I kiss it. It's instinctual. Since very little, I’ve been taught: Lift the book up, bring forward, press the cover to my lips, pucker, pull in, open, release - the faintest whisper of orgasm - though in my single digit years, I cannot know this.
Inside are holy words and it is fidelity to what these words carry that I softly caress. These words, black ink on white paper, the Talmud, written by male sages who praise The Lord, extoll His virtues, ponder His brilliance, reasoning, motives for the laws that He has decreed to govern every moment of life, that I have been raised, as my parents and grandparents and greats before me, to follow and revere absolutely.
All male. On the 6,200 pages of written word that is the Talmud, the collection of Jewish laws and traditions, there is not one direct female voice. The years were 200 BCE to 500 CE when the Talmud was codified and to be fair, perhaps nowhere during this time period were there female voices overt in a position of authority. Still, as ancient as the Talmud is, the contents mandated my life and as a female they granted me no power. They were also off-limits since access to the Talmud was men only. So when I came to stand at the fork in the road, the choice to leave Judaism or have my spirit die, I chose the former.
It's decades later, the year 2015 in my studio in Bed-Stuy. After painting large abstract canvases with encoded narratives, I'm about to take the plunge and wrestle with, reveal overtly, recognizable symbols.
I Rip (a page of the Talmud off the book spine).
I Tear it. Fold it. Wet it. Curl it. Stack it. Dry. Uncurl.
This form I'm creating, I call it a Talmud Dred.
Talmud Dred. By manipulating the Talmud pages, I’m taking ownership, inserting the feminine where previously the right to have a voice, be heard was denied me. By asserting my right to this voice, I form a space where I can be safe inside my heritage, and so return. Safe, I can open my borders of who
I call my community.
Sara Klar, 2015