Well Versed

Caligula and the Jews

The tales of Caligula’s reign over Rome are so rich with gore, sadism and opulence that few bother even to check if they’re true.  That blithe disregard for factual accuracy is hard not to excuse, what with stories like this: one contemporary, writing in the first century A.D., wrote that the Caligula once had the father of a man he was executing watch his son die. Then, he had the father eat with him at dinner.  Other contemporary sources tell of Caligula’s alleged madness: he is said to have talked to horses, and insist that his own be installed in the Senate.

Hofesh Shechter Takes on New York: Israeli Choreography and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Hofesh Shechter often gets annoyed when people only see Jewish or Israeli references in his choreography. “It’s a very interesting, conflicted way the world sees Jews,” he told me a while back. “People [in England] refer to me as Jewish rather than Israeli. There’s this pigeonhole, this file that says ‘Jewish’ on it.” 

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.

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