Jews Step Into ‘Dung’ Wars

Jews Step Into ‘Dung’ Wars

Next time, it could be a Sefer Torah with elephant dung dabbed on it.

That vision is what the head of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations says motivated him to denounce the “Sensation” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art this week and, as he said in a press release, “support those civic leaders who have questioned whether public funds should support this exhibition.”

But Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie says Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s move to cut the museum’s city funding in response to an exhibit “is a separate issue.”

Rabbi Yoffie, too, condemned the exhibit of controversial shock art, which features, among other things, a painting of a black Madonna with elephant dung on her and pornographic images adorning her. “I would not assert an absolute right for a publicly funded museum to put on any kind of exhibit it might want, in every instance.”

But Rabbi Yoffie said, “I believe you give the widest possible latitude to responsible museum officials. And you then must be prepared to endure the reaction of people who are offended — including my group. I understand this applies to Jews, too. Imagine a Torah scroll covered with dung, and how we would react.”

But in this case, said Rabbi Yoffie, the exhibit did not cross “a hard-to-define line” that would merit the government cutting off the musuem’s funds.

“He’s a better man than I,” said Ganchrow. “If God forbid, it had been a Sefer Torah with dung, you’d have 60,000 chasidim outside the museum.”

But Ganchrow rejected the impression his press statement left with many that he backed the mayor’s decision to cut off the musuem’s funds. “We’re concerned about public money going for this kind of ‘art.’ And in the big picture, a museum’s board of directors must be responsive to its public.”

Meanwhile, Alan Dershowitz, the civil liberties attorney, sees a broader danger lurking in the affair.

“Once you capitulate to the sensitivities of one group, you get into the business of total censorship. … Soon all you’ll be able to show is paintings of dogs playing poker; and then, the animal rights people will be offended.”

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