Y.L. Peretz on the Judgment of Heaven and Earth

June 16 2022

Y.L. Peretz was born in 1852 in southeast Poland, where he would train as a lawyer and practice for ten years before being denounced by tsarist authorities for supporting Polish nationalism and socialism. He took up writing instead, crafting memorable plays, poems, and folk tales, through which, as Goldie Morgentaler notes, he strove to “hold up a mirror to a dispirited and persecuted people in which they might see the beauty and wisdom of their own collective soul.”

Peretz’s preferred method in his best stories—he wrote only stories, as well as plays and poetry, but no novels—is to take a set of opposites: the sinner and the saint, the body and the soul, the virtuous woman and the lustful one, this world and the next, and to allow them to play themselves out, initially in accord with the reader’s expectations. Then he pulls the rug out from under those expectations, sometimes by reversing them, sometimes by the use of only one word or phrase that devastatingly turns the story on its head. The saint ends up in hell; the woman who spent a lifetime lusting in her heart after non-Jewish men is revered for her virtue after her death; the three emblems of Jewish self-sacrifice and martyrdom that the wandering soul presents to the Gate Keeper in “The Three Presents” as the price of admission into heaven are pronounced as beautiful—beautiful, but useless.

Peretz’s most famous story, “Bontshe Shvayg,” (Bontshe the Silent) is arguably also his most cynical. . . . On earth, Bontshe is a nobody and no one notices his passing. But in heaven there is a joyous to-do when Bontshe’s soul ascends after his death, because here is that rare thing, a genuinely saintly, meek soul, untarnished by even the slightest moral blemish. . . . The Voice of God therefore decrees that Bontshe’s soul should have whatever it desires; he has only to ask and it shall be given. With all the vast resources of heaven his for the asking, what is Bontshe’s request? Only a roll with butter to eat every morning. The story ends with the Heavenly Prosecutor laughing.

Clearly, this story is a parable. But a parable of what? Is it a call to arms to the disenfranchised Jewish working class, a criticism of Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitism, an idealization of the humility required of the religious Jew, or a critique of the meekness that never complains about abuse? Is the story a criticism of the religious assumption that the submissive life lived without complaint will be rewarded after death in heaven?

Read more at Tablet

More about: Afterlife, I.L. Peretz, Yiddish literature


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

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