This illumination of the revelation at Sinai is taken from the Tripartite Mahzor (Germany, ca.1300). Beneath a line of heavenly trumpets emerging from a thick layer of clouds, a clean-shaven Moses receives the law, with a heavily bearded Aaron close behind him. Rather surprisingly, Aaron is wearing a Christian episcopal mitre rather than traditional priestly regalia. Behind him a group of men, each wearing a Judenhut—the pointed hat that often distinguishes an Ashkenazi Jewish man in medieval manuscripts—look on. Behind a partition (a kind of synagogue mechitzah) of flowering vines, a group of women with normal human bodies, but with the faces of animals, look to the heavens. Such depictions in Ashkenazi manuscripts are common, though here it must be noted that (unlike, say, in the famous Griffins’ Head Haggadah) men are given ordinary human features.
As the men look across toward Aaron and Moses, the women gaze upward at the letter aleph, which begins the first word of the poem on the page, the Shavuot piyyut “Adon Imnani.” The endpoint of their gaze is the trumpets, which broadcast the divine voice. The foremost figure among the group of animal-headed women holds what I believe to be a siddur (prayerbook). If so, then she is the firzageren (or zogerke), the woman in medieval Ashkenazi Jewish communities who was responsible for reciting, translating, and interpreting the prayers for the female section of the synagogue. This illumination undoubtedly makes Torah the province of men, but I understand this small and easily overlooked detail of the siddur to indicate that the experience of the Divine Presence is accessible to women through prayer.
An immense echo-chamber has been built, and the line is always the same: Israel is not allowed to be a country like any other.
When an indigenous Argentine woman falls in love with a golem, her grandmother creates a love potion to win the golem’s (perhaps non-existent?) heart. What could possibly go wrong?
Each month brings scores of new books of Jewish interest. Here are a few we can’t wait to read this December. And who knows, maybe you’ll find the perfect last-minute Hanukkah gift here as well!
That Judah, the great victor of the Hanukkah story, ultimately died fighting the Seleucids is something that surprisingly few Jews know. And were the Maccabees actually underdogs?