Artist Ben Schachter, Advisor to the Jewish Art Salon, is taking a slice of the Talmud and seasoning it anew in his upcoming graphic novel, Akhnai Pizza, a reimagining of the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the sages.
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Schachter, a conceptual artist, is well known for his yearslong “Eruv Maps” project. The paintings, which used acrylic and thread on heavy paper, mirror various communities’ eruv maps. Used primarily by Orthodox Jews, an eruv map visualizes the boundaries within which it is permitted to carry objects on the Sabbath. Schachter’s “Eruv Maps” paintings have been displayed at museums and galleries, including the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s American Jewish Museum; the Hebrew Union College Museum in New York; the Yeshiva University Museum; the Yale University Institute for Sacred Music; and the Jerusalem Biennale in 2017.
He is also the author of “Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art.”
Akhnai Pizza is Schachter’s first attempt to develop a series of visual stories that explore how sages treated each other in Jewish literature and why that might be important to us today. Akhnai Pizza is his retelling of the famous debate between Rabbi Eliezer and others – The Oven of Akhnai.
Both the Talmudic episode and Schachter’s retelling offer lessons for readers, explained the artist. “The characters start out as peers of some kind. They might not have been friends, but at least they engaged each other intellectually, and then they have an argument and then there’s violence.” Between the destruction and excommunication “that sounds like an overreaction.”