Diasporas and Exiles: Varieties of Jewish Identity

Diasporas and Exiles: Varieties of Jewish Identity

Diasporas and Exiles: Varieties of Jewish Identity

Diasporas and Exiles: Varieties of Jewish Identity

Synopsis

"Rarely have I encountered a collection of essays that coheres so well around an overarching theme. This will be an important resource."--Hillel J. Kieval, author of "Languages of Community"

Excerpt

Heinrich Heine's “Hebräische Melodien, ” whose three long poems comprise the third and final part of Romanzero (Romancero, 1851), has long been scanned by critics for evidence of alterations in his views of religion and his affiliation with Judaism. the overall meaning(s) and structure of the text are often identified and assessed by referring to the religious and psychological changes that resulted from Heine's reaction to his debilitating illness, which confined him to what he called his “mattress-grave. ” Alternatively, the poetic text becomes the evidential source for ascertaining revisions to his religious orientation. As interesting and informative as interpretations may be that rely heavily on biographical data to document the writer's ideational and attitudinal developments or their literary representations, they often leave important aspects and issues of the poems uncharted and the reading of the whole unsettled. There are, however, approaches and alternate discourses recently explored within cultural studies, in general, and Jewish studies, in particular, that might contextualize this poetry in ways better able to illuminate both the more unyielding sections and the larger ideological and aesthetic significance of the overall text. This essay means to probe the “Hebräische Melodien” for the poetic articulation of the connection between a new understanding of diasporic life and the construction of Jewish identity by situating the text within two different, yet interrelated, frameworks: on the one hand, the “Orientalization” of Eastern European Jewry and glorification of medieval Sephardi culture by early nineteenthcentury European Jews, especially German Jews; and on the other, a more nuanced account of diaspora and exile that explores the viability of a truly integrative relationship between subdominant and dominant cultures. Interpreted within these contexts, the “Hebräische Melodien” may be read as a critique—especially apparent in the opening and closing poems—of the . . .

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