well-versed

On Adrienne Rich, R.I.P., and Radical Transformation

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.

No More Questions: Leon Wieseltier and the New American Haggadah

If Leon Wieseltier would for once drop his surly, admonitory tone perhaps more people would listen.  For what he delivers in his scathing review of the New American Haggadah is certainly worth reading.  There are precious few people who are as learned in both Hebrew and English literature as he.  And that’s why, even if you disagree with his reading of the new Haggadah, you will undoubte

J'Accuse! Robert Alter on Nathan Englander, a New Literary Feud

When I saw that the new issue of The New Republic had Robert Alter reviewing a new work by Nathan Englander, I instinctively thought it’d be of Englander’s new translation of the Passover Haggadah.  Given that Alter is a widely admired translator of the Hebrew Bible, it was only natural for me to assume as much. 

On "Death of a Salesman", Arthur Miller, and Goldman Sach's Greg Smith

When Arthur Miller’s “Death of A Salesman” first opened on Broadway, in 1949, Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times’ chief theater critic, could not have been more enthusiastic—“masterly,” he called, “heroic” and “superb.”  It is safe to say that the same adjectives can be used to describe the current Broadway revival that opened this week.  Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the lead role of Willy Loman, brings renewed complexity to a classic American character who

On Peter Novick, Albert Abramson, and the Death of Two Feuding Holocaust Figures

This week brought news of two shocking deaths: the first of Albert Abramson, 94, an important figure in building the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  And then there was Peter Novick, 77, an historian who wrote a withering attack of the Holocaust’s undue influence on American Jewish identity.  The two would probably have had little to agree

Richard Taruskin and Classical Music: Good for the Jews

Perhaps the greatest irony of classical music is that, while Jews have excelled in the genre as both composers and musicians, they have left very little notable music with an identifiable Jewish strain.  Many have tried, to be sure—Leonard Bernstein and Steven Reich, to name two.  But both those greats will be forever famous for their non-Jewish work.

What Jews Can Learn From Jeremy Lin

If you have anything like a normal human heart, you have probably fallen in love with Jeremy Lin.  I have yet to find any criticism of the break-out New York Knick star—or at least any that doesn’t feel merely contrarian or just plain cruel. Almost every ethnic group seems to identity with his story too, and how couldn’t they?

My Problem With David Brooks (and the odd company he keeps)

Like many liberals, David Brooks is a conservative I can like.  But every now and then he falls in with the wrong conservative crowd.  And this week it was in his swooning endorsement of Charles Murray and his new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.”

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.

Obama Reads Israel: David Grossman's "To the End of the Land" and the Politics of a President's Reading List

This week brought news that Obama is reading David Grossman's novel "To the End of the Land" while summering on Martha's Vineyard.  It was one of the best reviewed book's last year, and that it focuses on an Israeli mother whose son is killed in yet another Arab war, is probably lost on no one. Certainly not Jews.

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