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

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas