Academic journal article Shofar

Hole in the Moon or Zionism and the Binding (Ha-Ak'eda) Myth in Israeli Cinema

Academic journal article Shofar

Hole in the Moon or Zionism and the Binding (Ha-Ak'eda) Myth in Israeli Cinema

Article excerpt

The biblical "binding" of Isaac (in Hebrew: ha-ak'eda: Genesis 22) is a motif that has been transformed and transcribed, both explicitly and implicitly, in Israeli culture in general and in its cinema, leaving its traces in a large number of texts. Zionism, like God, promised the land to the people and demands the sacrifice of its sons. This old-new myth has functioned as the inner code of Israeli society throughout its history.

In this paper, it is my retention to trace the functioning of the myth in Israeli culture in general and in the cinema in particular, as it changed from one that engendered general acceptance to one that aroused fierce protest. In the first part of the paper, I would like to define and illustrate the binding motif in its various transformations in Israeli culture. The main transformations of the binding story will be treated briefly in order to isolate the 1960s as the period in which the most significant shift in the perception of the myth took place. In the second part, I will attempt to pinpoint traces of the binding motif in a number of Israeli films, notably of the 1960s and the 1990s. The binding motif has been central to "national cinema." But, we may ask, to what extent did "personal cinema" and its cinematic practices succeed in casting off the heavy symbolic burden of Israeli history and tradition? It is, in fact, their failure to do so that constitutes the central thread of this paper.

Part I: The Binding of Isaac and its Manifestations in Israeli Culture

In 1971, the Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua stated that

the binding of Isaac recurs as a fundamental motif in our society. It seems that there are a number of basic symbols in our culture that will continue to accompany us for thousands of years more. This is what is so wonderful and so frightening about what are termed cultural symbols.(3)

The story of the binding of Isaac has been identified as one of the central codes through which Israeli society communicates with itself. It is rare to find an Israeli prose text or plastic work of art in which the father-son relationship is not directly or indirectly subordinated to the model of the binding of Isaac.(4)

The subject of the myth is a charged concept that subsumes a familiar set of protagonists and their interrelationships, based on the principle of substitution.(5) Every protagonist in the drama enacted in the symbolic setting of Mount Moriah may be substituted for another. All are merely synonymous units having an identical function in the same system; each of the protagonists is bound in the central paradigm of binding. God, Abraham, Isaac, the ram, and Sarah are all victims of this trial of faith. God has been forced by Satan's taunts to set the trial in motion. Abraham is torn between his duty as the father of the nation of Israel and his paternal feelings towards his beloved son Isaac. Isaac, in turn, would like to help his father succeed in his mission, but fears that his panic may be evident. The ram caught in the thicket is the victim for which Isaac is exchanged. According to the Midrash, the binding of Isaac also claimed another victim -- Sarah, who died immediately after. Whose trial is the most difficult? This is not easy to ascertain.

The myth of the binding of Isaac is the myth of the sacrifice of the son, told in conjunction with a teleological explanation that elevates the son to the status of victim through the act of substitution. The sacrifice is thus transformed from a mere arbitrary fact, aimless and useless, into a religious trial, an intentional act of belief. "The story's action, involving no dialogue between Abraham and God, has as its central action a divine voice restraining a human hand," as Joel Rosenberg would have it.(6) But there is a salient dissymmetry between the binding myth and its analogues in Jewish history: modern Isaacs are not always replaced by innocent rams. Religious interpretations tend to explain this dissymmetry in terms of eternal choice. …

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