Celebrating the Female Spirit

One of the most important dimensions of contemporary Jewish spirituality and identity is based on the advancement of feminism,” says Jean Bloch Rosensaft, director of New York’s Hebrew Union College museum. In keeping with this philosophy, the museum this winter is offering an enticing assortment of exhibits. Not all the artists are women, but all in some fashion celebrate the female spirit.

“Leonard Nimoy: Shekhina” is a selection of 19 photographs from the new book by the actor known best as the Star Trek’s Dr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy’s book, which he says explores feminine spirituality—the word shekhinah stands for the female aspect of God—consists of black-and-white photographs of women, some wearing tfillin or draped in tallitot. That many of the models are otherwise nude has caused an uproar in some Jewish circles. The HUC exhibit chose, says Rosensaft, “the most spiritual, evocative, and most mysterious material” from Nimoy’s book—but no shots with full frontal nudity.

“Archetype/Anonymous” features unorthodox representations of biblical women. Curator Laura Kruger writes: “Because of the androcentric nature of biblical record, most women in the Bible are unnamed. Those who are often have names that reflect men’s wishful designation of positive attributes: Hannah/grace, Shua/independence, Malcah/queen. This exhibit challenges such stereotypes. For example, Judith, a mixed media sculpture by artist Julie Dermansky, is not the lithe and graceful maiden of 16th-century painting, decorously carrying the head of Holofernes like a gift-wrapped parcel in a basket. Rather, this Judith has fractured her wrist with the very effort of decapitating the tyrant.”