An Epic Novel-Turned-Celebrated-Play Puts a Jewish Face on the Supposed Evils of Capitalism

Originally written in Italian in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, Stefano Massini’s single-volume verse novel The Lehman Trilogy has recently appeared in English. Later adopted for the stage, it won much praise when it appeared at London’s National Theater in 2018. Both book and play tell, with a heavy dose of poetic license, the story of the Lehman brothers—founders and namesakes of the once-great investment bank was named—and their descendants. In Massini’s hands, their remarkable rags-to-riches story becomes what Adam Kirsch calls a “didactic pageant about capitalism, America, modernity—and Jewishness, which plays an unsavory role in the proceedings.” Kirsch writes:

The Lehman Trilogy draws [an] equation between Judaism and capitalism, repeatedly using the imagery and vocabulary of one to describe the other. This tendency was toned down somewhat in Sam Mendes’s version of the play at the National Theatre, but in the novel, it is unavoidable. . . . The New York Stock Exchange is “a synagogue/ with ceilings higher than a synagogue.” Lehman Brothers’ publicity strategy is “the bank’s new Talmud.” Business successes are greeted with cries of “Barukh HaShem,” and at the end of the book, the ghosts of Lehmans past gather to recite kaddish for their dead bank. “This is the famous Wall-Street tribe/ bloodthirsty, cruel people/ known for their human sacrifices,” says a figure in a dream-scene parody of King Kong, with Bobbie Lehman playing the role of the ape.

Massini seems to intend such conflations of Judaism and capitalism as a critique of the latter rather than the former. In The Lehman Trilogy, Jewish practice is one of the humane things that melts into air under capitalism; for instance, full-fledged mourning in the family’s early years shrinks to a perfunctory moment of silence in the later ones. Massini is a Catholic, but he prides himself on his Jewish knowledge, referring to mourning as “shiva and sh’loshim” and giving most chapters Hebrew or Yiddish titles. . . . But these signs of affection for Judaism strike a discordant note in a story that refurbishes the old tropes of left-wing anti-Semitism for a new audience.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Finance, Theater


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship