Gustav Mahler, Genesis, and the “Judaic Aesthetic”

Sept. 20 2016

For years, Barton Swaim was baffled by the high esteem in which so many critics and musicians held the, to him, “muddled and perverse” symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Having at last found himself enjoying a performance of the composer’s Ninth Symphony, Swaim reflects on what he sees as a biblical theme in the work:

Perhaps Mahler was attempting to do something akin to what the writer of Genesis attempted in narrating the life of Joseph. It is a sprawling story that takes in greatness of character and inextinguishable human love, but also mischance, pettiness, hatred, stupidity, deceit, self-absorption, greed, and of course death. The story is an intensely beautiful one, including though it does many unsavory details one might have assumed a myth-making historian would leave unrecorded. It is the story (to put it briefly) of how one vicious and cowardly act of human trafficking turns out to be, in the sublime superintendence of God’s quiet governance, the very thing that keeps a tribe of families from destruction. “You meant evil against me,” says Joseph at the story’s end, “but God meant it for good.”

So much of a Mahler symphony is jarring and confusing and unhappy, but somehow he stitches its themes together in ways that always seem natural—his transitions never sound forced—and the whole, once you’re able to take it in, forms a thing of great humaneness and power.

I wonder the degree to which Mahler [a Jew converted to Christianity] had internalized this Judaic aesthetic, if that’s not an unduly literary way to put it. Many of the Hebrew Bible’s histories read this way: an untidy series of mistakes and betrayals and partial gains leads in time to fulfillment and rest. We know that as a child Gustav was an “excellent” student in Judaic studies, and many scholars have pointed out the Jewish influences apparent in his works, especially the Second Symphony, “Resurrection.” The analogy of his music to the life of Joseph is probably a fanciful one, but it is not preposterous.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Genesis, Gustav Mahler, Joseph, Music

Maintaining Security Cooperation with the PA Shouldn’t Require Ignoring Its Support for Terror

In accordance with legislation passed last year, the Israeli government has begun to deduct from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an amount proportional to what the PA pays to terrorists and their families. Last year, a similar law went into effect in the U.S., suspending all payments to the PA so long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, has retaliated by refusing to accept any tax revenue collected by Israel—raising concerns that the PA will become insolvent and collapse—while insisting that payments to terrorists and their families are sacrosanct. To Yossi Kuperwasser, Abbas’s behavior amounts to mere extortion—which has already worked on the Europeans to the tune of 35 million euros. He urges Israel and the U.S. not to submit:

Abbas [believes] that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. . . .

[T]he PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that . . . the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. . . . If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’être for the PA’s establishment, as Abbas seems to be saying, . . . one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, Israel cooperates on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. . . . The short-term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation, [however], are of less value than the benefits enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long-term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, the promotion of terror, and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA. Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion.

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More about: Israeli Security, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror