Today on Tablet, Menachem Kaiser reports on an exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that casts Hasidic Jews in a new, compelling, and sometimes non-religious light.
The best of the exhibit illuminates and artistically leverages the tension between rituals’ normalcy (on their end) and strangeness (on ours). We are uncomfortably transfixed—maybe because we can stare without shame or reproach. “I can’t believe we’re of the same religion,” I overheard a non-Hasidic American Jewish tourist mutter to his wife. There are photographs of Hasidic rituals I’d never heard of, like pouring water from an urn into a pan to ward off the evil eye, or that I had thought were no longer performed, like the redeeming of a firstborn donkey (delightfully decked out for the occasion in, yes, a black hat). Photos of Hasidim in full garb in a wheat field, reaping for their matzoh; dressed up as Cossacks on Purim; in crowded family portraits; and firing arrows at a target representing the yetzer harah, the evil inclination: There is humor, joy, weirdness, pride, death—the constant is celebration of the extraordinary nature of everyday life.
Check out the rest here.