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Reviewed by:
  • Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance ed. by Judith Brin Ingber
  • Einav Rosenblit (bio)
Judith Brin Ingber (ed.) Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance Detroit: Wayne University Press, 2011. 458 pp.

Arms entwined, young Israeli dancers rushed past their solemn audience, the performers’ hair flying in the wind as they moved toward one other, clapping with glee, jumping and then backing up to run sideways, their feet a ripple of crossings and uncrossings. For Jews languishing in displaced persons camps two years after the end of World War II, says Judith Brin Ingber, Mayim, mayim (Water, water) came to slake their thirst (Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance, p. 251).

Yasem midbar le’agam mayim (cf. Ps. 35:107) or Mayim, mayim, one of the earliest folk dances to have been created in the pre-state yishuv, was performed at the first Kibbutz Dalia festival in 1944 and has been danced since then at almost every Israeli folk-dance event. In the above description, author Brin Ingber reveals the main function of Israeli dance in the years surrounding the foundation of the State: to rebuild the Jewish community following its near-annihilation, while it was reconstructing itself as a nation.

Brin Ingber’s edited volume Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance offers a wide-ranging collection of studies of the encounter between Jewishness and dance. In the course of examining religious Jewish dances, Israeli folk dances and theatrical dances created in Israel, the contributors arrive at some surprising conclusions regarding the interdependence between Jewish and Israeli characteristics. The anthology also poses some essential questions regarding dance research, such as that of the boundaries between folk dance, social dance and theatrical dance.

Dancing in the Temple

In biblical times, recalls Brin Ingber, the Temple was the people’s central place for ritual and for dance within ritual. Later, Jews influenced by Graeco-Roman thinking displayed ambivalence toward Eros and the body. Christendom, Brin Ingber emphasizes, espoused a division between body and soul, condemning the body for its carnal appetites. It pictured the soul as pure but the body as damned (p. 8–11). [End Page 163]

Several of the authors deal with these themes. According to Shalom Staub in his article on Yemenite Jewish dance (Chap. 9), the Yemenite dancer must always bear in mind that he is dancing for the sake of religious obligation (p. 201). Zvi Friedhaber, who examines the Jewish religious custom of dancing with the bride at her wedding (Chap. 11), describes the custom of holding a handkerchief to separate the male from the female dancer, an ultra-Orthodox requirement (pp. 225–227). Jill Gellerman (Chap. 15) notes that according to the hasidic tradition, “redemption is related to the transformative power of simcha, or rejoicing, as expressed in music and dance” (p. 287). Yehuda Hyman, too, in sharing his personal relationship with the hasidic dances (Chap. 14), notes that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a legendary dancer who ascribed great importance to the spiritual power of dance. Rabbi Nachman’s custom was to end each prayer session with dancing, a custom retained by Breslov adherents to this day (p. 283).

Orthodox Judaism, however, is ambivalent in its attitude to dance. Giora Manor (Chap. 10) emphasizes that it is misleading to relate to hasidic dance as typical of Jews in general. In the past, Jews did not live in independent communities and had neither sanction nor space in which to hold their own dances, except for social dances at wedding, circumcision or bar mitzvah celebrations. According to Manor:

Judaism tends to deny the importance of form as expressed in aesthetics. Spiritual beauty is important whereas concrete beauty, especially that of the body, is suspicious, dangerous, and inappropriate. This ambivalence is much in evidence when the phenomenon of dance, the most physical of art forms, is discussed.

(p. 214)

A Nation Comes into Existence

In the 1920s and 1930s, the fledgling Jewish community in Palestine was establishing a framework for the emerging Israeli nation in all spheres of life, social, political, religious and cultural. In her essay “Shorashim” (Chap. 6), Brin Ingber relates to the roots of Israeli folk dance. She writes:

The dance was purposefully guided by a few great...


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