Donate

Joseph Roth’s Lost Empire and Its Jews

Jan. 10 2018

Born in 1894 to a Jewish family in the Galician town of Brody—once famous for training kabbalists—Joseph Roth moved to Vienna as a young man, where he launched his prodigious literary career. He went on to write fifteen novels, along with numerous short stories and hundreds of essays. Right up until his untimely death in 1939, he remained committed to the Austro-Hungarian empire, defunct since 1918, which is the setting of most of his fiction. Joseph Epstein, in a survey of Roth’s career, writerly abilities, and literary output, addresses Roth’s attitudes toward the Jews, exposed in a “strange little book,” published in 1927, called The Wandering Jews:

What Roth valued in the Austro-Hungarian empire was the fluidity it allowed its subjects, who could travel [among its many lands] without the aid of passports or papers, and its discouragement of nationalism, [a force that] worked against the Jewish people. . . .

Never other than unpredictable, Roth, that most cosmopolitan of Jews, valued the shtetl Jews of Eastern Europe above all. He valued their Jewish authenticity and felt that those Jews who had taken up the assimilated life in Germany and elsewhere and pretended to a patriotism that ultimately was [turned against them], “those rich Jews,” as he wrote in [his 1927 novel] Right and Left, “the ones who want more than anything else to be native Berliners” and who “go on celebrating their holiest festivals in shamefaced secrecy, but Christmas publicly and for all to see,” these were the Jews most deceived and hence most to be pitied.

The real subject at the heart of The Wandering Jews is the distinctiveness of the Jews. “Of all the world’s poor, the poor Jew,” Roth writes, “is surely the most conservative . . . he refuses to be a proletarian.” The difference between the Russian and the Jewish peasant is that “the Russian is a peasant first and a Russian second; the Jew is Jew first and then peasant.” Roth underscores the intellectual cast of the Jews. “They are a people that has had no illiterates for thousands of years now.” Not wishing to fight other people’s wars, “the Eastern Jews were the most heroic of pacifists. They were martyrs for pacifism.” . . .

Zionism was the best answer to the Jewish question for Roth, “for it is surely better to be a nation than to be mistreated by one.” The Jews “are forced to be a ‘nation’ by the nationalism of others,” and “if one must be patriotic, then at least let it be for a country of one’s own.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, Joseph Roth, Zionism

Being a Critic of Israel Means Never Having to Explain How It Should Defend Itself

April 23 2018

The ever-worsening situation of Jews in Europe, writes Bret Stephens, should serve as a reminder of the need for a Jewish state. Israel’s critics, he suggests, should reflect more deeply on that need:

Israel did not come into existence to serve as another showcase of the victimization of Jews. It exists to end the victimization of Jews.

That’s a point that Israel’s restless critics could stand to learn. On Friday, Palestinians in Gaza returned for the fourth time to the border fence with Israel, in protests promoted by Hamas. The explicit purpose of Hamas leaders is to breach the fence and march on Jerusalem. Israel cannot possibly allow this—doing so would create a precedent that would encourage similar protests, and more death, along all of Israel’s borders—and has repeatedly used deadly force to counter it.

The armchair corporals of Western punditry think this is excessive. It would be helpful if they could suggest alternative military tactics to an Israeli government dealing with an urgent crisis against an adversary sworn to its destruction. They don’t.

It would also be helpful if they could explain how they can insist on Israel’s retreat to the 1967 borders and then scold Israel when it defends those borders. They can’t. If the armchair corporals want to persist in demands for withdrawals that for 25 years have led to more Palestinian violence, not less, the least they can do is be ferocious in defense of Israel’s inarguable sovereignty. Somehow they almost never are. . . .

[T]o the extent that the diaspora’s objections [to Israeli policies] are prompted by the nonchalance of the supposedly nonvulnerable when it comes to Israel’s security choices, then the complaints are worse than feckless. They provide moral sustenance for Hamas in its efforts to win sympathy for its strategy of wanton aggression and reckless endangerment. And they foster the illusion that there’s some easy and morally stainless way by which Jews can exercise the responsibilities of political power.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Anti-Semitism, Gaza Strip, Israel & Zionism