(Gustavo Bar Valenzuela, Street Allenby Tel Aviv 2011)
Nothing less than the Zionist project, the material life of a modern people, seems to be hanging in the balance in the run up to the 2015 Israeli elections. Comparing Tel Aviv and the Babylonian Talmud, this remark in a recent article in Haaertz (you can read it here) by Amos Oz caught my eye.
“For me, for example, the city of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city, is our collective creation and is no less important, and perhaps more important, than the rabbinical literature that was written in the Diaspora, or the Jewish poetry composed in Spain. Tel Aviv is possibly even no less marvelous than the Babylonian Talmud. And it is just one of our collective creations here in the Land of Israel.”
Here’s what caught my attention. On the one hand, the plastic shape of a city and its life are dynamic cultural forms in their own right. Not too unlike a poem, a city is put together, made up of streets, cars, bars, signs, shops, grubby industrial zones, slums and the hours they create. On the other hand, the Talmud is itself an artificial object world, composed of streets and alleys, private and public spaces, doors and window, as such not too unlike a city.
Beyond good and evil, as an artificial structure, like a poem or a Talmudic sugya, a city and country are tough, fragile things, one no less marvelous a construct than the other.