Artist: I want to liberate Torah

NEW YORK — For artist Helene Aylon, it was a dream come true.

When Aylon addressed a letter to "Lea Rabin, Israel" last September, inviting her to see the artwork she had dedicated to Yitzhak Rabin, she never figured she would soon be explaining to Israel's former First Lady a work that was born, in part, by his murder.

Aylon's installation in the "Too Jewish?" exhibit making its way through museums around the country is titled "The Liberation of G-d."

On transparent pieces of parchment laid over the pages of the Five Books of Moses, Aylon highlighted in pink pen the passages that in her opinion sanction violence, are misogynistic or neglect the women's names in places where the men's names are listed.

"People project onto God what they think He said, but I don't think this is the way God wants things to be," Aylon said in a recent interview here.

In the exhibit, which opened last year at New York's Jewish Museum, stopped at San Francisco's Jewish Museum and is now in Baltimore, she put volume after volume of the Chumash (five books of Torah plus haftorah) on the walls lining a little space she constructed essentially out of Torah. Viewers are invited to leave written comments in blank books left for that purpose.

Many of the comments are laudatory. But others, from some religious Jews — including rabbis — are negative, even angry at what they consider her desecration of Torah. Aylon says she does the highlighting of the Hebrew and English text on parchment overlays, rather than directly over the page itself, out of respect for Torah. Panels of rabbis from each of Judaism's movements have gathered in most of the cities where "Too Jewish?" is on exhibit to discuss the meaning of her work.

After receiving Aylon's letter, Rabin wrote back to her, saying that she would be in Baltimore when the show was on display, and that she wanted to see it.

Earlier this month, as they walked together around the installation now on view in a Baltimore storefront, Aylon said, "I want to liberate Torah from the fundamentalists."

Rabin responded, "The one who murdered Yitzhak said, `I am doing it in the name of God.' Your message is, no one should do things in the name of God."

On a videotape of the visit provided by Aylon, she is seen gently altering Rabin's interpretation, saying, "No one should say, `God told me to do atrocious things.'"

Aylon was raised in the Orthodox community of Boro Park, Brooklyn, married a rabbi and raised her children in a community she felt alienated from as it grew, in her opinion, increasingly right-wing.

Aylon and her still-young children remained in the community for several years after her husband died. She later moved to San Francisco and Manhattan's Greenwich Village, though she often returns to visit her now-elderly mother in Boro Park.

She soon began creating the paintings, installations and performance pieces that have won her renown in contemporary art circles for the last 20 years.