“Indecent” Tells a False Story about a Yiddish Drama

In 1906, the great Yiddish writer Sholem Asch wrote a play called God of Vengeance about the owner of a brothel and his attempt to preserve his family’s respectability despite his profession—an attempt that ultimately fails when his daughter falls in love with one of his employees. When the play was eventually performed in New York in English, it was banned and some of the cast members briefly jailed. The play Indecent, which recently had its Broadway debut, purports to tell the story of this play and the scandal around it. While praising Indecent’s artistic merits, Edward Rothstein finds it ultimately both unconvincing and unfaithful to the dramatic work it sets out to celebrate:

Indecent distorts Asch’s play, presenting it as if it were primarily about tyranny vs. liberation. The tyranny is evident in the father who strikes his daughter and condemns her to join his troupe of trollops; the freedom is evident in the lesbian love scene. But Asch’s play has other concerns. Yekel, [the father], not only runs the brothel but his wife is a former prostitute. They bring up their daughter Rifkele to be untainted by their “sins.” The title God of Vengeance refers to Yekel’s fear that God will take revenge on him by luring Rifkele into his other world. And indeed, as his wife speaks with her, Rifkele, unseen, is being passionately kissed by the prostitute she loves. [And] the prostitute is seducing Rifkele to run away to another whorehouse (“You’ll see how nice everything will be. Young folks will be there aplenty—army officers—and we’ll be together”). This is quite different from the scene of liberation portrayed in Indecent.

Indecent also misses another issue. What bothered [Asch’s mentor, the Yiddish writer I.L.] Peretz [about the play] was not the brothel or lesbian sexuality. He objected to Asch’s distortions of Jewish belief in order to lure a non-Jewish audience, making Yekel melodramatically absurd. Indecent simplifies matters further: it isolates a single fragment of the play that strips Yekel of any humanity: he is simply an Orthodox tyrant—thus creating yet another distortion for yet another audience.

In a note posted outside the theater and supplied to critics, [the playwright] Paula Vogel emphasizes the effect Asch’s treatment of lesbian love had on her and suggests that the relevance of Indecent is particularly evident today given “an upheaval of fear, xenophobia, homophobia, and yes, anti-Semitism.” Unfortunately, such concerns were also grafted onto both story and history displacing Asch’s ambiguous, troubling drama with a contemporary political morality play. This is worth keeping in mind, though Indecent is so suited to contemporary sentiments and so finely executed, its pedagogy will likely go unnoticed.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Arts & Culture, I.L. Peretz, Sholem Asch, Theater, Yiddish theater

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security