Dull Books For Yom Kippur

I afflicted my soul on Yom Kippur by reading a couple of very dull, poorly written academic books on Judaism.

The first one had the exciting title: Between Redemption and Doom: The Strains of German-Jewish Modernism.

I gave up on it after three chapters.

The next one was: Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity.

It has a fascinating premise but its execution was worse than Jim Zorn’s Washington Redskins offense: "Lila Corwin Berman asks why, over the course of the twentieth century, American Jews became increasingly fascinated, even obsessed, with explaining themselves to their non-Jewish neighbors. What she discovers is that language itself became a crucial tool for Jewish group survival and integration into American life. Berman investigates a wide range of sources—radio and television broadcasts, bestselling books, sociological studies, debates about Jewish marriage and intermarriage, Jewish missionary work, and more—to reveal how rabbis, intellectuals, and others created a seemingly endless array of explanations about why Jews were indispensable to American life. Even as the content of these explanations developed and shifted over time, the very project of self-explanation would become a core element of Jewishness in the twentieth century."

Jeff emails:

Hey, I’ll buy that German modernism book off of you. I am totally in to that stuff, it was one of the most interesting Jewish communities and most productive, producing a body of literature, art, and music unparalleled by any other. Perhaps Alon’s “The Pity of it all” might have been a better place to start. I have a whole set of books, in English and German, on those days. Perhaps having some of the music of the period in your head would have made it more meaningful, I can give you Gideon Klein or Victor Ullman’s work (I have his Thereisinstadt choral settings of Hebrew prayers for children’s choir that will bring tears to your eyes, they are so beautiful). And of course, all that Walter Benjamin material. I once had a wonderful Rosh Hashana in Berlin, the shul there was very welcoming.

>Do you encounter Jew-hatred in Germany?

It doesn’t exist, one feels it more in other countries, such as France. It is an interesting paradox that the safest country for Jews in Europe now is almost certainly Germany. You can buy Jewish newspapers and magazines (Aufbau is a very impressive magazine, for example http://www.aufbauonline.com/) at street vendors. The old synagogue on Oranienbergstrasse is accessible to all, right on the main drag where the state protected prostitutes march around in their distinctive boots, and there’s a nice coffee house. I actually really like going to Germany. Of course, I‘ve only been to Berlin, Frankfurt, and Freiberg, what the situation is like in small towns I can’t say. But keeping in mind that there are very few people walking around actually from the Nazi era, and that its one of the more liberal countries now in Europe, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

While everyone else was davening Neilah, I was reading the chapter on Marilyn Monroe’s conversion to Judaism and trying to shade the sexy pictures of Marilyn away from the eyes of the Orthodox rabbi beside me.

Reform rabbi Robert Goldburg met with Arthur Miller and Marilyn before the wedding. He assigned her a list of books to read, the same books he assigned to other potential converts.

He later described Marilyn as "not an intellectual person" with only a "limited" attention span. Despite this, he felt confident she understood and accepted the basic principles of Judaism.

On the day of the wedding, Rabbi Goldburg lectured Marilyn for two hours about Judaism and then signed the conversion certificate and performed the religious wedding (two days after the secular one).

Marilyn wanted to be thought an intellectual and becoming Jewish was one attempt.

There was little that was Jewish in her life after her conversion and nothing Jewish in her burial.

Lila writes: "[Arthur] Miller believed that, in trying to become who she was not, Monroe had lost her sense of self. Her conversion to Judaism was only one small piece in her struggle to reinvent herself and in her ultimate alienation from herself."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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