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

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


If Iran Goes Nuclear, the U.S. Will Be Forced Out of the Middle East

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in May that Iran has, or is close to having, enough highly enriched uranium to build multiple atomic bombs, while, according to other sources, it is taking steps toward acquiring the technology to assemble such weapons. Considering the effects on Israel, the Middle East, and American foreign policy of a nuclear-armed Iran, Eli Diamond writes:

The basic picture is that the Middle East would become inhospitable to the U.S. and its allies when Iran goes nuclear. Israel would find itself isolated, with fewer options for deterring Iran or confronting its proxies. The Saudis and Emiratis would be forced into uncomfortable compromises.

Any course reversal has to start by recognizing that the United States has entered the early stages of a global conflict in which the Middle East is set to be a main attraction, not a sideshow.

Directly or not, the U.S. is engaged in this conflict and has a significant stake in its outcome. In Europe, American and Western arms are the only things standing between Ukraine and its defeat at the hands of Russia. In the Middle East, American arms remain indispensable to Israel’s survival as it wages a defensive, multifront war against Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hizballah. In the Indo-Pacific, China has embarked on the greatest military buildup since World War II, its eyes set on Taiwan but ultimately U.S. primacy.

While Iran is the smallest of these three powers, China and Russia rely on it greatly for oil and weapons, respectively. Both rely on it as a tool to degrade America’s position in the region. Constraining Iran and preventing its nuclear breakout would keep waterways open for Western shipping and undermine a key node in the supply chain for China and Russia.

Diamond offers a series of concrete suggestions for how the U.S. could push back hard against Iran, among them expanding the Abraham Accords into a military and diplomatic alliance that would include Saudi Arabia. But such a plan depends on Washington recognizing that its interests in Eastern Europe, in the Pacific, and in the Middle East are all connected.

Read more at National Review

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy