One of the Greatest Yiddish Satirists Imagines Spinoza in Contemporary Warsaw

For Yiddish writers of the early 20th century, the Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza was a natural hero, who, like themselves, had rejected Jewish tradition in pursuit of broader intellectual horizons, but had never become part of Gentile society. The Yiddish poet Melekh Ravitch produced a cycle of poems based on Spinoza’s Ethics in 1918, and Isaac Bashevis Singer would later create Spinoza-obsessed characters in “The Spinoza of Market Street” and The Family Moskat. But the most biting satire of Jewish Spinoza-mania came from the pen of the brilliant humorist Yoysef Tunkel—known by the pseudonym Der Tunkler (The Dark One)—whose 1927 “Spinoza in Warsaw” imagined the philosopher returning to life and trying to make a living in Jewish literary circles. Herewith, an excerpt from a new translation by Allan Nadler:

Having rested in his grave for 250 years, Baruch Spinoza came to the conclusion that just lying around like that was without telos. Every now and then, one ought to get up if only to look around and find out what has been going on in the realm of undying eternity.

He immediately composed a brief letter to Melech Ravitch. . . . Within days Spinoza found himself hanging around in [Warsaw’s Jewish] Literary Club, schmoozing with its members, every now and then bumming a cigarette in exchange for bringing personal regards from Kant, Hegel, Plato, and Schopenhauer.

During the evenings, he would attend lectures about Spinoza; he would sit, listen, and shrug. Hearing all that was being said about Spinoza but without being able to comprehend what anyone was going on about, simply unable to take it all in with his limited imagination. He did try to intervene a few times in order to insist that he never wrote this, and never intended that. However, the chairmen always stifled him: “Calm down, Mister Spinoza! You’ve been a dust-dweller for the past 250 years, so you must have forgotten what you wrote. When we scholars make a statement, we know of what we speak.”

And so, Spinoza endeavored to receive, at the minimum, a modest honorarium, a cut from the ticket sales for all these many Spinoza-soirées and lectures. . . . The least they could do was help him out. . . . After all, during the entire period that he had remained dead, he didn’t have any need to approach anybody, but now that he had arisen, he required something modest, just in order to live. The community’s “board” answered that they were in no position to give him any money; moreover, surely all the publicity they were giving him should be enough. If not, let him go to the Union of Opticians.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Benedict Spinoza, Polish Jewry, Satire, Yiddish literature


While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy