The Art of the Question  


The fractured, pieced together tablets of the Ten Commandments stand simultaneously as a metaphor of the Sinai covenant that has been broken by both humanity and God and as a headstone memorializing the six million Jewish martyrs of the Shoah. The monument stands as though to mark “Here lie the dead.”

But the bodies are not to be found nor is the god who once brought the people out of the land of Egypt. The tablets stand in, mark a place, for an absent deity and a missing people. Rusting double yods, letters signifying the divine name, have been manually riveted to the top of one of the tablets, a seemingly desperate and wishful imposition of divine presence.

The people themselves are present only in traces: A dismembered and roughly re-membered Star of David becomes the central picture of the tablets’ puzzle, its form a sad example of the stone cutter’s and iron worker’s arts. Here the identity of a people is pieced back together after historical rupture, the rupture now integral to the identity of those who are lost and those who remain, an insistent but uneasy cohesion in an unstable and damaged structure.

The people are also engraved in the number 6, which alludes doubly to the six million who perished in the Shoah and to the sixth commandment “Thou shall not kill.” The number 6 both grieves and accuses. Implicated in this cipher, as well as in the barbed wire, the prison-striped salvage, the metal stays, and the bullet holes, are both the victims and the perpetrators. Unspeakable suffering and the violence that has caused it are inextricably bound together.

—Danna Nolan Fewell and Gary A. Phillips, “From Bak to the Bible: Imagination, Interpretation, and Tikkun Olam”

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