Franz Kafka’s Jewish Endeavors, and His Strange Connection to a Hebrew Writer Who Didn’t Like His Work

On the Hebrew calendar, Friday was the 100th anniversary of the death of Franz Kafka. David Herman reviews a new exhibit on the Prague-born writer at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, which is “the largest exhibition of Kafka’s manuscripts and drawings ever shown.”

Some of the letters are fascinating. . . . His Hebrew notebook, glossary, and his letter (in Hebrew) to his teacher demonstrate his dedication to learning the language that connected him to his family roots. And there is the note to his friend Max Brod in which he famously instructs him to burn all his unpublished manuscripts.

Kafka’s family was not especially religious, but he was deeply interested in many different aspects of Jewishness: the new Zionist movement, Judaism, and Yiddish theatre. In the winter of 1911–12, a troupe of actors from Lemberg (then the capital of Galicia) visited Prague to perform plays in Yiddish. Kafka attended some twenty of the performances and the experience introduced him to the very different Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, which seemed more alive, part of a living tradition.

The Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon was born just a few years after Kafka in a shtetl not far from Lemberg, and deeply immersed in that living tradition. Jeffrey Saks writes:

Many readers and scholars have woven webs of connections between the two writers, a fact that endlessly agitated Agnon, leading him to state in 1962: “What is said about me and Kafka is a mistake. Before I published my Book of Deeds I knew nothing of Kafka’s stories except for his Metamorphosis, and even now, except for The Trial, . . . I have not taken a Kafka book in hand. . . . Kafka is not of my soul’s root, and whatever is not of my soul’s root I do not absorb.”

Despite Agnon’s warning, Saks weaves a new connection between the two writers: just a day after Kafka’s death, a fire broke out at Agnon’s house in Germany, destroying his collection of (he claimed) 4,000 Hebrew books and several of his own unpublished manuscripts, including a 700-page novel. In other words, Kafka’s wish for his oeuvre was visited on Agnon’s. This is an eerie coincidence worthy of one of the Hebrew writer’s own stories, if not one of Kafka’s.

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Franz Kafka, Jewish literature, Museums, S. Y. Agnon

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy