One of America’s Greatest Sports Novels Tells a Deeply Jewish Story

Considering Bernard Malamud’s best-known book, The Natural, on the 70th anniversary of its publication, Rich Cohen calls it “the most American of Jewish novels and the most Jewish story in American folklore.” Made into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close, it is the story of Roy Hobbs, a wildly talented baseball player who becomes the star hitter for the fictional New York Knights before coming to a tragic end. The child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, the Brooklyn-born Malamud turned increasing to Jewish themes in his fiction after writing The Natural. Cohen observes:

According to academics, especially those who have taught the novel at the college level, the plot of The Natural is based on the legend of the Fisher King, the wounded monarch in search of the Holy Grail. . . . The legend was in the air in Malamud’s formative years. Richard Wagner based Parsifal on the legend, which also supplied the structure for T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”

And yet, although I agree that the structure of Malamud’s novel is the Grail Legend and that its settings, characters, and anecdotes are baseball lore, its sensibility is Jewish. The Knights’ desiccated kingdom is not Britain or New York. It’s Jerusalem. Roy Hobbs is not Perceval. He’s David, whose thrown stone was a split-finger fastball. As in the temple era, the path to redemption must be cleared by sacrifice. In this case, it’s Bump Bailey, who chases a fly ball from this world to the next. The final battle does not take place on the field but in the heart of one man, Hobbs, who, same as Jacob, wrestles the angel till his hip aches. As in the War Scroll currently on display in the Israel Museum, it’s the sons of light (win the game and walk away poor but righteous) against the sons of darkness (throw the game and walk away damned but rich).

And the bat?

It’s not Excalibur. It’s the Staff of Moses. Some even say that Hobbs himself was Jewish, like Hank Greenberg, Sid Gordon, or Al Rosen. It’s a suggestion based on one sentence that appears late in the book, a sentence that sounds like a signal sent on a frequency only Jews will receive: “[Hobbs] considered fasting but he hadn’t fasted since he was a kid.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Baseball, Bernard Malamud

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University