Arts & Culture

Springtime for Spinoza

By Allan Nadler

In April 1655, the year before Amsterdam’s Jewish community excommunicated him, Baruch Spinoza was the victim of a failed assassination. According to French encyclopedist Pierre Bayle, Spinoza was attacked “on leaving the theatre by a Jew who attacked him with a knife. The wound was slight, but Spinoza believed that it was the assassin’s intention to kill him.” In all likelihood, Spinoza was in the company of his close friend and Latin mentor, Franciscus van den Enden, known to be a passionate lover of the theater. Most accounts of Spinoza’s life append the story of this attack by noting that he wore the deliberately un-mended coat as a badge of courage until his dying day.Read More

The Yiddish Play That Bewitched Israeli Theater-goers

By Donny Inbar

More than the artistic peak of “The Dybbuk” or the moving tragicomedy of “Tevye the Dairyman,” another play from Yiddish theater repertoire has never failed to enchant theatergoers in Israel in the past 70 years. Surprisingly, the spell was cast by a piece that could easily be considered shund (trash) — naive, primitive, old fashioned, ridiculous. In fact, even the great Sholom Aleichem, Tevye’s literary father, was himself fascinated by this silly musical. This was also the first Yiddish play that was produced in America in the early 1880s, with teenager Boris Thomashefsky playing, in drag, the role of a poor orphaned girl. And this same shmatte was to make history across the ocean, among the Zionist pioneers and their descendants. And that’s not all: Unbeknownst to contemporary Israelis, a popular current saying can be traced directly to the play’s songbook.Read More

Jews in the Court

By Raphael Mostel

For years, it has been commonly believed that Jews were banned from England in 1290 and not allowed back until Oliver Cromwell lifted the ban in 1656. But new research, uncovered through means worthy of a first-rate detective novel, has revealed that not only were there Jews in the Britain; they were right under the royal noses.Read More

Ghost Town

By Noga Tarnopolsky

Just how (unconsciously, breezily) Catholic is Barcelona? Contemplate, for a moment, the ultra-popular 11 a.m. Saturday exercise class led by Xavi, a step-aerobics guru at the Club Natació Atlètic-Barceloneta. Barceloneta is a beachfront neighborhood that is slightly more than 100 years old and was originally built for dockworkers — once famously painted by Picasso — and now slowly gentrifying. Xavi, like a significant proportion of the club membership, is gay, and to all appearances not concerned by the particulars of weekend liturgy. But when he directs his class in a set of pectoral workouts, what he yells out is, “Okay, boys and girls, lie down on the cross!”Read More

Hannah Arendt, 100 Years Later

By Benjamin Balint

Islamic terrorism is the new totalitarianism. At least that’s the impression one gets from some Western commentators these days. In “Terror and Liberalism,” Paul Berman invoked totalitarianism in order to explain the strikingly modern ideology of Islamism. Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister, spoke of a “third totalitarianism.” This past February, Salman Rushdie, Bernard-Henri Lévy and others published a statement calling radical Islam “a new totalitarian global threat.” And last month, President Bush said that today’s Islamic terrorists are “successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century.”Read More

Power of Speech

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

I don’t know about you, but I’m no fan of the sermon. Much as I try — and I do try — to pay rapt attention to the rabbi’s words, my mind tends to wander far, far away from the subject at hand or else is completely taken up with cataloging the grammatical and syntactical errors that emanate from the pulpit. Mind you, I don’t fall asleep, but then I’m not exactly agog with excitement either at the prospect of being preached to. And in this, I’m not alone: All you have to do is count the number of nodding and bobbing heads in the sanctuary as the rabbi holds forth to realize that the contemporary sermon is often far more of a soporific than a stimulant.Read More

What’s in a Home?

By Elissa Strauss

Many of our contemporary Jewish writers use comfort to provide tension, creating characters who are often crippled, and sometimes haunted, by the relative ease of their lives. They live under the shadow of comfort’s flipside — apathy — and grapple almost exclusively with creating significance from their easygoing existences.Read More

Dylan’s Religious Revival: Modern Times and the Timeless

By Jay Michaelson

What would happen if Bob Dylan released a politically potent sequel to “The Times They Are a-Changin’” complete with blistering attacks on the War on Terror, the government’s creeping encroachment upon civil liberties, and the persistence of prejudice and discrimination?Read More

Northern Exposure: Mameloshn’s Unexpected Fate – in Sweden

By Rukhl Schaechter

In the weeks leading up to Sweden’s national election this month, the government put out public service announcements in the press, encouraging its citizens to vote. But one feature was hardly standard issue: The bulletins informed the readers how to get voting instructions in Yiddish.Read More

Unrest Brews at Rebbe’s Resting Place

By Nathaniel Popper

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the dirt roads on the northern edge of this central Ukrainian town had Jewish worshippers at every turn, transforming the site of a historic massacre into a place of dancing and prayer.Read More

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