One of the Greatest Yiddish Satirists Imagines Spinoza in Contemporary Warsaw

July 27 2020

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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy