The Jewish Artist of the Week: Yael Kanarek

Happy Hannukah    
November 28 – December 4 2021
        כ”ד-ל’ כסלו תשפ״ב
Parshat Miketz מיקץ
Yael Kanarek                                                                                                 Without Me 
Piece Description:
The visual midrash grows out of Genesis 41. It captures a moment between Toseph, Par’ah and Elohin, that exemplified what Toseph learned about relating to Divine transmission—that in order for it to manifest, it needs to be communicated Biladai— “without her” It’s a lesson about “getting out of the way” of power, while remaining present for it.   

 Discussion Questions:
1. How does hearing the regendered biblical narrative change the story for you? Does it impact the way you understand the characters? Does it reconstruct ways you see power dynamics play out in everyday life?

2. The verses that are curved around the central verse, describe Toseph as a women with incredible powers. How does the phrase “Biladai”, Without Me, in the central verse interact with the verses surrounding it? What is the more global conversation being had?
   3. Yael Kanarek draws on many Kabbalistic symbols in all of her work, one of which is the Sun and the Moon. What is the significance of having these cosmic bodies set in the background of this text? What associations do you have with the Sun and the Moon in your own life?

4. All of the characters, and places are renamed to a regendered counterpart. Some of the examples in this piece are done quite creatively like Osenath to AtaNes. What would be the regendered name you give yourself and the place you live? How does this change the meaning of the original name? Be as creative as you’d like.

Artist Bio:

 Yael Kanarek is an established Israeli-American multidisciplinary artist. A student of Kabbalah, since 2016, she has been working on regendering the Bible in response to the critical void of canonical text in L’shon Isha. On Simchat Torah 2020, she established Beit Toratah, for the ritual and study of the Regendered Bible.

Purchase this piece and follow the work of the Toratah project at:
Follow Yael on Instagram: @yaelkanarek

Artist-Rabbi Chevrutah Pair:
Rabbi Alicia Magal   
Sedona, AZ, United States

Rabbi Bio:  Rabbi Magal spent seven years in Israel working at the Israel Broadcasting Authority national television station and as a licensed tour guide for adult and youth groups. She met her husband Itzhak in Israel on Kibbutz Maagan Michael during her work study Ulpan program. They spent several years living in Jerusalem and when their two children were small, they moved to Los Angeles where Alicia continued her work in the Jewish community. Rabbi Magal developed interactive programs and museum tours as Museum Educator at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles; worked as Program Director for Temple Emanuel, a large Reform synagogue in Beverly Hills; and served as Rabbinic Intern for Kehillat Israel, a large Reconstructionist synagogue in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. She received rabbinical ordination in 2003 from the Aleph Jewish Renewal Rabbinical Program and from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. Rabbi Magal served as spiritual leader for Makom Shalom, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Chicago before moving to Sedona in 2006 where she has been serving as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley in Arizona for the past 16 years.

Sermon of Rabbi:  

The Code Cracker: A Sweet and Shocking Commentary on Miketz
Based on the visual midrash of Yael Kanarek 
After many years of reading the story of Joseph approaching Pharaoh and interpreting his dream we all have an instant picture in our minds of that encounter, as many artists have depicted the scene through the ages.  This D’var Torah, however, will present a totally new and astonishing, and perhaps a bit shocking, reinterpretation based on the scholarly, imaginative, gender-bending work of artist and kabbalist Yael Kanarek. Yael has been collaborating for several years with Tamar Biala, scholar and author of midrash. Their vision in creating Beit Toratah,* an ongoing initiative to reveal the Feminine Divine in the Tanakh by reversing the genders of all characters. Toratah introduces us in parshat Miketz to a female Pharaoh, renamed Par’ah, and a female Joseph, renamed Toseph, in the land of Mitzraim, here called Metzerot. Each name has a new resonance, based on the Hebrew root, and expands our understanding of the potent energy of the name, the place, the new possibilities of each character. See the footnotes showing the transformation of the names of characters and places from masculine to feminine, or feminine to masculine. Yael’s representation of the encounter is no mere illustration of a female ruler of Egypt bringing a female Hebrew youth out of prison to interpret her troubling dreams of scrawny cattle eating fat ones or brittle grain consuming robust stalks. Rather the artist has used the letters of selected verses from Genesis 41 of Toratah in bright circles of warm yellow and ochre, suggesting sun, moon, and satellites orbiting a central core. These warm colors emanate from the powerful circle of the ruler of Metzerot (Egypt), a woman, Par’ah (“undone” in some way, moved beyond her usual boundaries).  The celestial globes remind me of Toseph’s youthful dream of the sun, moon, and stars bowing to her, and hint at the fulfillment of that dream when her sisters (yes, in this version of Toratah they will be sisters, not brothers) will indeed bow to their sister before recognizing who she is, and who she has become.  Some verses in English which translate the Hebrew curved lines stand at a perpendicular axis to the circumference of the main circle, suggesting rotation like a heavenly body in space. I can imagine this series of globe-verses turning and rotating as we glimpse different verses coming into view. I found myself turning my head this way and that to read the verses related to the meeting of Toseph with Par’ah. This is not static, but truly a dynamic encounter that jumps off the page! I noticed that the attributes Par’ah sees in Toseph are written in pink letters to stand out in the rotating spheres. I’d love to see this actually revolving so that different phrases come to our eye and attention.  Par’ah has had very disturbing dreams and wants Toseph to interpret them since none of her own women  advisors are able to do so. Toseph allows the “Ruach Elohin” – the Divine inspiration – to endow her with knowledge of the meaning of the two-in-one dreams and the wise advice that Toseph imparts about storing food during the seven fat years before the seven years of famine would follow.  Par’ah sees and hears what Toseph interprets and attributes to Toseph the quality of wisdom. She exclaims “Can we find such a woman with the spirit of Elohin in her?…no one is as smart and wise as you” (Toratah Gen.41:38-39, see below for Hebrew and English translation).We rarely hear such accolades spoken about women in the Bible!Par’ah wants the disturbing dreams resolved and explained. “Please help me” is her unspoken plea and her hope. Toseph responds that it is “without her” as she is only a conduit for Elohin answering Par’ah’s need. Par’ah sees the qualities of wisdom as within Toseph herself. As Toseph is presented to the people, they call out what they see in her or desire to see in her, exclaiming “Em Raka” (Soft Mother). Parah goes on further to name Toseph, Zaphenath Paanchi, which could be translated as “Code Cracker.” Indeed, Toseph is a code-cracker who interprets the enigmatic dream of Par’ah. Toseph has in her the light of Elohin and no longer boasts of her own cleverness and her own dream imagery but rather exclaims that it is “Biladai, without her,” just flowing through her from the Source. The man given in marriage to Toseph was named Atanes, “You are a miracle,” an anagram of Osnat from Torato. Others keep assigning these great qualities to Toseph, but she holds on to the truth she has finally understood that if she allows the prophecy, the dream interpretation, to flow through her it will be deeply impactful, but it is not coming from her. There will indeed be seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine, as Toseph has predicted, and now Par’ah recognizes the truth in the message, and empowers Toseph to carry out the necessary administrative actions. This Par’ah, ruler of Metzerot, sees the Divine spirit within Toseph and for that reason I saw this as a sweet depiction. Since we are seeing it between women for the first time rather than a male Pharaoh and a male Joseph, it has a shocking aspect as well that makes us revisit the scene in a totally new way.  Par’ah says that she is standing on the bank of the Te’or, which here could be translated as “I stand on the language of future light.”   In some way I, the viewer, also need to be a “code cracker” to enter this whirling retelling of the ascendance of Toseph after she had descended three times: to a pit, to slavery, to prison, and finally now has ascended and emerged into the light. When she protests, “Biladai, it is without me,”  it is not mere modesty… Toseph has truly learned that WITHOUT HER the power flows THROUGH HER. So imagine saying, “This skill, this knowing, this intuition is coming from another Source, and I am but stepping aside and not getting in the way with ego or boastfulness.  Do you see? Do you SEE?  If we spin the globes further it will point to the meeting with her sisters (in VaTigash) when she finally trusts them, banishes her women advisors in the palace grand hall, lets down her defenses, and cries.  The power comes through Toseph, and when she doesn’t block it and get in the way, then aha, there is prophecy! Alignment is created through the dream and its interpretation. Toseph’s phrase “biladai-without me,” is the key, and in the visual midrash by Yael Kanarek it is central, and yet the letters themselves are left empty, merely outlined and shadowed in the middle of the whirling globe. May each of us learn to move aside and not get in the way of the power flowing through us. May the Par’ah within us seeking answers allow the Toseph of divine inspiration, also accessible within us, allow the Emet, the true energy of Elohin to provide the answers to guide us on our soul path.  

The Regendered Bible / Toratah (Her Torah) is an ongoing initiative to rewrite the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, by reversing the genders of all characters. At first view, Toratah sheds a clear light on the deeply patriarchal social structures we live in. Beyond that, the narrative codifies women’s experiences in sacred terms and enables divine inspiration to descend through mother-daughter lineages, all within the language of the traditional Hebrew Bible. We discover new matriarchs in central positions, and meet patriarchs who nurture their daughters. New branches for commentary and midrash open up. When both Toratah and Torato (traditional) are placed next to each other, they create a complete “spiritual body,” a Torah Shlema. As such, Toratah opens possibilities for inclusion of everyone from those seeking the feminine divine to those searching for gender-fluid interpretation.

* Toseph, תּוֹסֵף, ‘She will add’; from יוֹסֵף Yosef (Joseph).
Par’ah, פַּרְעָה, ‘she disrupted’, or ‘repaid a debt’; from פַּרְעֹה (Pharaoh).
Elohin, אֱלֹהִין an adaptation from the Divine name אֱלֹהִים (Elohim, God). Elohin is a compound word with various possibilities: Elu hein ‘these are’ or ‘this, yes!’ also, includes the letters of the words Ayin- nothing, Ani – I, and Elah – Goddess. 
Teor, תְּאֹר, ‘she will light’; from Yeor (Nile river, ‘he will light’). 
Emraka, אֵמְרַכָּה, ‘soft mother’, from אַבְרֵךְ (Avrekh).
Zaphenath Paanchi, צָפְנַת פַּעְנְחִי, ‘(woman) decipher the code’; from צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵח (Zaphenath Paanea).
Ataness, אַתָּנֵס, ‘you are a miracle’; anagram of אָסְנַת (Asenath).

  Verses from Toratah Genesis 41 found in the visual midrash “Without Me” Source: 

AMEN Institute Happenings

 Jewish Artist of the Week Next Week:
Next week we will be featuring Ellen Holtzblatt, who studied Parshat Vayigash with Rabbi Bronwen Mullin. 

Creative Articulation Featuring Yael Kanarek and Rabbi Alicia Magal

On Tuesday November 30th at 8 p.m., we will be hearing from Yael Kanarek and Rabbi Alicia Magal about their studies on Parashat Miketz. Join us as we explore Torah from a radically new lens and get a peak into the creative minds of both of these trailblazers. Here is the link to the event page:

Yetzirah Circles:
The Yetzirah Circle is a monthly gathering where we open up an online zoom room for Jewish artists to work on their crafts in a shared virtual space. Join us on December 21st at 7 pm EST to meet kindred spirits and to partake in this Amen activity. Here’s the link:
 Heal Over Head Retreat:
We hosted a Jewish experiential weekend of healing, growth, introspection and creativity for young adults. Participants ventured to a paradisiacal estate in the scenic backdrop of the Pocono Mountains to gain access to deep healing, clarity and self expression through workshops led by skilled facilitators. Stay tuned for updates on when our next retreat will be.                  THE AMEN INSTITUTE 

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