God’s plans re­alised

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment - The lec­tures fall short of their tar­get What does ‘sa­cred’ even mean?

TH E R E C O M E S a mo me n t w h e n , if at­tempt­ing an anal­y­sis of Israel’s po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary dilem­mas, you just have to get on with it hop­ing that, be­tween pen and pub­li­ca­tion, noth­ing will hap­pen — an in­tifada, a war, an as­sas­si­na­tion — that will make your as­sess­ment lit­tle more than foot­notes to a vol­ume of his­tory.

Hirsh Good­man, jour­nal­ist, au­thor and now se­nior fel­low at Tel Aviv Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, is too ex­pe­ri­enced a hand to fall into the traps await­ing the un­wary.

His in­sights and judg­ments on the is­sues con­fronting Israel are sharp, orig­i­nal and, in many in­stances, dis­turb­ing and chal­leng­ing.

He is harsh about Is­raeli lead­ers, past and present. He be­lieves Golda Meir, in the af­ter­math of the Six-Day War, was blinded by Moshe Dayan’s strat­egy, sup­ported and ex­panded by Yi­gal Al­lon, of seek­ing to oc­cupy the West Bank with­out set­tling it, while eco­nom­i­cally in­te­grat­ing its in­hab­i­tants. Golda Meir’s gov­ern­ment, says Good­man, “had all the ar­ro­gance of the old colo­nial­ists.”

Me­nachem Be­gin’s at­ti­tude was even worse, seek­ing to­tal an­nex­a­tion of all the ter­ri­to­ries and the ex­ten­sion of Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship to all in­hab­i­tants of “lib­er­ated Judea, Sa­mara and Gaza” and ig­nor­ing the de­mo­graphic bomb­shell ly­ing at the heart of his pol­icy. Good­man es­ti­mates nu­mer­i­cal par­ity will soon be reached be­tween Is­raelis and the Arabs of the ter­ri­to­ries, “af­ter which the Palestinians will sur­pass the Jews.”

He quotes Yasser Arafat, shortly af­ter shak­ing the re­luc­tant hand of Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, say­ing that the womb of the Pales­tinian woman was the Palestinians’ best weapon.

It took 30 years af­ter Be­gin for his Likud suc­ces­sor, Ariel Sharon, “re­al­is­ing that de­mog­ra­phy was Israel’s big­gest en­emy,” to pull out of Gaza “and shed 1.5 mil­lion Palestinians from the scales.” That is about the only good thing Good­man has to say for Sharon.

He cer­tainly has lit­tle faith in Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu’s peace-mak­ing (or any other) abil­ity and even less in that of his coali­tion De­fence Min­is­ter, Ehud Barak, the for­mer Labour leader. Look­ing back to their pre­vi­ous terms in office, he com­ments that “Barak was as dis­as­trous a leader for Labour as Ne­tanyahu had been for Likud.” His as­sess­ment of Barak’s char­ac­ter — ego­ma­niac, ma­nip­u­la­tive, se­cre­tive and worse — bor­ders on the li­bel­lous.

Good­manof­fer­slit­tle­con­fi­dencethat these or any other lead­ers now in the pub­lic eye will take Israel through the threats from Iran, frus­trate the dele­git­imi­sa­tion cam­paign and find the path to a work­able peace. But he does recog­nise in the Knes­set wings ca­pa­ble young men and women who have vi­sions and dreams of an Israel at peace.

He does warn that, if Israel is not de­stroy it­self from within, its search for peace will have to take ac­count of the re­li­gious Zion­ist camp, from which come the lead­ers of the West Bank set­tlers. But he does not ex­plain how that can be squared with his haunt­ing con­clu­sion: “Peace is pos­si­ble… but the risks are tremen­dous and it is go­ing to take ex­tra­or­di­nary lead­er­ship on the Is­raeli side to sur­mount them, con­vince the Is­raeli pub­lic that the price of peace is worth the risks, and ac­tu­ally carry through on what­ever move­ment of Is­raeli pop­u­la­tion on the West Bank needs to be done.”

Ge­of­frey D Paul is a for­mer JC ed­i­tor

AYEAR AGO, one of my stu­dents de­cided to write an es­say on what ar­chi­tec­ture could learn from religion. As a prac­tis­ing Chris­tian, she be­lieved that religion had the power to in­vest places of wor­ship with sa­cred qual­i­ties, just as, in her view, it had done in me­dieval times. The dif­fi­culty was that, when she looked for ev­i­dence of this in 20th-cen­tury churches, she couldn’t swear that what she was see­ing nec­es­sar­ily had more to do with religion than with in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to space, ma­te­ri­als and light. In the end, she wrote about some­thing else.

In Con­struct­ing the In­ef­fa­ble: Con­tem­po­rary Sa­cred Ar­chi­tec­ture (Yale, £35) Karla Cavarra Brit­ton has been more de­ter­mined, but not more suc­cess­ful. In 2007, the ar­chi­tec­ture school at Yale Univer­sity co­hosted a sym­po­sium on sa­cred in ar­chi­tec­ture: “Con­struct­ing the In­ef­fa­ble”. The aim was to say some­thing about the pos­si­bil­ity of transcendence not just in re­li­gious build­ings, in this ever more mass-pro­duced age, but in ar­chi­tec­ture it­self.

Those sym­po­sium lec­tures, now ex­panded by Brit­ton for pub­li­ca­tion, fall short of their tar­get. While the con­trib­u­tors mourn what they see as mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture’s in­abil­ity to con­vey any­thing be­yond its own ma­te­ri­al­ity, not one of them can speak co­her­ently in de­fence of the equally pop­u­lar propo­si­tion that “ar­chi­tec­ture needs the sa­cred if it’s not to wither,” as Yale’s pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy, Karsten Har­ries, puts it.

What does “sa­cred” even mean? Al­though they ar­gue about def­i­ni­tions, by and large the con­trib­u­tors don’t deny that the sa­cred ex­ists, though they may pre­fer less ex­alted terms, like “spir­i­tual” or, be­low that, “aes­thetic” or “af­fec­tive”. That’s tricky for the Jewish reader who doesn’t take this sort of lan­guage as his start­ing point.

It is even trick­ier that build­ings from Mex­i­can zig­gu­rats to just about any­thing cir­cu­lar are gen­er­ally agreed to have a “nu­mi­nous” qual­ity.

“No they don’t,” one wants to say — be­cause, in Ju­daism, we’re not fa­mil­iar with the idea of the holy be­ing im­ma­nent in the phys­i­cal. Syn­a­gogues are not sa­cred places (God knows): they are sim­ply set­tings for peo­ple at prayer. Con­trib­u­tors to this book tend to think oth­er­wise.

It is odd, there­fore, to read nonJewish, or un-Jewish, ac­counts of, say, Louis Kahn’s (un­built) de­signs for the Hurva Sy­n­a­gogue in Jerusalem and the Mikveh Israel Sy­n­a­gogue in Philadel­phia. Did Kahn wish to give Shab­bat morn­ing ser­vices the at­mo­spher­ics of St Peter’s Basil­ica, or per­haps the pa­gan sense of eter­nity that turned him from main­stream mod­ernism?

If so, it was a sub­ver­sive aim. For us, this book is less about the sa­cred in ar­chi­tec­ture than about the re­vival, in ar­chi­tec­tural the­ory, of para­doxes rooted in Chris­tian thought — and that’s in spite of the fact that a quar­ter of the con­trib­u­tors are Jewish. Stephen Games teaches in the Ar­chi­tec­ture school at the Univer­sity of Kent


Blinded by a one-eyed man? Prime Min­is­ter Golda Meir with her per­sua­sive De­fence Min­is­ter, Moshe Dayan

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