eric herschthal

Huh?, an Israeli "West Wing"?

With a name like “The Prime Minister’s Cabinet,” you’d think this television show was yet another British drama, a “Downton Abbey” sequel starring, say, Winston Churchill.  But it’s not—no, it has nothing to do with Brits, but with, of all things, Israelis.  Yes, in a culture story today, The New York Times devotes a full piece to an obscure Israeli political drama, made for T.V., that even critics in Isra

The Oscars and Me: On "Pina" and Other Hopefuls

From a Jewish point of view, the Oscar nominees announced this week gave a lot to be excited about.  There was Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar’s nomination for best foreign film, with “Footnote,” about an intellectual feud between father and son, both Talmudic scholars.  There was “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel about 9/11.  And there was “In Darkness,” another nomination for best

How Bad Was the Inquistion? What Adam Gopnik Gets Right--and Wrong--about Our Jewish Nightmare

[Update: The book discussed in this blog, "God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World," by Cullen Murphy, gets a nice review in today's New York Times. Check it out here.]

Eugenics Today: Or, Guess What Nazi Germany and North Carolina Share

A couple of months ago, I wrote a story about the excellent and horrifying exhibit “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” now on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.  It describes how Nazi Germany took the pseudo-science of eugenics—or “racial hygiene”; attempting to create a purer race through breeding, sterilization, and eventually murder—to its extreme. Jews would eventually suffer the brunt of these policies, from sterilization programs to outright death in gas chambers. But many Germans with simple disabilities like mental retardation or epilepsy had their share of racial cleansing too.

Mahler's Ninth at 100: The New York Phil Gives It Its Due

Gustav Mahler was Jewish though not religious.  Yet he was superstitious.  When he began composing his ninth symphony, in 1908, he refused to name it by its number.  Many of his artistic heroes—Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner—died before they could finish their ninth symphonies, so Mahler thought he would out-do fate and simply call it by another name.  He dubbed it “Das Lied von der Erde,” and its one of his best.

Athens and Jerusalem: The Case for Knowing the Classics

In our secular, liberal age, the Bible and the classics often get a bad rap.  The Bible represents everything modernity is not—free inquiry, divested of hoary beliefs—while the classics are often snidely dismissed as the hubristic fantasies of aging, if not already dead white males.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close": Adorno's Ghost and 9/11

It’s probably impossible to count the number of film reviews that attack kitschy takes on the Holocaust like this: “an impossible movie that has no reason for being other than as another pop-culture palliative for a trauma it can’t bear to face.” 

Or like this: “This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies …and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling.”

Have Yourself a Hitchensonian Chanukah

I’m sure Christopher Hitchens would have no problem with me, an admirer, taking him to task for a shoddy piece he wrote about Chanukah a few years ago in Slate.  Hitchens, the eloquent atheist and polemicist, who died last week, at 62, had no problem with criticism.

The Military and Me: Or, How Jews Changed the Army and the Civil War

I recently started reading Eric Foner’s “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” which won a Pulitzer this year.  It’s a subtle yet fast-moving narrative about Lincoln’s evolution from a man merely averse to slavery to the one who would abolish the institution forever in America. Slavery in America is inexhaustible topic for historians, but a subject harder to come by is Jews in America, at least before the late 19th century.

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