Kabbalah, Prague, and the Fantasy That Jews Could Magically Hold Their Enemies in Abeyance

Like Herta Müller, Leo Perutz (1882–1957) was a novelist born into a German-speaking milieu in Eastern Europe, although he was not a Romanian Catholic but a Jew from Prague. His books, writes Michael Weingrad, are “intricate puzzle-novels that contain mystery plots and paranormal elements, yet often borrow aspects of the historical novel.” Weingrad takes a close look at one of them:

By Night Under the Stone Bridge is mainly set in the Prague of Emperor Rudolf II in the last three decades of the 16th century and the first two of the 17th. This is the Prague of the labyrinthine and paranoid imperial court, and of the mystics, scientists, and charlatans who flocked there, from Johannes Kepler and Giordano Bruno to John Dee and Edward Kelley. It is the kabbalistic Prague of Rabbi Judah Loew, [the Maharal], and his legendary golem, and the Jewish Prague of the ghetto and the cemetery that has been a focus of the anti-Semitic imagination.

Perutz began working on By Night Under the Stone Bridge in the 1920s, but he did not complete it until the early 1950s, by which time he was living in Tel Aviv. His Austrian publisher was hesitant to publish a book with explicit Jewish content, and when it appeared in 1957—the year Perutz died—it made little impression.

To make sense of this work, Weingrad compares it to another historical novel by another German-Jewish writer of the same era, Lion Feuchtwanger’s Jud Süß, in which, Weingrad writes, Kabbalah represents

Jewish vitality, the possibility of a Jewish existence that is rooted in tradition, and might be given modern form in conditions of political freedom. . . . In By Night Under the Stone Bridge, by contrast, Perutz allows for an active Kabbalah, but not as something redemptive or a national project. Instead, Jewish magic is a dream in which the lethal pressures portrayed by Feuchtwanger are held in temporary abeyance.

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Anti-Semitism, Czechoslovakia, Jewish literature, Kabbalah

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas