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Scrolls and Scandals: The Ritual Object as Stage Prop in God of Vengeance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 April 2013


Precisely because of its radical instability as a theatrical signifier, playwrights have seized on the prop as a tool for destabilizing the conventional symbolism previously embodied by the now ambiguous object. Although they cannot legislate the prop's impact, playwrights can seek to orchestrate the prop's movement through concrete stage space and linear stage time. They can also shape the audience's reception of the prop through dialogue and stage directions. . . . This is especially the case during periods of semiotic crisis, when the meaning of the object the prop represents is (quite literally) up for grabs.

—Andrew Sofer, The Stage Life of Props

Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2013

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5. A Torah scroll (Sefer torah) consists of the Five Books of Moses handwritten with special calligraphy on a parchment by a professional scribe (Sofer setam). It is then covered with a cloth mantle or put inside a wooden casket and adorned with much ornamentation. The scroll is to be deposited inside the Holy Ark in the synagogue (which in Orthodox synagogues is located in the men's section), and it is primarily used in liturgy. An addition or omission of a single letter in the text or even inaccuracies in the calligraphy or the spacing could disqualify the whole scroll, as can tears in the parchment or smudges that render the text unreadable or make one letter look like another. It is customary that when a Torah scroll falls on the ground, the whole community has to fast or give charity. Furthermore, putting the scroll in places that are considered debasing (such as the bathroom) or to have sexual relations in a room with a scroll in it are forbidden. (These circumstances, however, do not disqualify the scroll from future ritual uses.) Finally, although there is a commandment in Jewish law that one should write (or commission) for oneself a private Torah scroll (as Yankl does in the play), this is not always observed, due to the very high cost of a scroll. Instead, observant Jews sometimes join to commission a scroll collectively and then donate it to a synagogue. Though the Torah scroll can be kept in a private home, this is quite rare. Yankl's decision to keep the scroll in his daughter's room without intending any liturgical use of it is quite unusual.

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49. Asch, Got fun nekome, 32; “God of Vengeance,” 24. [Hereinafter, the Yiddish (Y) and English (E) versions will be cited parenthetically in the text.]

50. This breach is reminiscent of the midrash that describes a man who bursts into the closed space of a synagogue as profaning the daughter of God.

51. See also Solomon, 113.

52. Interestingly, it is Reyzl who refers in another scene to the Torah being defiled. Perhaps Reyzl, in contrast to Yankl, is simply able to differentiate between the metaphorical and literal use of this image.

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61. Ibid., 88.

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64. Ibid., 208–9.

65. Ibid., 209 (my italics). The use of the word “Bible” is slightly misleading here, as the Torah scroll does not include the entire Hebrew Bible, just the Five Books of Moses.

66. See also ibid., 201.

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75. But see also Langer, 121 n. 2.

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