Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Great Regulars: But the selection the editors make,

from near the beginning of Humboldt's Gift, does not contain any Jewish references. What it does feature is the narrator Charlie Citrine's strong sense of attachment to the dead: "Out in Chicago Humboldt became one of my significant dead. I spent far too much time mooning about and communing with the dead."

Is that, perhaps, what makes this a Jewish text--the sense that Jews, especially after the Holocaust, are defined by their tender obsession with the dead, with the past? But then, isn't piety toward the dead part of every human culture?

from Adam Kirsch: Tablet: Are Books All We Have Left?


The rabbis then tell a story about a man called Yosef, who loved Shabbat so much that he was known as "Yosef who cherishes Shabbat." One day, a certain non-Jew was crossing a river by ferryboat when he dropped a valuable pearl in the water. The pearl was swallowed by a fish, and the fish was purchased by Yosef, who always wanted to serve the finest food on Shabbat. When he opened the fish, he found the pearl and sold it for 13 jars full of gold coins. This is a variation on a classic folk tale, the fish who swallows a jewel, which is found in just about every culture. What is noteworthy is that, in this Jewish version, it becomes a parable about the rewards of celebrating Shabbat.

from Adam Kirsch: Tablet: Queen for a Day


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