How Jews Writing in Yiddish, Hebrew, and German Discovered Their “Primitive” Brethren

Feb. 16 2023

To many scholars, it makes little sense to see the works of the various Jewish poets and novelists living in different countries, shaped by different influences, and writing in different languages as comprising a single category of “Jewish literature.” Taking a contrary view, Samuel Spinner argues in a recent book that, in the first half of the 20th century, Jewish writers plying their craft in German, Hebrew, and Yiddish can be fruitfully viewed as a single group, subject to similar trends. His book focuses on their engagement with the European aesthetic tendency called “primitivism”—best known from the paintings of Paul Gauguin—which in Jewish terms meant a literary and artistic interest in the folkways and lives of the unacculturated Jews of Eastern Europe. Jeffrey A. Grossman writes:

The figures Spinner treats include well-known writers—I.L. Peretz, S. Ansky, Alfred Döblin, Franz Kafka, Else Lasker-Schüler (who also produced painterly illustrations and performance art), Uri Zvi Grinberg, and Der Nister—as well as the photographer Moyshe Vorobeichic, probably less well known to most students of literature. In an epilogue, Spinner concludes with a fascinating treatment of the Berlin-based writer Egon Erwin Kisch, who, born in Prague into an affluent German-speaking Jewish family, was known especially for his gritty, socially critical reportages and for his sympathetic travelogues about the Soviet Union up to the early 1930s, and whose late “primitivist” writing stems from his exile in Mexico in the 1940s.

Spinner finds in Jewish primitivism a literary mode that transcends political ideologies or programs. Hence, one can identify primitivist strains in works by politically progressive writers like Döblin, Kisch, and Else Lasker-Schüler, as well as the work of a radical right-wing poet like Uri Zvi Grinberg.

Spinner begins his conclusion with a series of recent quotations from the New York Times and other news media, celebrating the ostensible “magic” of Borough Park and the “costumes” of the Ḥasidim, citing as well as Michael Chabon’s overrated novel The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, all described as “Chagallism warmed over, sometimes with a seasoning of postmodernism,” and all of which might suggest that the notion of “primitive Jews” is still alive: “but,” Spinner adds, “the self-aware, critical posture of modernism is gone. Jewish primitivism has receded to bland exoticism.”

Read more at In geveb

More about: Hasidim, Hebrew literature, Jewish literature, Yiddish literature

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship