Parshat Ki Tetze

Artist: Ruth Kastenbaum Ben Dov,  Israel

The Torah portion, parshat Ki Tetze, discusses laws of war, and spoke to me immediately, as I am currently the mother of three soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. With pride at their responsibility and leadership, I pray for the wholeness and health of their bodies and souls. I am the mother bird, who needs to be sent off to fly away from the nest before the eggs are taken. Perhaps I am also the foreign female prisoner of war who shaves her head and weeps, as at times I feel imprisoned by the reality of unending conflict, its demand for patriotism and sacrifice, and by my own failure to search for a peaceful alternative.

My children swore to defend our country, even at the cost of their lives, at a ceremony, which included holding a Tanakh(the Hebrew Bible) in one hand and a gun on the other, the two joined in an act of salute. The female figure enacting that moment brings to mind the parsha’s prohibition against the wearing of male attire by a woman (and vice versa), raising questions about the meaning and the price of gender equality. Seeing the Torah joined with a gun reminds us that its words have the power to both give life and death andto promote love and violence. “Turn it and turn it for everything is in it” (Ethics of the Fathers 5:26). We bear the responsibility to interpret in a way that reveals its goodness, without tempering its force and passion. The intricate organic pattern of the parchment guided me in forming many of the images, and led to the decision to leave much of this raw foundation bare, allowing its richness to play a central role in the work.

About Ruth

Ruth Kestenbaum Ben-Dov fuses observational and conceptual painting. She has a B.F.A from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and is pursuing graduate studies in art history at the University of Haifa. Her work has been exhibited in galleries, museums, and private collections in Israel, the U.S., and Europe.

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