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How Arturo Toscanini Defied Both Mussolini and Hitler

Aug. 28 2017

When the great Italian conductor was dissatisfied with an orchestra’s performance, Terry Teachout writes, “he flew into screaming rages whose verbal violence would likely not be believed were it not for the fact that there were secret tapes made.” As far as his private life was concerned, he was “a compulsive philanderer whose love letters to his mistresses are explicit to the point of pornography.” Yet, as a new biography shows, he displayed a great deal of moral integrity when he was wooed by murderous regimes:

[T]here is . . . a parallel between the passionate conscientiousness of [Toscanini’s] music-making and his refusal to compromise with Hitler and Mussolini, both of whom were sufficiently knowledgeable about music to understand what a coup it would have been to co-opt the world’s greatest conductor. . . .

If anything, Toscanini’s hatred for the Nazis was even more potent [than for Italian fascists], above all because he was disgusted by their anti-Semitism. A philo-Semite who referred to the Jews as “this marvelous people persecuted by the modern Nero,” he wrote a letter to one of his mistresses in the immediate wake of the [1938] Anschluss [of Austria] that makes for arresting reading eight decades later, “My heart is torn in bits and pieces. When you think about this tragic destruction of the Jewish population of Austria, it makes your blood turn cold.” . . .

Toscanini felt so strongly about the rising tide of anti-Semitism that he agreed in 1936 to conduct the inaugural concerts of the Palestine Symphony (later the Israel Philharmonic) as a gesture of solidarity with the Jews. In an even more consequential gesture, he had already terminated his relationship with the Bayreuth [music] festival, where he had conducted in 1930 and 1931—the first non-German conductor to do so. While the founder of the festival, Richard Wagner, ranked alongside Beethoven, Brahms, and Verdi at the top of Toscanini’s pantheon of musical gods, he was well aware that many of the members of the Wagner family who ran Bayreuth were close friends of Adolf Hitler, and he decided to stop conducting in Germany—Bayreuth included—when the Nazis came to power. . . .

Toscanini never performed in Germany again, nor would he forgive those musicians . . . who continued to do so.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Hitler, Arts & Culture, Benito Mussolini, Music, Philo-Semitism, Richard Wagner

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount