The Great Jewish Joke at the Heart of James Joyce’s Masterpiece, and Its Serious Meaning

Nov. 18 2022

While James Joyce’s Ulysses may be the archetypal work of Irish literature, its main character, Leopold Bloom, is identifiably a Jew. Howard Jacobson examines why this great modernist author would choose a Jew as the hero of a novel loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey and set in Dublin:

The great joke at the heart of the novel is that its Ulysses is no epic hero capable of withstanding the greatest privations and temptations, but Leopold Bloom, a peaceable, middle-age, masochistic, forgetfully Jewish advertising salesman, with a voraciously unfaithful wife and an inordinate appetite for the very gizzards of beasts and fowl which he would know his religion prohibited if only he knew anything about his religion.

Bloom wears his Jewishness, as he wears most things, including his masculinity (his wife jokes that bloomers were named after him), lazily and half-heartedly, his mind forever wandering from one encounter, one moment of recall, one memory of insult, to another. A visit to the pork butcher’s leads to Bloom’s eye alighting on a page from a newspaper about a model farm in Palestine on the lakeshore of Tiberias, which he thinks about as he follows a girl with “strong hams” out on to the street, which in turn reminds him of one of his wife’s affairs, which leads him back to thinking about Sodom and Gomorrah, and then it’s back to his wife’s “ample bedwarmed flesh.”

Homeric he is not; but a hero for our time he is. Ulysses is first and foremost a comedy of exile. Joyce wrote it while living in Trieste, Zurich, and Paris. . . . Behind the epic figure of Odysseus, in this novel, looms the shadow of the mythical Wandering Jew who, for having jeered at Jesus on the way to the cross, is doomed to roam the earth until the end of human time. . . . Those who are not let in, must find somewhere else to go.

This has been in large part the Jewish story for 2,000 years. . . . And for many novelists in the ensuing years, the Jew would become the perfect protagonist, the very model of humanity in extremis—homeless, tragic, patient, funny. But James Joyce got there first.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Exile, James Joyce, Jews in literature


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount