The Prohibition Against Living in Egypt
Altogether the verb zakbar appears in its various declensions in the Bible no less than one hundred and sixty-nine times, usually with either Israel or God as the subject, for memory is incumbent upon both. The verb is complemented by its obverse-forgetting. As Israel is enjoined to remember, so is it adjured not to forget. Both imperatives have resounded with enduring effect among the Jews since biblical times. Indeed, in trying to understand the survival of a people that has spent most of its life in global dispersion, I would submit that the history of its memory, largely neglected and yet to be written, may prove of some consequence.
Only in Israel and nowhcte clse is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people. Its reverberations everywhere, but they rcach a crescendo in the Deuteronomic history and in the prophets, "Rernember the days of old, consider the years of ages past" (Deut. 32:7)."Remember these things, O Jacob, for you, O Istacl, are My servanr; I have fashioned you, you are My servant; O Israel, never forget Me" (Is. 44:21). "Remember what Amalek did to you" (Deut. 23:I7). "O My people,
remember now what Balak king of Moab plotted against you" (Michah 6:5). And with a hammering insistance: "Remember that you were a slave in Egypt...."
If Herodotus was the father of history, the fathers of meaning in history were the Jews.
History of the Temple Porten suggested that the Jews may have come to Elephantine as a military garrison in about the middle of the seventh century BCE, during the reign of Manasseh in Judah, to aid Psammetichus I in his campaigns against Nubia (cf. Lewy and Lewy 1968: 135) and in an attempt to dislodge the over- arching power of Assyria (Porten 1968: 119). This early date would have given the Jewish mercenaries considerable time to get established and set up a communal temple well before 525 BCE. However, it is also possible that the Jews came only after 597 BCE, the date of the first invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, when considerable numbers were exiled (2 Kgs 24:16) or even after 586 BCE, when the Babylonians returned and destroyed the Solomonic Temple. It was then that large numbers fled to Egypt taking the prophet Jeremiah with them (Jer 43:5-7). Such a date still leaves ample time for the Jewish colony to establish itself and build a temple prior to Cyrus' conquest in 525 BCE (Kraeling 1961: 142).
Maimonides of Egypt
.... there is a tradition18 that Maimonides signed his letters saying that he is one who "transgresses three commandments every single day" (the three verses mentioned above). Nevertheless, it seems that this was simply humility on his part, and that it was not actually forbidden,
Quoted in Kaftor Va'ferach, Chapter 5.
That Berlin has become a city bent on redemption—and that the Jew represents a key figure in this realm—is evident from the city’s “epidemic of Holocaust memorials” and other commemorative practices. Germany, like no other nation in Europe, has undertaken an admirable quest “to come to terms with the past” (Vergangenheitsbewältigung), and in this process, Berlin, where the extermination of the Jews was planned and carried out, takes center stage. The city’s Jewish population has experienced, in the past three decades, a considerable growth in size and diversification. Alongside the native German Jews and the Eastern European Jews who immigrated after the war, Berlin is now home to former Soviet Jews who came after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s, and Israeli Jews who have been relocating here in growing numbers since the turn of the century. Moreover, Jewishness is being staged and celebrated everywhere, from theater to klezmer to Jewish cooking, but this “Jewish revival” often feels less like an act of healing than some novel form of disfigurement—to put it in the words of the poet Paul Celan: “Sie haben mich zerheilt!” (They have healed me to pieces!).
Following more than forty years of photographic storytelling of Jewish life around the world, Frédéric Brenner spent three years exploring Berlin -- a stage for a vast spectrum of expressions and performances of Judaism. In his new photographic essay he portrays individuals -- newcomers, old timers, converts, immigrants and others -- who have made Berlin their home or are just passing through. Via a series of fragmentary insights into this incubator of paradox and dissonance, he reflects on conflicting narratives of redemption and gives light to an ever so present absence. Like a shattered mirror, these images offer a polyphonic, sometimes bizarre and disturbing reflection of and on a topography of displacement and estrangement in contemporary human condition, far beyond the story of Berlin or of Jews. Exhibition: Jewish Museum Berlin, Germany (03.09. -13.06.2022) / Joods Historisch Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Fall 2022).
“[It] felt like stumbling into a piece of street theater, a drama of redemption fit for one of the city’s famous opera houses, part morality play, part masquerade, part theater of memory—all performed above an abyss. […] Jewishness is being staged and celebrated everywhere, from theater to klezmer to Jewish cooking, but this “Jewish revival” often feels less like an act of healing than some novel form of disfigurement.”
– Frédéric Brenner in his essay on the exhibition ZERHEILT: HEALED TO PIECES