Tuesday, July 16th | 13 Tammuz 5779

May 15, 2017 12:47 pm

New York Times Fashion Critic Mangles Exodus Narrative

avatar by Ira Stoll


A wadi in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Photo: Florian Prischl via Wikimedia Commons.

A column by a New York Times fashion critic last week reported on a runway show by Christian Dior in the Santa Monica Mountains outside of Los Angeles.

The Times inaccurately characterized the site as a desert. But what concerns us here is the strange leap that the newspaper column then took into the biblical narrative of the Children of Israel:

To many, after all, the idea of wandering in the desert — even catwalking in the desert, for that matter — is inextricably entwined with the idea of expulsion: being forced away from one’s home and left to fend for oneself until a new sanctuary is found (see: Exodus).

This is an inaccurate characterization of the Exodus in at least three respects.

First, the reference to “being forced away.”

The Jews weren’t “forced away” from Egypt in the Exodus. Rather, Pharaoh did not want to let us leave, even after Moses repeatedly asked for permission to go. When we did leave, we did so voluntarily, of our own free will, so happy to slip the bonds of slavery that we sang with joy and gratitude.

Second, the reference to going “away from one’s home.” The “home” of the Jews isn’t Egypt but Israel. We were in exile in Egypt. Exodus began our redemption and return to our home in the land of Abraham.

Finally, the reference to being “left to fend for oneself.” The Exodus story, with its reference to the parting of the Red Sea, to being guided by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night, and to being nourished by manna, makes clear that far from being abandoned by the divine presence, the Children of Israel were protected by it throughout their journey.

In an interview some years ago, the Times critic who wrote the Exodus paragraph, Vanessa Friedman, referred to herself as “a Jewish American, someone who has a particularly truncated history going back two generations.”

It’s a peculiar formulation, because other Jews — including the “wise son” of the Passover Seder — see ourselves as having a history that long pre-dates our arrival in America, and that stretches all the way back to the Exodus itself. Perhaps if Ms. Friedman thought of herself as having been there with us, she’d have conveyed to her Times readers a different, more accurate account of the Exodus story.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.


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