Henrich Heine’s Turn from Jerusalem to Athens, and Back to Jerusalem

June 29 2021

Born to a Jewish family in Düsseldorf in 1797, Heinrich Heine attended university, became part of a scholarly circle that founded the academic discipline of Jewish studies, converted to Lutheranism (obtaining, in his own words, a “passport to European civilization”), and lived for most of his life in Paris, where he earned his reputation as one of the greatest poets in the German language. Reviewing a new biography of the poet by George Prochnik, along with a new translation of Heine’s Hebrew Melodies—a cycle of Jewish-themed poems—Neil Arditi notes that “no biography of Heine could possibly satisfy the demands of every Heine reader. Arditi writes:

Heine is a particularly challenging subject for biographical study. A satirical sharpshooter whose own coordinates shifted with the occasion, he viciously skewered others for the character flaws he shared with them. There was something fundamentally performative about his personality. . . . The mask never came off unless to make way for a new mask, a new persona.

In France, Heine had held his Jewish heritage at arm’s length, casting himself as a “Hellenist”—a follower of Dionysus—and espousing a libertinism that was either feigned or largely hidden from view. In the opposing camp—“the Nazarenes”—he conveniently lumped together Jews and Christians alike, disowning both.

Yet something changed during Heine’s last eight years, which he spent bedridden and semi-paralyzed after collapsing at the Louvre in front of the Venus de Milo.

[S]uffering, he now suggested, had stripped him down to his tragic and irreducible identity as a Jew. “I am no longer a divine biped,” he announced in the Augsburg Gazette in 1849, one year into his long-drawn-out deathbed ordeal. “All I am now is a poor Jew sick unto death, an emaciated image of wretchedness, an unhappy man.” To the astonishment and horror of his former friend Karl Marx, it soon became apparent that Heine had also embraced the idea of a personal God, more or less modeled on the God of his fathers.

Was Heine’s “return to God” sincere? The question is impossibly vexed by his genius for irony, which never abandoned him. Even his illness is presented as a joke orchestrated by the Divine Comedian—a creator made in his own image. Heine dubbed him “the Great Aristophanes of Heaven.” If His joke made Heine wince, he could at least admire its superior wit. “Alas, God’s mockery weighs heavily upon me,” he wrote near the end of his Confessions. “How miserably I trail behind Him when it comes to humor, to jesting, on a colossal scale!”

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Conversion, German Jewry, Heinrich Heine, Jewish literature, Judaism, Poetry

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship