In this volume we begin with Ian Young's intriguing appraisal of the current state of knowledge about Ancient Hebrew, the subject of his Keynote address to the Australian Jewish Studies Conference in 2013. Whereas previously scholars looking at the biblical text discerned development in the language over time, the discovery of extra-biblical samples of Hebrew writing, in inscriptions, the Qumran scrolls and other sources has apparently overturned the concept of an identifiable linear development of the language, with older documents showing what were thought to be more recent features, and others displaying words and grammatical features not found in the Masoretic text.
Rabbi Raymond Apple then looks at the history of the prayer for the government of the day, from the prophet Jeremiah's advice to the exiles in Babylon, to synagogues in Mediaeval Europe, the British Empire, until our own times in Australia. At times, the prayer may have been recited perfunctorily, while in other locations and historical periods, the heartfelt affection that Jews felt for the monarch is palpable.
Next we come to Richard Gehrmann's analysis of ex-Rhodesian author Peter Godwin's When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, a memoir which among other things recounts how Godwin came to discover that much of what he thought he knew about his Englishman father was in fact a manufactured identity; that in fact his father was originally a Polish Jew, whose mother and sister had perished in the Holocaust. He had assumed his English persona to spare his own children from the dangers and the stigma of a Jewish identity.
World War II and the spectre of the Holocaust also feature in Jonathan Goldstein's article on the Jews in the Philippines in 1942: their flight from Europe, their internal divisions and how they related to Filipinos, Americans and Japanese--at a time and place when they could not have anticipated either the devastation of European Jewry through "the Final Solution", or the eventual outcome of the war that had engulfed them.
Bronia Kornhauser looks at the state of Yiddish language and culture in Melbourne; once remarkably vigorous but now in what seems to be an inevitable decline. Kornhauser is clearly passionate about the language and offers a program to reinvigorate it, beginning by introducing Yiddish through songs to little school children. It is intriguing to contemplate whether such a scheme could work, but more importantly, will others who love the language rise to the challenge?
Ruth Sheridan's contribution is a fascinating look at a best-selling novel, originally published in German, which was translated into English and then adapted into a film. Sheridan analyses each articulation of this work of fiction, which creates sympathy for a woman who had been an SS guard at Auschwitz and allowed 300 Jewish women to burn to death in a locked church. The story also fosters a dislike for the two survivors, whose Jewishness is emphasised throughout.
Author Bernard Schlink justifies his characterisation of the Nazi heroine, arguing that he wanted to present an "atypical character" and to humanise Germans caught up with the war, suggesting a moral equivalence between the Nazi and the concentration camp inmate. As Sheridan notes, this focus on atypicality leads Schlink "into a 'distortion' of truth by means of literary stereotyping," and verges on the antisemitic.
Last year, Mark Aarons reviewed Leslie Caplan's Road to the Menzies Inquiry concerning Australian attempts to uncover and prosecute Nazi war criminals who had settled in Australia. In a letter to the Editor, Philip Mendes seeks to correct what he regards as Aarons's assertion that in the early 1950s, "the Jewish community terminated its campaign against German migration solely because of threats by the Coalition Government regarding Jewish migration to Australia and donations to Israel." Aarons in turn responds to Mendes's criticism. It's an interesting debate and I'll leave it to the reader to assess the merits of each side.
As in previous years, we have a number of book reviews, which have the effect of extending the diversity of topics considered in the Journal. Ran Porat has reviewed Shahar Burla's Political Imagination in the Diaspora: The Construction of a Pro-Israeli Narrative, which analyses the relationship between Israel and Australian Jewry, looking at the narratives that are employed to develop both pride and a sense of responsibility towards Israel, among Diaspora (Australian) Jews. Israel, he points out, is portrayed as the old-new homeland of the Jews, both as a powerful guardian for world Jewry and a refuge from antisemitism, while at the same time it is seen as under existential threat and needing Diaspora support to survive. This is coupled with the Zionist notion of the superiority of Jews living in Israel over those in the Diapora, and the latter's need to compensate through financial contributions for not making Aliyah, the most tangible contribution one can make to the strengthening of Israel and world Jewry.
The Jews of Andhra Pradesh by Yulia Egorova and Shahid Perwez, which I have reviewed, is a well written ethnography concerning members of an untouchable caste in India who have come to believe that they have Israelite roots and have accordingly begun to adopt Jewish practices. Many of the customs which were associated with their lowly status in the caste hierarchy, such as burying rather than cremating the dead and eating beef, are reinterpreted as signalling their Jewish past.
While some people are inclined to suggest that groups with lowly status in developing countries have been attracted to Judaism to escape from that status and India's poverty to move to Israel, as a country with a relatively high standard of living, Egorova and Perwez stress that the Yacobi brothers Shmuel and Sadok could not have begun the practice of Judaism or built their synagogue in a prominent location in Kothareddypalem if their family had not already attained some respectability and prominence through education. As yet, only one member of this group has settled in Israel and lives as a devout, Orthodox Jew. Judaism has not proved to be the escape route that cynics might have assumed.
John London reviews Olga Gershenson's Gesher: Russian Theatre in Israel--A Study of Cultural Colonization. Founded by Russian immigrants in Israel in 1991 and initially producing a classical repertoire in Russian, Gesher gradually begins to produce plays in Hebrew, the actors initially learning their lines in Cyrillic script, without understanding the words. London observes that the sense of Russian cultural superiority to Israelis displayed by the director and the artists in the theatre "make(s) a mockery of much of the (post-)colonial theory cited here."
Suzanne Rutland reviews Gabrielle Gouch's Once, Only the
Swallows Were Free, a memoir that traces the author's life in her native Romania under an oppressive Communist regime--where "only the swallows were free". Although her family migrate to Israel, and she eventually settles in Australia, the focus of this memoir is really on Romania--the repressive world she left in 1965, and the country she revisits in 2002, meeting up with a brother who had been left behind.
While acknowledging the value of memoirs such as this in filling in gaps in our knowledge of the past, Rutland cautions that memoirs may not be historically accurate, particularly when authors try to recall events long after they occurred:
Often dates and events are confused, or reconstructed with the passage of time. Where there are interviews with the same person that took place in the immediate aftermath of the Shoah and then later in the 1980s or 1990s, there have been significant discrepancies, which challenge the veracity of their stories.
Seeing the film Leibowitz: Faith, Country & Man at the recent Jewish Film Festival has inspired Sanford Shudnow to recall the impact that the work of Yeshayahu Leibowitz has had on his own understanding and practice of Judaism. In writing about the film, particularly the first segment on Faith, Shudnow combines material presented in the film with discussion of Leibowitz's writings and his own recollections of Leibowitz's character and his status as a revered public intellectual in Israel.
Shudnow stresses in particular Leibowitz's view of Jewish prayer as represented in the Siddur: not an outpouring of the emotions of the individual to God, but an obligatory "gift" to God, in a pre-packaged format.
Leibowitz we learn was ever blunt in expressing his views, without regard to the offence that it might cause others. We see this in his response to Harold Kushner's attempt to understand the existence of evil, and Leibowitz's attitude to the duality represented by the concepts of body and soul, which has led to the development of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism and Hassidism. Leibowitz describes the Kabbalah as the first of the "two great distortions of Jewish faith", one "which converted the obligation imposed upon the Jewish people into a vocation affecting the cosmos and God Himself."
Author Norman Simms has set himself the task of writing a trilogy of books concerning Alfred Dreyfus, his life, his thoughts and the role of Judaism in his life. In this Journal, Shaina Hammerman reviews the first volume, Alfred Dreyfus: Man, Milieu, Mentality, and Midrash, while Raymond Apple reviews the second, In The Context of His Times: Alfred Dreyfus as Lover, Intellectual, Poet, and Jew. The two reviewers have reached very different views of Simms's writing and his level of success in transforming the cliched Dreyfus into a fully fleshed-out human being.
Apple describes the book he has reviewed as "a remarkable, stimulating and indeed paradigmatic book", though he notes its "sometimes tortuous writing style." By contrast, Hammerman finds the book she reviewed "bizarre" and comments that "Simms's efforts to treat Dreyfus 'the man' and not Dreyfus as pure symbol likewise deteriorate when the book's language is replete with symbolic and poetic gestures and confusing digressions."
On one point at least, the reviewers appear to agree, namely the extent to which Simms puts himself into his writing, although here again they value this differently. Apple observes that the footnotes in the book he read are "(o)ften extensive, they are highly stimulating and provocative and give the book an added quality. They reveal much about Dreyfus, but more about Simms himself." And Hammerman observes: "Reading the book, I felt I learned more about Simms-the-man than Dreyfus-the-man."
Hopefully, such contrasting reviews will stimulate your curiosity to look into the books yourself.
England's Ethnic Cleansing of the Jews by Leonie Star is reviewed by Suzanne Rutland. This book looks at how Jews fared in England during the Middle Ages, from the time they came to the country in 1066 with William the Conqueror who valued their financial skills, till their expulsion in 1290. This was the first expulsion of Jews in Europe, but became a precedent for many more over the next two hundred years, culminating in the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497. The infamous blood libel, the claim that Jews would ritually kill a Christian boy and use his blood in making unleavened bread for Passover, was also an English "innovation", one which spread widely across Europe, and made its way into the Muslim Arab world in 1840 with the Damascus Blood Libel.
While Rutland is critical of Star's anachronistic use of the term "ethnic cleansing" in the book title, she is pleased that the "book will help to create a better contextual understanding of this period, as well as providing a backdrop to the development of anti-Jewish stereotypes that led to the tragic twentieth century events of the Holocaust."
In From Victim to Survivor: The Emergence and Development of the Holocaust Witness 1941-1949, Margaret Taft has gathered together accounts written by people who went through the Holocaust, commencing in 1941 when the "systematic mass murder campaign" against European Jewry began in earnest, and continuing with accounts written in the years following the war, while memories were still reasonably fresh in the minds of their authors. Reviewing the book, Esther Jilovsky is a little disappointed that most of the accounts provided are the testimonies of men and Taft does little to reflect on the different perspectives that women might bring.
As Jilovsky notes, by gathering together accounts from individuals from different parts of Europe, speaking different languages, each one with a distinct experience during those terrible years, Taft explodes the myth that victims of the Holocaust were silent about their experiences in the immediate post-war period. Here were people seeking to communicate the horror of their experiences to the world at large. Jilovsky observes the "world ... did not want to know about the fate of the Jews, rather than the commonly held view that the traumatised survivors did not want to tell of their experiences."
I am sure you will agree with me that once again we have plenty of stimulating reading in this volume.
Before concluding, I must express my apologies for the typographical errors that crept into Volume 26 of the Journal, and in particular to Rawdon Dalrymple, AO, whose name was misspelt a number of times, marring the quality of the publication. In my haste to bring the Journal out in time for the conference, regrettably I was less careful in my reading of the text than I should have been.
I have in the past been quick to pick up on such mistakes where they have appeared in other publications. I feel a little more humble after this experience, and hopefully, I will be more understanding when I see such inadvertent errors.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
|Previous Article:||Nadia Abu El-Haj, The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology.|
|Next Article:||What do we actually know about ancient Hebrew.|