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Judaism And The Theatre

THE RABBIS of the Talmud don't give theatre
much credit. Theatre meant pagan Greek and
Roman culture and licentiousness; it was "bread
and circuses," and gladiatorial combat. The prayer
of one Rabbi was, "Thank you God, you did not
set my lot among those involved with theatre."
Jewish formal drama is sparse. The earliest
Jewish playwright was Ezekiel of Alexandria, who
a century before or after the Macabees, wrote the.
Greek version of Exodus in iambic trimeter, pat-
terned on the style of Aeschylus. It must have been
a success in its day, for Eusebius, quoted him ex-
tensively, four centuries later.
Here and there, medieval poets tried their hand
at dramatic verse, and at Purim, the Purim-spiels
were popular. But,seventeen centuries passed from
the time of Ezekiel until the first modern Jewish
play was written by Judah Leone ben Isaac
SommeTshut Badihuta Dekidushinan Elo-
quent Marriage Farce.
While Jewish literature lacks formal drama, it is
filled with drama. Jewish history is drama writ
large; it is. Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage."
The Bible is a richly dramatic work. One bibli-
cal book in particular has lent itself to stage pro-
ductionthe Book of Job, which has supplied the
inspiration for Robert Frost's (A Masque of Reason
and Archibald MacLeish's JB. Michael Gelber
took the, text of Job, with little change, and turned
it into a drama, with prologue, epilogue and
There is a prologue in four parts. First, Uz, the
nowhere land, with Job, righteous, upright and
well to do. In the next scene of the first act, Satan
challenges God: Will Job endure suffering and
still remain loyal to God? The language is light
and ironic, as God and Satan play games with
human destiny. In the third scene,, Job's family
and fortune are destroyed. In the fourth scene, in
heaven, the ante is upped to include Job himself,
short of death; the prologue closes with. Job accept-
ing his, suffering and the appearance of three
friends to console him.
The second act has four scenes, the first three
are monologues by Job's three friends, and a re-
Rabbi Weinberg (Beth Shalom, Whittier, Calif.) has con-
tributed to Conservative Judaism and various Jewish journals.
joinder by Job. As the scene progresses, the atti-
tudes of the friends change from sympathetic to
chiding, challenging and severely critical. Suffer-
ing comes from sin, they say; Job has sinned and
hence deserves his fate. Job, adamant, refuses to
admit guilt. The act closes with the words of a
fourth friend, who has heretofore stood by silently;
he concludes all the previous arguments against
Job with a summary of the thoughts of smug pro-
priety and common piety.
The climax is in the third act. God speaks out
of the whirlwind, to rebuke the self-righteous
friends of Job with an answer that is no answer.
All is beyond the ken and comprehension of mortal
man. Job accepts the answer and his human con-
There is an epilogue that reverses the prologue;
the three friends are rebuked,. Job is healed, his
family and wealth are restored to him, and he lives
to a ripe old age.
NOT only "Job," but all of the Hebrew Bible is
drama. Over each and every word are cantillation
marks, dating to the first millennia, which denote
how each word is to be chanted. The Hebrew text,
in the narrative sections, is often poetic; the lan-
guage is sparse and rhythmically repetitive.
High drama was staged in the Temple on the
Day of Atonement. The High Priest, bedecked in
ceremonial fmery, selected two goats for the cere-
mony, and cast lots: one goat for sacrifice in the
Temple, one as a scapegoat for Azazel. He
his hands on the goat appointed for Azazel, and
transferred the sins of the people to it in the sight
of a packed multitude of worshippers. The goat
was led out, to disappear in the wilderness (by
later accounts, to be pushed over a cliff to death),
and to carry away the collective guilt of the chil-
dren of Israel. The High Priest completed the cere-
mony of atonement by disappearing from view,
passing behind the drawn curtain into the Holy of
Holies; here, the only time in the year, he pro-
ounced the ineffable name of God.
That drama has been retained in modified form
during the Yom Kippur Service. The events of the
sacrifice are recalled through the Avodah. The
scapegoat, sacrifice, and the pronunciation of the
Spring, 1982