Monday, July 16, 2012

"Renewed" Israel Museum

A BELATED REPORT ON THE "RENEWED" ISRAEL MUSEUM, by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times: A Haven National and Universal: The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Renewed. Excerpt:
... The tension between the universal and the particular that you can find here may even be distinctive to Jewish modernity. There are not many other nations that so readily submerge self-celebration in homage to the universal or are so wary of the particular; it is difficult to imagine the Louvre or the British Museum taking on a comparably self-questioning perspective.

This is a subtle issue, and balances shift in different places, and, surely, among different visitors. I found that in some ways the museum leaned too heavily away from the particular.

In the immensely rich archaeological narrative, for example, we never really grasp the evolution of the Israelite religion or its transformations after exile. There is a scrupulous sensitivity to the public’s varied religions, but also a careful avoidance of seeming too national. But why should it be wary? In a way, the museum makes a compromise; it lets the Land replace the people or nation; the Land seems particular, but we are told it isn’t.

Emphasizing the point, in one gallery examples of the region’s pre-eighth-century synagogues, Byzantine-era churches, and the beginnings of Islamic mosques are displayed: we are meant to see the remarkable similarities more than the differences.

So there are ways in which the museum is making an argument in its historical survey, and evidence too of debates about just what the balance between the universal and the particular should be. That may be the way the institution reflects one aspect of the national debates now taking place in Israel.
The renovations were completed a couple of years ago. Background here and links.