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Judaism And The Theatre

By NORBERT WEINBERG

THE RABBIS of the Talmud don't give theatre joinder by Job. As the scene progresses, the atti-
much credit. Theatre meant pagan Greek and tudes of the friends change from sympathetic to
Roman culture and licentiousness; it was "bread chiding, challenging and severely critical. Suffer-
and circuses," and gladiatorial combat. The prayer ing comes from sin, they say; Job has sinned and
of one Rabbi was, "Thank you God, you did not hence deserves his fate. Job, adamant, refuses to
set my lot among those involved with theatre." admit guilt. The act closes with the words of a
Jewish formal drama is sparse. The earliest fourth friend, who has heretofore stood by silently;
Jewish playwright was Ezekiel of Alexandria, who he concludes all the previous arguments against
a century before or after the Macabees, wrote the. Job with a summary of the thoughts of smug pro-
Greek version of Exodus in iambic trimeter, pat- priety and common piety.
terned on the style of Aeschylus. It must have been The climax is in the third act. God speaks out
a success in its day, for Eusebius, quoted him ex- of the whirlwind, to rebuke the self-righteous
tensively, four centuries later. friends of Job with an answer that is no answer.
Here and there, medieval poets tried their hand All is beyond the ken and comprehension of mortal
at dramatic verse, and at Purim, the Purim-spiels man. Job accepts the answer and his human con-
were popular. But,seventeen centuries passed from dition.
the time of Ezekiel until the first modern Jewish
There is an epilogue that reverses the prologue;
play was written by Judah Leone ben Isaac
the three friends are rebuked,. Job is healed, his
SommeTshut Badihuta Dekidushinan Elo-
family and wealth are restored to him, and he lives
quent Marriage Farce.
to a ripe old age.
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." NOT only "Job," but all of the Hebrew Bible is
The Bible is a richly dramatic work. One bibli- drama. Over each and every word are cantillation
cal book in particular has lent itself to stage pro- marks, dating to the first millennia, which denote
ductionthe Book of Job, which has supplied the how each word is to be chanted. The Hebrew text,
inspiration for Robert Frost's (A Masque of Reason in the narrative sections, is often poetic; the lan-
and Archibald MacLeish's JB. Michael Gelber guage is sparse and rhythmically repetitive.
took the, text of Job, with little change, and turned High drama was staged in the Temple on the
it into a drama, with prologue, epilogue and Day of Atonement. The High Priest, bedecked in
debate. ceremonial fmery, selected two goats for the cere-
There is a prologue in four parts. First, Uz, the mony, and cast lots: one goat for sacrifice in. the
nowhere land, with Job, righteous, upright and Temple, one as a scapegoat for Azazel. He laid
well to do. In the next scene of the first act, Satan his hands on the goat appointed for Azazel, and
challenges God: Will Job endure suffering and transferred the sins of the people to it in the sight
still remain loyal to God? The language is light of a packed multitude of worshippers. The goat
and ironic, as God and Satan play games with was led out, to disappear in the wilderness (by
human destiny. In the third scene,, Job's family later accounts, to be pushed over a cliff to death),
and fortune are destroyed. In the fourth scene, in and to carry away the collective guilt of the chil-
heaven, the ante is upped to include Job himself, dren of Israel. The High Priest completed the cere-
short of death; the prologue closes with. Job accept- mony of atonement by disappearing from view,
ing his, suffering and the appearance of three passing behind the drawn curtain into the Holy of
friends to console him. Holies; here, the only time in the year, he pro-
The second act has four scenes, the first three ounced the ineffable name of God.
are monologues by Job's three friends, and a re-
That drama has been retained in modified form
during the Yom Kippur Service. The events of the
Rabbi Weinberg (Beth Shalom, Whittier, Calif.) has con-
sacrifice are recalled through the Avodah. The
tributed to Conservative Judaism and various Jewish journals. scapegoat, sacrifice, and the pronunciation of the
Spring, 1982 27