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27 Teves 5764 - January 21, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
Art Must Not be Immoral

Israel's ambassador to Sweden broke the diplomatic and artistic rules. In response to a work of art that consists of a photo of a smiling woman who murdered 22 people in a restaurant in Haifa, floating in a large pool of what is intended to represent Jewish blood, Zvi Mazel did not suffice with a polite diplomatic protest -- however strongly-worded -- but he actually ripped out some of the wires and tossed a spotlight into the basin.

The title of the piece is "Snow White and the Madness of Truth," and the murderer is clearly the Snow White. If anyone failed to understand the heavy-handed symbolism, there were posters nearby in which the Israeli artist and his Swedish wife explain why their heroine murdered innocent Jews.

Mazel explained that he planned his act in advance. He carried it out calmly. He was not carried away by the passion of the moment. Mr. Mazel was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "There was the terrorist, wearing her perfect makeup and floating on the blood of my people. . . . This is not a work of art. This is an expression of hatred for the Israeli people."

As undiplomatic as his act was, it was considered an even greater "crime" against the modern principles of art. "An artistic creation is absolutely protected by the principle of freedom of expression without any relationship to whether one agrees with it or not," said an Israeli artist in reaction.

The Israeli government backed its ambassador's action. The Foreign Minister said: "Freedom of expression does not give anyone the right to justify terror attacks against Israeli citizens."

Until less than 200 hundred years ago, it was generally accepted that art has to teach, that is, it must carry some moral content. This historically accepted principle is still valid. It is a dangerous and ultimately destructive perversion to lift any field onto a pedestal and say that it justifies itself.

Nothing is outside of morality. Everything must pass the test of meeting moral standards, and only then can it be held up to other standards. Morality is the true underpinning of the world, and everything else is built upon it. If something is morally abhorrent, then morality requires that it be opposed regardless of what else asserts that it has a right to exist.

It is a mark of the bankruptcy of our times that people think that a charge of "censorship" is a response to a moral attack. A exhibit such as the one in Sweden does not need the heightened moral sense of daas Torah to determine that it is not right. There is no moral system worthy of the name that will justify a sympathetic portrayal of a suicide murderer, whose contempt for the value human life extends to her own.

Once, the world accepted and understood universal principles of morality and applied them. Art had to serve moral ends, to teach and to enlighten. In those days, Jews were the conscience of civilization, with their moral awareness based on their nurturing relationship with Torah.

Now, the Israeli educational system, aping the Western approaches in all the worst ways, can turn out a man who claims the mantle of an artist allows him to proclaim his most perverted thoughts in public in such a work, as is generally accepted in the West.

For the world to function as Hashem intended, art, like everything else, must be a servant of morality, and morality, like everything else, has its source in Hashem's Torah, the blueprint of the world.


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