The Biblical Sonnets of a Forgotten Jewish Writer

Largely forgotten today, the Vienna-born Jewish poet and writer Uriel Birnbaum (1894-1956) was perhaps best appreciated by an Austrian Catholic aristocrat Count Arthur Polzer-Hoditz, who published a brief study on Birnbaum’s work in 1936. Uriel’s father Nathan was himself a fascinating figure: a close associate of Theodor Herzl and devotee of Zionism—a word Nathan likely coined—he eventually broke with the movement, became a Diaspora nationalist, and then, after a religious awakening, a ḥasidic anti-Zionist.

The elder Birnbaum’s ideological peregrinations were matched by the younger’s artistic ones. Polzer-Hoditz described him as a “poet, artist, and thinker,” and by one estimate he produced “more than 6,000 poems, 130 essays, 30 plays, ten short stories, fifteen fairytales, fragments of a longer epic poem, twenty chapters of a lost novel, and 30 collections of illustrations.” Judy Taubes Sterman, whose father translated some of Birnbaum’s verse into English, examines fifteen sonnets he wrote about the first four chapters of Genesis:

Almost midrashic in their approach, they fill gaps in the narrative by entertaining questions that would likely never have occurred to even thoughtful readers of the Bible. How did Eve feel when she first laid eyes on Adam? What did Adam think happened to Eve’s body after she died? Who showed up for Adam’s funeral, and what were they feeling?

In “Cain at Abel’s Grave,” the poet wonders not about Cain’s emotional state at the time of the murder of his brother, but rather about how Cain would perceive the act much later, after years of restlessly wandering the earth. His conclusion takes us by surprise:

In Eden it was night. Rings of bright flame
Blazed from the swords of angels, whirling, vast.
Cain clambered strenuously till he came
To the wall’s summit—and leaped down. Steadfast,
Supported by his metal staff, he passed
Through Eden’s darkly sweet pervading scent,
Searching until he found the grave at last,
And spoke, as if in greeting, his head bent:
“Abel, I did not come here to repent
That deed of fury I could not restrain.
The weary centuries I underwent
As wanderer brought me—with new fury and disdain:
You never knew life’s hardships, nor life’s pain;
I readily would strike you dead again!”

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Austrian Jewry, Genesis, Jewish literature, Nathan Birnbaum, Poetry, Zionism

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy