And in their Death they were not Separated: Aesthetics of Jewish Tombstones in Eastern Europe

By Heidi M. Szpek.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

“Artworks detach themselves from the empirical world and bring forth another world, one opposed to the empirical world as if this other world too were an autonomous entity,” writes Theodor Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory. That pre-World War II Jewish tombstones are deemed ‘art’ is debatable; that the tombstones contain components of ‘art’ cannot be denied. That these components are capable of offering unusual responses to the viewer, which transcend the empirical, is how the viewer engages, if willing, in an aesthetic experience within the realm of art. The present paper first examines the ‘empirical’ components of tombstones (shape, facades, symbols, epigraphic detail, material composition; inscriptions; in situ placement, juxtaposition to other tombstones, and placement of cemetery). These empirical components of tombstones then offer a ‘path to aesthetic experience’ (John M. Anderson, The Realm of Art). It is within this aesthetic experience that the tombstone can ‘bring forth another world’, a world revealing not only pre-World War II historiography, which documents the story of familial relationships and community life, but also the pre- and post-Shoah world of emotions – love, hate, joy, sadness, achievement, defeat. It is this path of aesthetic inquiry beginning with the empirical components of tombstones that can transport the viewer into the realm of art, which in this case embodies the spirit of Eastern European Jewry.

Keywords: Aesthetics, Jewish Tombstones, Eastern European Jewry, Holocaust, Judaism

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.165-178. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.678MB).

Dr. Heidi M. Szpek

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Department of Philosophy, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington, USA

Prof. Szpek earned her Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies from the University of Wisconsin in 1991 with a special focus on Joban Studies. Since earning her doctorate, she has taught in Wisconsin and Arizona, until accepting her current position (2001) as a Professor of Religious Studies at Central Washington University (USA)where her teaching specialization is focused on Judaism, Western Traditions and Sacred Literature. Her research areas have continued in Joban Studies, but also progressed into Religion under Oppression, with a particular interest in the Holocaust and Eastern European Jewry. Her current paper derives from research undertaken in Eastern Poland (2003, 2005, 2007) and is part of a more extensive project which seeks to document and analyze Jewish epigraphs in NE Poland.

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