Moving Talmudic Murals

17 Feb

By Eszter Margit |

The Sota Project by Ofri Cnaani

The image of two beautiful Israeli women kissing, the emblem of Ofri Cnaani’s Sota Project, is certainly an attention grabber. But the exhibition that opened yesterday at the Kunsthalle Galapagos has so much more to offer than a LGBT-friendly, feminist sisterhood interpretation of a controversial Talmudic text about jealousy, deception, guilt and ultimately death. Cnaani’s aesthetically appeasing video installation, a spatial narrative that surrounds the spectators by placing simultaneous images on every wall, succeeds in making an ancient tale of societal judgment and ritual humiliation relevant to our lives today. “I wanted to evoke the tradition of murals and medieval tapestries, that were the visual storytelling techniques in the Middle Ages,” Cnaani said, speaking to JewishArtNow.

At the 20-minute screening, the Israel-born artist successfully merged two conventional storytelling techniques; panoramic pictures and episodic, sequential narratives. Each wall-sized projection is visually rich and complete, creating separate landscapes without cuts, zooms or fades. Cnaani tells the story by putting these images in a beautiful, self-reflexive cross-commentary, synchronously moving along one another.

On one wall, the present day is depicted with an image of turquoise, pure water in a contemporary swimming pool filled with old ladies. Contrasting this on another wall is a dirty, drained pool, symbolizing the past and the destroyed Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This is where one of the beautiful, young sisters has to drink a liquid, the Bitter Herbs, proving her faithfulness and sisterly love in front of witnesses. The present and the past are merged in this fine interplay, which allows spectators to make their own interpretations and judgments of the story.

Addressing this idea of balancing the modern and the ancient, Cnaani explained, “I studied Talmud with Ruth Calderon, and realized that I’m fascinated with Jewish text, because it is a lot like mythology to me. The Sota story stood out! It was like a Hellenistic drama: very contemporary and very problematic.” The original Talmudic text was ambiguous and Cnaani’s version respects that vagueness by opening up the text to multiple, free readings, which are very much imbedded in the Jewish tradition. “I have decided to interpret the text as one of sisterhood and love, instead of making a feminist statement.”

Accompanying the installation, Ian Sternthal and Cnaani together produced The Sota Project, a high quality design book with serious text study in it. Said Sternthal, “We laid out the publication like the pages of the Talmud: with a hole in the center, texts placed around statements without hierarchy, in a complex, multilayered dialogue with each other.” Well known academics, writers and philosophers, such as Ruth Calderon, James Trainor, Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Elias Canetti, Noam Segal, and Joan Riviere all added accompanying commentary.


The Sota Project from Ofri Cnaani on Vimeo.

The Sota Project book is available at The installation will run at the Kunsthalle Galapagos, 15 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY through April 23rd, when it will move to the Rothschild 69 in Tel Aviv.

to Moving Talmudic Murals


Richard McBee

March 3rd, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I was wondering exactly what “controversial Talmudic text” Cnaani is referring to.

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