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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

 

The Palestinian Authority Should Be Held Responsible for Palestinian Refugees

April 25 2018

For aid and assistance with resettlement, most of the world’s displaced persons look to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Only Palestinian refugees and their descendants are consigned to the bloated, corrupt, and terrorist-infiltrated UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which aims to keep its wards in a permanent state of refugeehood. Alex Joffe argues that UNRWA should be abolished, and its responsibilities handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA):

The PA [should] be responsible for the Palestinians within its own territories as well as those who reside in other Arab states. It would [thus] be forced to act like a state and defend the rights and interests of its own citizens. Externally, foreign aid to a state can also—in theory—be subject to more rigorous donor oversight. Unlike UNRWA’s internal assessments, which rarely find problems except in the allegedly inadequate scale of aid and programs, external review by donor countries would examine metrics and efficiencies, spot corruption, determine the success or failure of programs, and assess the overall level of need. External review is designed to encourage self-sufficiency, not dependency. . . .

UNRWA is an iconic and sacrosanct entity. Without it, aid to the Palestinians would no longer be a sacralized demonstration of support for their narratives of displacement and return, or of support for the international system itself and for the UN. The Palestinian issue would be put into proportion while other needs and issues, like the genuine refugee crises in Syria and Yemen, would receive proper attention and resources.

Finally, by transferring responsibility, two cultural-political requirements would be addressed. First, a final-status issue would be at least partially taken off the table [of Israel-Palestinian negotiations]: that of who bears responsibilities for Palestinian “refugees.” It is the PA. Even without formally repudiating the “right of return,” which UNRWA supports and the PA cannot at this point conceivably abandon, the issue would be incrementally quashed in theoretical and practical terms.

The PA’s taking responsibility, and the end of UNRWA, would also go a long way toward forcing Palestinians to give up the centrality of refugee-ness in their own culture. They are not refugees, much less internationally supported ones. They are a people with their own nascent state.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian refugees, UNRWA