Ask anyone about the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, and the first person they’ll likely mention is Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). Few would disagree that Mendelssohn played a key role in the Haskalah’s earliest stages, attempting as he did to modernize Judaism in 18th century Germany and bring it in line with the broader intellectual trend of his time—that is, the Enlightenment, or what historians often call the Age of Reason.
Move over Talmud: there’s a new Jewish commentary in town. This week, the Posen Foundation and Yale University Press announced the publication date for the first in a 10-volume series anthologizing 3,000 years of Jewish culture and civilization.
For years, German scholars and the country’s most prominent Jewish organizations have argued that Germany should allow “Mein Kampf” to be published in Germany before the copyright expires, in 2015. It is not illegal to publish the book in Germany, but the state of Bavaria, which holds the copyright, had adamantly refused for decades, saying that the longer the book was out of print, the better.
Gertrude Stein’s collaboration with the fascist Vichy government was never a secret. But, until now, many have simply ignored it; or, to use the critic Frederic Jameson’s phrase, given over to the “innocence of intellectuals.” Stein’s avid support for Petain, the Nazi collaborator who headed the Vichy government, has often been written off as merely the tragic consequence of many a brilliant artists. What mattered was her prose, not her politics.
Dave Eggers, the literary wunderkind, almost mustered some courage. This week he refused to go to Germany to accept the prestigious, $50,000 literary award created by Gunter Grass—the Nobel laureate who recently caused on international uproar over his poem chastising Israel for threatening global stability. But Eggers’ seeming act of courage was more apparent than real. Essentially, he declined the award because he didn’t wan
When the Ron Rosenbaum was researching his upcoming biography of Bob Dylan—to be published as part of Yale University Press’s Jewish Lives Series—he came across an obscure quote. In the mid-‘60s Dylan had written an experimental novel almost impossible to read. But being a diligent journalist, Rosenbaum muscled through the novel (“Tarantula”) and found a poem that included these lines: “hitler did not change / history. hitler WAS history.”
That was all he needed to stake a provocative new interpretation of Dylan.
A couple of weeks ago, a Passover rap video—all in Hebrew, and with beat-boxing—went viral. It featured two fairly typical looking American Jews dressed up as Pharaoh, Moses, and a sleuth of other biblical characters. Then there were scenes of a Jewish girl in an Israeli-flag bikini; the two main singers playing poker in a retirement community; and then them again, rapping on a beach lined with skyscrapers. I thought, Wait, I know that place: Florida.
Ohad Naharin, the Israeli choreographer, is so synonymous with his home country that I often forget he did much of his formal training in the United States. In New York, in fact, at both the School of American Ballet and Juilliard. I get a vivid reminder of that this weekend, when Juilliard’s remarkable ensemble of student dancers performed his work “Secus,” from 2005.
For the first half of her life, the woman born Adrienne Cecile Rich, in Baltimore, 1929, lived the life you would have expected. She was baptized and raised in the Episcopalian church; her father was a medical professor at Johns Hopkins; her mother a pianist and composer. Adrienne went to Radcliffe and wrote poetry. By 1950, the kingmaker of mid-century poets, W.H. Auden, helped her publish her first collection, “A Change of World,” which featured accomplished if rather dull formal English verse—punctual meters, rhymes, etc.