File puptcrit/puptcrit.0412, message 39

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Date: Sat, 4 Dec 2004 22:13:22 -0000
Subject: [Puptcrit] Jewish puppetry

Not only is there little in the way of puppetry traditionally in Judaism,
until the 18th century there was little in the way of theatre of any sort
(see The
Purim Spiel, a festive annual play dealing (often satirically) on characters
and situations of the Book of Esther, is a relatively recent Eastern
European development.

Today, puppetry is of course alive and well in Israel, and there have been a
number of important Jewish shadow puppet productions in NYC based on the
Haggadah, the Book of Esther etc. I have also combined Jewish, Islamic and
Christian texts in my wayang kulit productions of Adam, Seth, Noah and

In my Puppets, Masks and Performing Objects seminar this semester, I
discussed the The Biblical Hebrew word teraphim, which according to some
commentators at least, appears to refer to some sort of automaton. Teraphim
crop up twice in the Hebrew scriptures. Genesis XXXI describes Rachel
stealing teraphim from her father Laban, putting these on her camel and
sitting down on them to avoid detection. They also appear again in the first
book of Samuel, 'where Michal, the daughter of Saul, places' a Teraphim that
appears like a person 'in David's bed in order to conceal his escape from
her enraged father.' Teraphim were used for divination, and some
commentators depict them as human-like manikins that had the ability to
speak on their own accord.

One exegetical tract, describing Pagan (NOT Jewish) teraphim, states that
'the teraphim were made of the head of a man, a first-born, which, after the
man had been slain, was shaved and then salted and spiced. After a golden
plate on which magic words were engraved had been placed under the tongue,
the mummified head was mounted on the wall, and it spoke to the people. This
legend is more fully developed in [a later tract], where it is said that
after the head had been displayed on the wall, lighted candles were placed
round it; the people then prostrated themselves before it, and it talked to
them' (

It is not surprising, perhaps, that medieval Jewish commentators considered
the Teraphim to be a sort of clock. These would be the automatons they would
be most familiar from-from the moving church clocks of medieval towns and

Matthew Isaac Cohen, Ph.D.
Dept of Theatre, Film & Television Studies
University of Glasgow
9 University Avenue
Glasgow G12 8QQ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44-141-330 6286
Fax: +44-141-330 4142

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