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.

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Read more at New Yorker

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

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem