Well Versed

The Jewish Conspiracy That Actually DID Happen...

Umberto Eco's latest novel, "The Prague Cemetery," has received tons of attention.  But few reviewers have added anything interesting in their criticism, other than the usual banal stuff (not necessarily untrue) of it being "boring" or "over-stuffed" or intellectually ambitious, but less successfully executed.  If you want something interesting, check out Neal Ascherson's take in The New York Review of Books.  He actually has plenty

The Nazis and Spielberg: The Coming Storm

Nothing quite gets the public going like a Spielberg movie.  Even if you hate his movies (not that I do), it's hard to avoid the excitement they engender. Especially come Christmas.  This year, Spielberg's big holiday release, you may have heard, is "The Adventures of Tintin," an animated 3D film about the legendary children's book.  And this year, I'm predicting a minor controversy about it.

No Good Jewish Poems? Said Who?

These days, there are many good Jewish poets. But name a great Jewish poem written recently ...

See? It's not easy.  The reason seem obvious: most Jews who write poetry today are secular, and so is their work.  But fortunately, there are exceptions.

Saul Bellow's Jewish Problem: The Lost (And Recently Found) Lecture

The New York Review of Books published the second and last installment of Saul Bellow's lectures on being a Jewish writer--and, boy, is it a complicated. At root, he's gives his take on what it means to be a secular Jew in the modern world, particularly if your Jewish identity is central to you.

The Jewish Questions Meets The Shostakovich Question

My colleague George Robinson wrote an insightful piece on the upcoming "Babi Yar" symphony being performed by the New York Philharmonic this weekend.  I've never heard the symphony in full, but I look forward to hearing it this Thursday night.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Jewish Book Awards

After Howard Jacobson won Britain's premier literary award, the Man Booker Prize, last year, for his very Jewish novel, "The Finkler Question," I celebrated with a heavy heart.  On the one hand, it was thrilling to see such a thickly-themed Jewish book--and an extremely good one--win Britain's highest award, especially at a time when even liberals are getting a little anxious about how much casual anti-semitism passes in polite company these days. 

Notes from the Grave: Saul Bellow's Unpublished Jewish Lecture

“Saul Bellow: Letters” had plenty of un-read Jewish material in it when it appeared last year. But apparently it didn’t have the astounding lecture “A Jewish Writer in America,” published for the first time in the New York Review of Books this week.

Maurice Sendak: On Jews, Death, and "The Bulls--t of Innocence"

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the author of the classic, sepulchral children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” has something of a potty-mouth.  But still it feels like one.  Maurice Sendak, the 83-year-old author of “Wild Things, as well as a new children’s book, “Bumble-Ardy,” his umpteenth, gave what is to my mind one of the best interviews I’ve read in a long time. Anywhere.

"Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die" -- And Who Wrote the Greatest Prayer Ever?

Most people look forward to the "Kol Nidre" prayer as the high point of the High Holy Days.  Not me.  I'm an "Unetanah Tokef" fan, the central prayer of the Rosh Hashanah service.  You probably know it -- it's the one with lines like "Who shall live and who shall die," "Who shall perish by water and who by fire / Who by sword and who by wild beast." (I'll past the whole thing at the end of this blog.) But few people pause to consider its origins or its real meaning.  To be honest, I haven't ruminated on those things

Humanism: Or, What's Missing From Orthodox Judaism

When you hear the word "humanism" today, you probably think it's coming from some secular leftist.  But you'd be wrong, or at least, you should be wrong: Orthodox Judaism once had a healthy humanistic vein that Jews would do well to remember.  That is the argument put forward by Rabbi Shai Held in a provocative article last month.

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