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For European author, Hebrew culture existed outside Zionism

Where is the center of Jewish identity? Israel or the Diaspora? Can we have a thriving Hebrew language and culture without a Jewish majority country?

World Jewry seems to be standing at a critical junction in history. While more than half of us still remain in the Diaspora, intermarriage will probably tip the balance towards Israel in the next two decades. Ironically, Israel is pursuing expansionist and settlement policies that will most likely result in one state, where Jews will be a minority, the Palestinian population the majority.

At the same time, the discourse surrounding Israel’s history vis a vis the Palestinians (including the Nakba), its current policies of expansion and occupation, as well as Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinians and other non-Jews is growing increasingly heated. Nowhere is this truer than in the Diaspora, where many Jews consider Israel the symbol of Judaism and the representative body of the Jewish people—politically and culturally—taking any criticism of the country as an attack on Judaism itself. Such a conversation is one-dimensional: being Jewish equals being Israeli or supporting Israel.

In his latest piece for Tablet, journalist Joseph Dana reminds us that there are other ways of being Jewish and developing Hebrew and Jewish culture without living in or pledging allegiance to a Jewish majority state.

Dana uses the life and work of the Russian-born Jewish writer David Vogel as a lens. Vogel left the Pale of Settlement as a young man and ended up in Vienna. There he eked out a living while writing poetry, novellas, and novels in Hebrew. Although he wrote in what would become Israel’s national language, and despite the historical moment he found himself in—Vogel would die in a Nazi concentration camp—he was not a Zionist. He spent a year in Palestine only to return to Europe.

Vogel’s life story runs counter to the insistence that a Jewish-majority Israel is the logical center of Jewish and Hebrew culture and thought. As Dana points out, a number of academics consider Vogel’s work—which was written in the Diaspora and steered clear of nationalist themes—critical to the revival of the Hebrew language as well as the progression of Hebrew literature.

In light of this Diaspora Jew’s central role in the evolution of the Israeli national language, bold statements like A.B. Yehoshua’s claim that he is a “complete Jew” while those of us in the Diaspora are only “partial” Jews seem confused and short-sighted. Speaking to Dana, Shachar Pinsker, a professor of Hebrew literature at the University of Michigan, described Vogel as a writer who bore some similarities to:

…an early Woody Allen. He was introverted, consumed with sexual hang-ups and lived as a perpetual outsider, a character closer to an American Jew than a Zionist pioneer.

So where does the focal point of Jewish identity lie? Do we need to decide?

What is clear is that Hebrew language and culture does not necessarily need to exist inside a Jewish majority country to thrive — they simply need people like Vogel who are willing to engage with it, develop it, and push it in new directions. Vogel’s work serves as a reminder to those who have yet to embrace the inevitable one-state solution that, yes, we can retain a unique, rich identity even as a minority group.

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    1. XYZ

      How many Jews outside Israel can read Vogel’s writings in Hebrew?
      Is Vogel some sort of example for the anti-Zionists out there? Left Eretz Israel in order to be murdered by the Nazis. Similar to the story of the Kibbutz in the 1920’s (whose name I have forgotten) that decided to go back to their “true” socialist motherland, the USSR. Half were liquidated in Stalin’s purges and the other half by Hitler’s men. A true triumph for exilic Jews.
      Having a tiny minority of Jewish intellectuals writing stories, many forgettable, to each other with the vast majority of exilic Jews unable to read them is NOT “keeping Jewish culture alive in the exile (diaspora)”.
      As much as I don’t agree with almost everything A B Yehoshua says, he is right about the business about only being a complete Jew in Eretz Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Shlomo Krol

      David Vogel was a peculiar person. His writings were virtually unknown while he was alive. His death was also strange. He was interned by French as an Austrian citizen when the WWII broke out. And later “liberated” by Germans only to be sent to Auschwitz where he was murdered. His works were rediscovered by Hebrew poets of the 50-th, who sought new ways of expression and tried to break with the Russian symbolist and realist tradition, with syllabo-tonic rhymed poetry. They found Vogel and raised him as their “predecessor”, even though when he was alive, he was known to but a few dozens of intellectuals. His melancholic, individualist poetry written often with free verse, not rhymed and not metric, did not really fit them mainstream. When he came to Palestine and spent couple of months here, he couldn’t bear this spirit of collectivism and optimism and the local bohema and soon left back to Europe.

      The story of David Vogel was rather a curious one. He didn’t leave real trace in the future Hebrew culture, though the poets of the 50-th claimed he was their predecessor. He was like William Blake in this respect: unknown while alive and rediscovered when his time arrived, first English romanticist, whom no later romanticist ever read and who was discovered 100 years later by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

      The generation of the Israeli poets of the 50-70th was the one which really lead the modern Hebrew poetry to its greatest achievements. For these poets, Hebrew was their native language and it radically changed the whole concept of Hebrew language and Hebrew literature. When Yona Wallach wrote about tefillin, it was real revolution: the Hebrew language turned from the holy language to secular one, it was possible to use it for sex and for BDSM. Her poetry and the poetry of Hezi Leskly are so much more important for the Hebrew culture, than the poems of David Vogel, with all due respect to him, who often wrote one and the same poem in two version: one with Ashkenazi, and the other with Sephardic accents. The new Hebrew poetry is not interested in such experiments, it is written in the language which is alive.

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    3. Just one correction: though most of Vogel’s writing was in Hebrew, he wrote in the 40’s one peace in Yiddish. It has been translated into Hebrew by Menakhem Perry, who also edited it significantly and published it under the name EVERYBODY WENT TO BATTLE. This Hebrew version has been translated to other languages, but the original texts was written in Yiddish.

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    4. sh

      XYZ you won’t like this. My Dad, from in the same region as Vogel and of, give or take a few years, the same generation, went to heder until he was 12; that, due to circumstances, constituted the end of his education. Although he never spoke or write a world language fluently he could speak and write Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish and knew how to do what secular Jews didn’t, i.e. “learn” (religious scripture, commentaries, etc.), which people like him did in groups, regularly and frequently throughout their lives. He came to Israel for the first time when he was close to 70 and understood everything, but people had a hard time understanding him. Ahad Haam, Shai Agnon, Bialik and likely an untold number of murdered Jews didn’t need secular Zionism to be able to write Hebrew prose or poetry, neither did Rashi, Maimonides, Nahmanides, Ibn Gabirol and a whole string of not only scholars but also ordinary Jews down their nomadic ages. The reason Judaism survived out there is because most observant Jewish males had enough literacy in Hebrew and Aramaic to solve halakhic problems on their own when there was no qualified rabbi. Therefore there must have been a sizable public for literature written in Hebrew. Yiddish, where it was spoken, varied from region to region but Hebrew didn’t. Funny how this is suddenly touted here as some sort of great revelation. Ben Yehuda, despite the claim of another of secular Zionism’s picturesque legends, didn’t revive a dead language so much as modernize and codify a living one.

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    5. sh

      Shlomo, fascinating stuff. Made me sorry to have posted after you!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Shlomo Krol

      SH, thanks. I’m trying to make my point: the only chance for the modern Jewish culture to strive and develop in a natural and productive way is on the Israeli soil and within its natural environment, which is Israeli environment. The diaspora existence with all its great achievements was never normal. The string of Hebrew authors you quote could testify. Ibn Gabirol in his poem Anak, in which he classified the Hebrew grammar, lamented the loss of native language by the Jews: “How would they read my poem?”, he asks. His philosophical opus magnum, Source of Life, was written in Arabic, as most of Jewish philosophy in medieval Spain, and translated into Latin (the Latin translation survived and played important role in the European thought: ibn Gabirol was the first to teach medieval Christendom neo-Platonic ideas). In general, poetry was written in Hebrew, the philosophy – in Arabic. Maimonides wrote his main philosophic work, the Guide for Perplexed, in Arabic, too (but he wrote Mishne Torah, which is Halakhic book, in Hebrew). In any case, after the secularization of Jews, the only way for them to exist as a distinct culture, was national way. While in the past no culture considered itself national one, the secularization in Europe lead to the rise of the nationalist ideologies. Much was written about Hebraist, Biblical sources of Herder’s nationalist thought; he mentions, by the way, Yehuda ha-Levi’s Cusari – I believe, this book could also influence him. Jews became nation later than many other nations, but, on the other hand, they were nation par excellence, nation ante nomen. Today, all Jewish life in Diaspora is necessarily fixated on the past. It’s always Chagallesque goats flying over the schtetl, something about Holocaust, Hassidic rabbies with their wit, eternal Jewish millenial Jewish sorrow and so on, some boring brooding over the question of being a Jew and the Jewish “self-ridiculing”, of which everybody is fed up. If a Jew is modern, he cannot create anything really Jewish when he is in diaspora. Mark Rotko, who was by far more important painter than Chagall, was an American painter, there’s nothing specifically Jewish in his works. In Israel, everything is Jewish because Jewishness is what we live, breath, eat and speak here everyday. Every basta on Carmel market is more important for Jewish culture, than all Jewish museums of diaspora assembled. Every Hebrew speaking child of Philippinian migrants is more important for the future of the Jewish people, than all rabbies of London and Paris.
      In fact, the alternative to this development of the Hebrew culture was the great Yiddish culture of the XX century, but it was, unfortunately, brutally annihilated. Today, the only natural way for the Jewish culture to survive and strive is on the native land of the Jewish people and within the Israeli society, anything else just will not work.

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    7. Eli

      As a scholar of Hebrew and Yiddish literature, it seems to be that Mr. Dana exploits Vogel’s work to make a political point. Vogel’s work is amazing, but to read history backwards and impart contemporary political lessons from his dark and twisting prose – it seems a bit, how do we say – GAYVEDIK!

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    8. caden and henry weinstein: your comments did nothing to add to the conversation and bordered on abusive. they were deleted. and i will continue deleting them until you both start making useful contributions to the discussion. best, mya

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    9. This is a sensative, literate discussion about a real Israeli existential fear. I can’t contribute, but I can read, and hope there is more thought on this matter, herein.

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    10. sh

      Shlomo Krol, I’m no scholar and I find your posts fascinating.
      Nevertheless, without Judaism, a difficult way of life that nevertheless sustained itself, there would have been no Zionism. Judaism and thus the Hebrew language, was there before it and Zionism was designed to replace it, but first had to be tweaked to supplement it. Just before Zionism, the choices had become between religious and secular but until then, it was largely a question of which religion you affiliated yourself with, not whether you affiliated with one.
      Jews will continue to live in the Middle East, their common language will continue to be Hebrew and their connection to this place will continue to be umbilical. How Hebrew will evolve will depend on the circumstances. Like you I hope Israel survives but I’m sure that as long as there are Jews, the Hebrew language will. Apparently unlike you, where you see Chagallesque goats in diaspora Jewry I see Kadishmanesque sheep here in Israel. Mark Rothko, being American, was hyphenated like all Americans are and there are painters like Kiefer (and Rembrandt), who paint Jewish but aren’t while there are Jewish painters like Soutine, Murillo, Pascin, Modigliani, etc. who were Jewish but didn’t. I’d argue that C’s goats and K’s sheep are both lazy art rather than Jewish art and that an abiding preference for them betrays a maudlin preoccupation with the past both here and in the diaspora (“Today, all Jewish life in Diaspora is necessarily fixated on the past. It’s always Chagallesque goats flying over the schtetl, something about Holocaust, Hassidic rabbies with their wit, eternal Jewish millenial Jewish sorrow and so on, some boring brooding over the question of being a Jew and the Jewish “self-ridiculing”, of which everybody is fed up. “) and that said, the word “Diaspora” can safely be removed from that sentence. What you seem to be saying is that today there is no vibrant Jewish culture, there is only Israeli culture and that depends for sustenance on Filipinos and Arabs (whether Jewish or not). An interesting related subject…

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      SH, thank you, I hope to respond you later.

      Mya, why censorship indeed?

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    12. a reader

      After having read Dana’s article, it appears that Dana focuses on Vogel’s otherness above all else. The comments of Eli seem particularly absurd after reading the Tablet piece. While Dana notes that Vogel was not interested in Zionism, the point is about literary creation as disconnected from Zionism in the Hebrew canon. And for the claim that there was “twisting prose”, I did not see any prose from Vogel in Dana’s piece. I would have like too. Eli seems to have a bone to pick with Dana and little ground to do so.

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    13. Tal

      As I understand the one state solution as it is drawn in Abunimah’s book – even though the jews will become a minority in the land of Israel/Palestine their national and cultural rights as a collective will be guaranteed in the constitution. Therefor, Mya’s whole thesis is irrelevant and we will not need to test it in real life. thankfully that is. Because Vogel seems to be a one of a kind and any culture needs a “sponsor” nation state in order to thrive.

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    14. Tal

      @Caden, So you’re claiming that his proposal is a smoke screen meant to attract liberals to support the BDS movement?

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    15. a reader

      It is shocking how bad the comments are on +972. What universe do you people live in?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ira

      Shlomo Krol writes, ‘In Israel, everything is Jewish because Jewishness is what we live, breath, eat and speak here everyday.’

      To play devil’s advocate, if identity depends on the presence of the other, then ‘no other, no identity.’ Or as the joke goes, ‘What do they call Chinese food in China ? Food.’

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    17. Shlomo Krol

      Kadishman is a good artist, his place in the Israeli art is important. The Kadishman’s sheep have nothing to do with the poetization of the schtetl which has gone. But the Israeli art is very interesting process, which is developping in interaction with the modern art worldwide and which is absolutely not limited with Kadishman’s sheep. For example, one of the most interesting phenomena of the Israeli art was the 70-th “Dalut ha-homer” style, pioneered by Rafi Lavi. Today, there is a vibrant scene of the modern art in Tel-Aviv, with such interesting authors as Roee Rozen, Zoya Cherkassky, Sigalit Landau, Yael Bartanna, Andrey Lev, Michael Grobman to name just few. It has nothing to do with the poetization of what is considered “specifically Jewish”. But it is Jewish by the very fact that it is done on the Jewish soil, created in the Jewish environment, consumed by Jews, deals with the themes of the life of the Jewish society.
      Now, the Jewish tradition is very important for Jews, but the Jewish life is only normal when this tradition is seen through the prism of the normal Jewish life, not the abnormal existence in the diaspora.

      Ira, the whole idea of self determination is to be able to form own identity in positive rather than negative terms, without the need to negate others (like “I am a Jew first of all because I am not, let’s say, Russian, I don’t drink like a Russian, unlike a Russian, I celebrate Passover and not Easter, unlike a Russian, I don’t beat my wife, unlike a Russian, I can read and write” and so on and so forth). The self determination is exactly when Chinese food is just a food.

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    18. Mitchell Cohen

      Hebrew culture might exist in the diaspora, but the only place that people live, think, and dream in Hebrew is in Israel, where the national language is Hebrew. Of course, there are Israeli ex-pats scattered all over the diaspora, but most likely their kids will prefer the national language of the country they were born and bred in (as opposed to Hebrew), while their grandchildren will most likely not be able to carry on a conversation in Hebrew.

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    19. caden: there was no way in the world i could monitor the massive volume of comments that that post resulted in. 972 is a volunteer effort. when there are a lot of comments, i simply do not have the time or resources to keep up with them. as you might have noticed, i do not always monitor comments. sometimes, i try to when a piece first goes up, but if it gets active, i can’t hang. sometimes, i don’t have the time at all.

      by the way, i will continue to delete your comments as they are little more than name-calling and bullying.

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    20. sh

      Shlomo, it would be as natural for the young Chagall to paint his shtetl as it is for Kadishman to paint his kibbutz’s sheep.
      Israel (like present-day Poland) certainly boasts artisans if not artists, who produce shtetl schlock that sells very well. Sentimentality and living in the past is not limited only to diaspora Jewry. To say Lavie pioneered Dalut Hahomer ignores the fact that Arte Povera was happening elsewhere at the same time – but subjects like
      movements I’m not going to get into. Artistic ideologies become as constricting as the other kinds over time, and we already know a thing or two about those.
      Soviet-trained artists from the Russian aliyot gave the Israeli visual arts scene a much-needed fillip. But Jewish soil? What on earth (!) is Jewish soil? Altogether what you say raises questions. Is Israel a wholly Jewish environment? Does Israeli art really deal only with the themes of life of Jewish society and if so, does it deal with all of them? That Israel makes the fact of being Jewish normal has truth in it but how does that make everything in Israel Jewish?
      The fact remains that Vogel and others lived, wrote and dreamed in Hebrew down the ages without living in Israel. It doesn’t make sense then to argue that this can only be done in Israel. Hebrew came back to Israel in the backpacks of diaspora Jews from all four corners of the earth.

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    21. Shlomo Krol

      Of course I want Israel to be multicultural and egalitarian state, which doesn’t marginalizes its citizens on the ground of ethnicity. I don’t want to say, that Israel is wholly Jewish – 20% of Israelis are not Jews and this country is their home and native land. I want to say a simple thing: an Israeli doesn’t need to do something specifically “Jewish” to be a Jew, neither an Israeli author or artist should create anything specifically Jewis to be a Jewish artist, unlike a Jew or Jewish artist in diaspora. We say about an English author that he is an English author – and no more questions are needed. He is English because he is from England and everything in England is English. It doesn’t mean that England must necessarily discriminate against minorities or define itself as “a state of English people”. This is what I call normalcy. Now, there’s no question, that the center of English culture is England. In the same way, the center of Jewish culture is Israel. I don’t deny the great achievement of Jewish culture in diaspora, of course not. The Hebrew poetry in Spain, Provence and Italy, the rabbinic literature, the Jewish mysticism – all these were developped in the diaspora. But today Israel is the only possible way for development of the Jewish culture, because the Jewish culture in diaspora, in order to be Jewish, has to deal with specifically Jewish themes, which is just boring and not productive; it has to keep itself from mingling with the outside world – while the Israeli culture has a luxury to benefit from influences. Yes, I do believe, that Jewish culture today is the Israeli culture, there’s no future for the Jewish culture in diaspora. Everything which is created there in this Jewish realm is either have nothing to do with Jewishness or otherwise very boring.

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    22. Dhalgren

      @Shlomo Krol
      Here’s an interesting one for you. What do you make of this Iranian-born Jewish artist now living in Los Angeles?
      She has had her art displayed as part of an exhibit “Celebrating the Persian Jewish Legacy.”
      Is she not Jewish? Is her art not? Is it simply “very boring” to you?

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    23. sh

      People have been saying there’s no future for Jewish culture in the diaspora for a millennium or two. A.B. Yehoshua says what you say but I think he’s wrong. I reckon Israel and the diaspora are the Jewish body’s right foot and left foot. For balance and in order to move, a body needs both.

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    24. Kolumn9

      In the modern world there can only be Hebrew literature in Israel. The reason why it survived previously was because of the lack of national education in the countries of the diaspora which delegated basic education to the Jewish religious schools, like the cheder that Sh mentioned above. In the modern world there is nowhere in the diaspora where Hebrew literacy is preferred or even fostered over literacy and mastery in the national language.

      The study of diaspora Jewish literature is already backwards looking to the ‘glory days’ of Jewish shtetls and ghettoes where Jews were culturally isolated from their surrounding populations and actually had in their places of residence a common and specifically Jewish experience. This is simply no longer the case and Jewish culture in the diaspora is personal while the environment lacks any Jewish elements. Sure there is a perpetual hyphenation crisis among diaspora Jews and their relation to the dominant inclusive cultures of the states they live in and to Israel. It is a crisis of the balance between ‘how Jewish’ vs ‘how everyone else’. There are some perpetual exile and religious motifs that can be played with. However, the audience for such works in the diaspora is demographically collapsing. Most diaspora Jews are alienated from Judaism and they should hardly be expected to create art around explicitly Jewish themes. Nor can such a demographic be expected to seek out works with specifically Jewish motifs. Even the supposedly Jewish themes of being outsiders that Dana finds in Vogel’s work is obsolete.

      There is simply no way of getting around the conclusion that within a few decades Israel is going to be the supreme center of Jewish culture and is already the only possible center for Hebrew culture.

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    25. sh

      K9, The countries in the diaspora did not *delegate* teaching to heder there were impoverished Jews out there (as well as impoverished others) who couldn’t afford to send their kids to school. There were also others who went to unheard of lengths to *avoid* sending their boys to non-Jewish schools or studying the language of the land. You also need to brush up on whether there really is nowhere in the world where Hebrew literacy is preferred over mastery in the national language. Might be nearer than you think.
      Hyphenation these days – why do you see it as a crisis? – is not limited to Jews at all. Thinking about it I’m not sure it ever was, but with travel and migration having become more of a norm than an exception in so many parts of the world, probably most people you meet these days are hyphenated.
      Study of literature (or of anything) is always backward-looking. That doesn’t mean that writing is. And far from lacking Jewish elements, the world is full of them if you look. But I think you’re talking about your specific comfort zones rather than Jewish or Hebrew culture. Tell me, what explicitly Jewish themes aren’t backwards-looking in Israel?
      “Even the supposedly Jewish themes of being outsiders that Dana finds in Vogel’s work is obsolete.” You MUST be kidding! Ever heard of multi-culturalism and its complaints?

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    26. Kolumn9

      Sh, I would gladly hear of places in the Diaspora where mastery of Hebrew is preferred over mastery of the local languages. You might be referring to the ultra-Orthodox communities in the diaspora that study the Loshon Kodesh to study the Torah. That is great but it is highly unlikely that such an effort will result in much Hebrew literature, since even these people are no longer likely to use it as a literary language

      Hyphenation is not limited to Jews. That is precisely the point. It is a Jewish subject like it is an Irish, Polish, Indian or Korean subject. I mispoke, it isn’t really a crisis, but a conflict.

      Any modern literature coming out of a Jewish environment like Israel is full of Jewish themes. The distinction and search for Jewish themes in Israeli Jewish literature is extraneous since it is inherent in the setting. The same is not true of diaspora Jewish authors who must choose explicitly Jewish themes to create Jewish literature because otherwise they create the exact same thing as everyone else that is facing the same conflicts in the modern world. A secular American Muslim can write a book about secular American Muslims and you would find the same ‘Jewish themes’. For how long can such themes be considered Jewish when used by Jews when the themes are ubiquitous while the Jewish aspects of identity and culture of the authors and readers is ebbing away. So, when the ‘Jewish themes’ are ubiquitous to all writers and the Jewish cultural settings and elements are disappearing from the content, how can this writing not just be considered generic secular Western literature?

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    27. sh

      K9, 1) I evidently have another view of the meaning of the word ubiquitous and 2) *all* Jewish communities worth their salt that study Torah learn “Loshon Koidesh” – classical Hebrew in plain English. But if you misspeak in a previous post and think that replacing the word crisis with conflict, still without explanation, is enough, it’s not worthwhile responding unless you define what, outside religion, you call specifically Jewish themes.

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    28. sh

      Tom Segev did a great piece in last weekend’s Haaretz on a lengthy e-mail discussion between Israeli intellectuals on “Is Israel just one option among many, or is the place of the Jewish people in its own land?”
      Loved this line from Dan Miron:
      “”Kurt Weill, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein didn’t come anywhere near Naomi Shemer? Woody Allen is fleabane next to Joseph Cedar?””

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    29. Kolumn9

      1) Nope, I think we agree on the meaning of ubiquitous. Themes like exclusion from dominant culture, conflicting identities, diaspora and others are certainly ubiquitous in modern Western literature.

      2) I am pretty familiar with the study of Hebrew in the diaspora. Studying Hebrew for religious purposes is not likely to produce Hebrew literature, especially where people are significantly more literate in the local non-Hebrew language. How much Hebrew literature has the American Jewish community produced recently?

      3) I have already proposed the themes that I consider to be Jewish, you just aren’t reading and I must point out that you have not reciprocated with what you consider to be Jewish themes.

      Sh, you have chosen to dismiss rather than respond. This is usually considered a defeat in debates.

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    30. max

      Interesting discussion, but getting a bit out of focus: Hebrew and Jewish cultures are related but not the same. It’s very unlikely that Hebrew-based culture will have more than anecdotal development outside a Hebrew-speaking society, while Jewish societies have flourished without Hebrew (as their main language). Whether or not the latter could continue is speculative.

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    31. sh

      I don’t know of specifically Jewish cultural themes except those pertaining to the religion itself, K9, I thought you would enlighten me. If you did, apologies, I must have missed it. I’d be grateful if you’d point me to where they are. To me, the word ubiquitous means cropping up again and again all over the place and you’d never follow it by “to”. To you, from your explanation, it means universal – must be a European versus American English thing, not important. The Yiddish culture that I think it may have been you who told us was real Jewish culture but was murdered, did ground-breaking things like translating Shakespeare into Yiddish for the Yiddish Theatre, which is sort of what Moses Mendelssohn did with his translation of the Hebrew Bible into German (his mastery of Hebrew came from heder too), but in the opposite direction. Both smashed the narrow confines of Jewish existence hitherto and brought Jews into contact the with the cultures that surrounded them. About winning or losing debates, I’m not into winning so much as learning so it won’t hurt me if you’ve won, I’d just like to understand why.
      Looking up Hebrew culture, Wikipedia’s Jewish Culture comes up top of the list. The last paragraph of the introduction reads so:
      “Throughout history, in eras and places as diverse as the ancient Hellenic world, in Europe before and after the Age of Enlightenment, in Islamic Spain and Portugal, in North Africa and the Middle East, in India and China, and in the contemporary United States and Israel, Jewish communities have seen the development of cultural phenomena that are characteristically Jewish without being at all specifically religious. Some factors in this come from within Judaism, others from the interaction of Jews with host populations in the Diasporas, and others from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community, as opposed to religion itself. This phenomenon has led to considerably different Jewish cultures unique to their own communities.”
      Max, you point out that Hebrew-based culture will not have more than anecdotal development outside a Hebrew-speaking society. I take that to mean that it is not necessarily the case that every Jew who wants to stay one must understand Israeli Hebrew. This literature will be translated into many languages the way the works of Israel’s most successful writers have already been over the years.
      Is their subject matter is less universal and more Jewish than Nicole Krauss’s or Philip Roth’s.
      And if Hebrew culture basically amounts to culture in the Hebrew language, why the loss of proportion regarding Israel?

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    32. max

      “I take that to mean that it is not necessarily the case that every Jew who wants to stay one must understand Israeli Hebrew” – yes, it’s implied from what I wrote.
      I disagree with the conclusion you make due to Search coming up with Jewish replacing Hebrew. What it shows is that the traditional association of Hebrew as synonym to Jewish (in several languages Hebrew is the word for Jewish in English) is still stronger (as in number of publications) than Hebrew referring to the language. Apparently, Hebrew-language literature isn’t much referred to on the Internet.

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    33. sh

      Oh Lord, I garbled that one. I meant to ask whether the subject matter of the Israeli authors is more Jew-specific in content than that of N.Krauss, P.Roth or any contemporary diaspora Jewish writer anyone cares to mention.
      If Hebrew culture is by definition Israel-based, why don’t we call it Israeli culture? (- Mind you, if Israeli Hebrew continues to evolve the way it has for the past couple of decades, it may well eventually become a kind of American English written in Hebrew characters. Which is where we came in with Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino…. -).
      To sum up my understanding of it, the Hebrew culture people are arguing that although Hebrew culture existed outside the Zionism of the ideology’s founding fathers prior to the holocaust, it can’t exist in the diaspora:
      since the creation of Israel;
      because of the existence of Israel – take your pick.
      And that’s why Israel must be defended tooth and nail no matter how she conducts herself. Because if Israel went down, heaven forbid, Hebrew would go down with it.

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    34. max

      “If Hebrew culture is by definition Israel-based,” – was never said and can’t be deducted
      “although Hebrew culture existed outside the Zionism of the ideology’s founding fathers prior to the holocaust, it can’t exist in the diaspora…” – was never said and can’t be deducted
      “Because if Israel went down, heaven forbid, Hebrew would go down with it.” – was never said and can’t be deducted
      Pity to see this jump to silly demagogic tricks

      Reply to Comment
    35. Kolumn9

      Sh, thanks for responding. When talking about Jewish culture I was referring to the themes that were once dominant in secular-oriented Jewish culture when it came into contact with other cultures and secular powers and its relationship with more religion oriented Judaism itself. The themes that were common were those related to interactions with a foreign dominant culture and the identity compromises that had to be made. Whether these themes are ‘ubiquitous’ or its synonym ‘universal’ in Western literature now is a matter of vocabulary only… I don’t think I ever argued that Yiddish culture was real Jewish culture, but I may have argued that within Yiddish literature in Eastern Europe the Jewish elements were native to the environment because of the relative cultural isolation from the surrounding culture. Such circumstances no longer exist both due to the destruction of that lifestyle and to the obvious lack of cultural isolation of Jews in the Western world.

      There was also Jewish literature written in Hebrew in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, especially before mass education. However, after the opening up of Jewish communities to the outside world in Eastern Europe and away from strictly Judaism-oriented themes authors preferred to express themselves in their vernacular language to a larger audience who read in the same vernacular.

      When I talk about Hebrew literature or culture I am explicitly talking about literature in the Hebrew language with no bias as to whether it corresponds to Israeli culture or not. It doesn’t even matter here whether it uses Ivrit or any other version of Hebrew. The future prospects for Hebrew literature in the diaspora are not bright. It might still be used for some religious polemic, but it is unlikely to be widely used as a literary language by people whose vernacular language is different. It might work the other way around. For example, I saw a complaint a couple of days ago by a modern Orthodox American Jew that a terrible English translation was being referred to at some prominent modern Orthodox lecture on Jewish topics instead of referring to the original Hebrew source.

      I also agree with Max that your last post is just full of logical holes and to me it seems to be an awkward attempt to change the topic.

      Reply to Comment
    36. sh

      Well, K9, Max, I got impatient with hearing all the things Hebrew culture was not and so made up what it might be, just to amuse myself. Thanks, K9, for explaining what you mean by it. I actually pretty much agree with you, but cautiously differ as to the chances of Hebrew surviving as a written language in the diaspora. It largely depends on education, which varies widely from country to country. And how education is designed depends on motivation. I was struck by the way modern orthodox teenagers coming here from South American countries a few decades back arrived here speaking and writing not only good Ivrit but fluent Yiddish, both of which they said they’d learned at school.
      “The themes that were common were those related to interactions with a foreign dominant culture and the identity compromises that had to be made.”
      Precisely. The point I wanted but apparently failed to make was that in this mobile, “global” age, interaction with a foreign dominant culture and identity compromises, whether one is the majority culture or the minority, is a struggle no longer specific or exclusive to Jews. That makes Jewish culture more meaningful to the other cultures in the same boat; it follows that the way other cultures deal with such issues would also really speak to Jews.

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