Well Versed

Cornel West: On Chesed, Hamlet, and the Jewish Prophet Amos

You may remember the uproar Cornel West, the Zelig-like black scholar, caused last year when he viciously attacked Obama on the liberal website Truthdig.  The big news was that West—a prominent voice in American public life, but especially within the black community—had turned against the man he spent much of the 2008 campaigning for.  But there was a lesser-noticed quote in that interview that raised many Jewish eyebrows.  Embedded in his criticism that Obama wasn’t quite black enough, he said that Obama seemed “most comfortable with upper-¬middle

Move Over Mendelssohn: Why Everything You Know About the Jewish Enlightenment Is Wrong

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, Secular Jewish Commentary in Town

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.

"Mein Kampf" Goes Back In Print--in Germany. Good for the Jews?

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: Why Her Fascist Politics Matter

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' Pusillanimity: Notes for L'Affaire Gunter Grass

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

Can Drake Save the Bar Mitzvah?

When Drake’s new video, “HYFR,” dropped over the weekend—in which the Jewish, biracial hip-hop superstar raps at a bar mitzvah—I was thrilled. Initially.

Bob Dylan--and Ron Rosenbuam's--Problem with God

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. 

The Passover Rap Video Everyone's Talking About, and the Story Behind It

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, and the Art of Provocation

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.

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