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

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?

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Read more at Tablet

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

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

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