Bach’s Religion and Bach’s Anti-Semitism

In his recent Bach & God, Michael Marissen argues that the great composer was a sincere believer and that faith animated his work far more than most scholars have assumed. Reviewing this and other books on the subject, Alex Ross pays special attention to the ways Bach depicted Jews:

The book that perhaps reveals more of Bach than any other can be found at the Concordia Seminary, in St. Louis. By chance, that organization came into possession of Bach’s copy of [the theologian] Abraham Calov’s three-volume edition of the Bible, which contains Luther’s translation alongside commentaries by Luther and Calov. Bach made notes in it and, in 1733, signed his name on the title page of each volume. The marginalia establish the fervor of his belief: no Sunday Christian could have made such acute observations. Bach singles out passages describing music as a vessel of divinity: in one note, he observes that music was “especially ordered by God’s spirit through David,” and in another he writes, “With devotional music, God is always present in His grace.” . . .

[When it comes to Jews, the] most troubling of [Bach’s sacred] cantatas is “Schauet doch und sehet” (“Behold and see”), which he composed [in 1723]. It meditates on the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In Lutheran culture, Marissen says, the fall of Jerusalem was thought to represent “God’s punishment of old Jerusalem for its sin of rejecting Jesus.” Calov quotes Luther to the effect that contemporary Jews are “children of whoredom” who must “perish eternally.” Unfortunately, it’s clear that Bach paid attention to such passages. . . .

Anti-Jewish rancor is carried over into the text of “Schauet doch.” . . . Bach’s music for [the passage treating the Jews’ punishment] is queasily unstable, with dominant-seventh and diminished-seventh chords preventing the music from settling in one key area. . . . It is a musical picture of wandering and banishment. Yet, Marissen concludes, this cantata is a poor vehicle for righteous anger against Jews. The aching dissonances of its opening lamentation and the peculiar instrumental elaborations in the closing chorale leave a mood of overhanging gloom, as if casting doubt on the notion that contemporary Christian sinners can escape the fate meted out to the Jews.

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Christianity, Classical music, Martin Luther, Religion

Israel Has Survived Eight Years of Barack Obama’s False Friendship

Jan. 20 2017

In his speech justifying America’s decision to allow passage of the UN Security Council resolution declaring it a violation of international law for Jews to live in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Golan Heights, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that “friends need to tell each other the hard truths.” John Podhoretz comments:

The decision in December by President Obama to abstain on the UN Security Council vote . . . marked the moment he crossed the finish line in the course he had charted from 2008 onward. The turn against Israel was complete. And, as he had when he began it, in farewell interview after farewell interview he characterized his assault on the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as an act of tough love. . . .

Which raises the key question: why [only] abstain [from the resolution]? If “hard truths” define friendship, then by all means they should have made the truths as hard as possible. If Barack Obama and John Kerry truly believe the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem is illicit, then they should have voted for the resolution. Instead, they took the coward’s way out. They opened the vault to the criminals and placed the jewels in their hands while wearing white gloves so there would be no residual trace of their fingerprints. The abstention was in some weird sense the mark of their bad conscience. They wanted something to happen while maintaining some historical deniability about their involvement in it.

In the eight years of the Obama presidency, war broke out twice between the Palestinians and the Israelis and nearly broke out a third time. In each case, the issue was not the West Bank, or east Jerusalem, or anything near. . . . The idea that the settlements and the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem are the main barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians was proved to be a lie right before Obama’s eyes in 2009, and 2012, and 2014. And he didn’t care to see it, because he is blinded by an antipathy he wishes to ascribe to Israeli action when honesty would compel him to find it in his own misguided leftist ideology—or within his own soul.

Israel has survived the horrendous blessing of Barack Obama’s false friendship.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Barack Obama, Israel & Zionism, John Kerry, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations