The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Akedah as an Actual Sacrifice in Modern Jewish Art and Israeli Art

Dr. Amitai Mendelsohn

This is joint work with Dr. Amitai Mendelsohn (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem), and Dr. Devorah Schoenfeld (Loyola University of Chicago) Aqedat Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac), also known in the Christian tradition as the Sacrifice of Isaac, one of the most powerful and yet horrifying narratives of the Hebrew Bible, referred to the sacrifice which was ultimately not performed as Isaac was not slaughtered. However, over the centuries Jewish exegetical texts developed a tradition in which Isaac was in fact sacrificed as e.g. in Midrash Tanchuma (9th century), which imagines the Aqedah as an actual sacrifice in a number of ways. This paper traces this tradition from “Midrash Tanchuma” through Hebrew Crusade narratives into works by modern Jewish artists featuring a new interpretation of the Akedah in the Diaspora in the context of the Shoah (Marc Chagall, Pinkas Burstein (Maryan), George Segal, and others) and in the context of the political and cultural conflicts in the Land of Israel (Abel Pann, Menashe Kadisman, Moshe Gershuni, and others). Discussing the complex treatment of the actual sacrifice in modern Jewish and Israeli culture, the lecture will demonstrate how these artists engaged with the idea of actual sacrifice by combining Christian iconography with Jewish traditions to produce art in which the grief of Abraham at the death of his son foreshadows their own personal and national mourning.