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 Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy