How a Peerless Scholar of Victorian England Found Hope in Jewish History

Feb. 12 2020

In an encomium to the intellectual legacy of the late Gertrude Himmelfarb, the distinguished historian of British manners and mores who died last month, Daniel Johnson takes her understanding of what she called the “de-moralization of society” as prophetic in its anticipation of the “hollowing-out of Western civilization.” Yet, Johnson writes, Himmelfarb “never succumbed to pessimism.”

I believe her equanimity arose from a renewed immersion in and appreciation of the Jewish culture of her youth, a culture that always put family first and last. She announced this return to her roots with a short book, The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot, published in 2009. . . . George Eliot was, for Himmelfarb, a kind of heroine. Her fiction, of course, speaks for itself, though in the case of Daniel Deronda, Eliot’s last novel, what she called “the Jewish element” baffled contemporaries.

In just 180 pages, Himmelfarb takes readers on their own odyssey, a journey that transcends George Eliot and stretches from the origins of Zionism and anti-Semitism in 19th-century Germany to the [very different] tracts on Jewish identity of Jean-Paul Sartre and Natan Sharansky in the 20th and 21st centuries. En route, she investigates Eliot’s “initiation” into “the Jewish question” and Judaism itself, explaining how this notorious agnostic saw the role of religion for Jewish people in an unexpectedly positive light.

Himmelfarb’s magnificent homage to George Eliot, published at the age of eighty-seven, might have been her final word on the subject of Jews and Judaism. Not a bit of it. Two years later, in 2011, she returned to the fray with The People of the Book: Philo-Semitism in England from Cromwell to Churchill. Similar in scale but much wider in scope than her study of Eliot, this volume was Himmelfarb’s response to the post-9/11 “resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout the world,” including the UK.

She wrote it to counter the “lachrymose” view of Jewish history, which is in perpetual danger of making Jews into victims and their history a chronicle of misfortunes: “Surely, I felt, Judaism is more than the history of anti-Semitism.” Himmelfarb wanted the Jewish people to be defined by the qualities that had enabled it to endure.

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Read more at The Critic

More about: Anti-Semitism, Daniel Deronda, England, George Eliot, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Philo-Semitism

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy