From then on he would be using different stories. I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only one who finds this story incomprehensible.

    My (Reform) rabbi tried this year to convince us that Abraham knew all along God would never expect him to actually kill Isaac but I found this to be little consolation. Isaac didn’t have a clue and what kind of parent would let his kid think he’s about to kill him? I’m revolted by the image of what these moments must have been like for Isaac.

  14. 14
    KS in MA says:

    Even more belatedly, thanks for the reading list!

  15. 15
    cg says:

    I’ve thought that this story of Abraham and Isaac is not so much about obedience to God, but about what this God does not want. Wasn’t Abraham surrounded by people who were compelled to sacrifice their children by those in power? Babies were taken from parents and thrown into the burning fires of the idol Moloch; children were used as footings for city gates. What terrifying, oppressive hell that must have been. And here is Abraham, willing to be obedient to the demand of child sacrifice, only to be told “this is not what I want.” The sacrifice of children is not to be a part of this religion.

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