Taking Stock: Cultures of Enumeration in Contemporary Jewish Life

Taking Stock: Cultures of Enumeration in Contemporary Jewish Life

Taking Stock: Cultures of Enumeration in Contemporary Jewish Life

Taking Stock: Cultures of Enumeration in Contemporary Jewish Life

Synopsis

Taking Stock is a collection of lively, original essays that explore the cultures of enumeration that permeate contemporary and modern Jewish life. Speaking to the profound cultural investment in quantified forms of knowledge and representation--whether discussing the Holocaust or counting the numbers of Israeli and American Jews--these essays reveal a social life of Jewish numbers. As they trace the uses of numerical frameworks, they portray how Jews define, negotiate, and enact matters of Jewish collectivity. The contributors offer productive perspectives into ubiquitous yet often overlooked aspects of the modern Jewish experience.

Excerpt

Delivered through rapid, hip-hop beats and intense lyrics, Hadag Nachash’s “The Numbers Song” provides a critical, numerical account of what matters to young Israeli Jews. It begins by counting states (“one or two”) in the land that stretches between the sea and the Jordan River and ends with the sacred icon of six million. in between, it offers a more intimate account of the numerical texture of personal experience (“three years and four months is the time I gave to the idf”; “nine times I have been too close to a terror attack”), while detailing the harsh arithmetic that underwrites everyday life in Israel (“a quarter of a million are unemployed”; “the government cut off 12 percent of child benefits”). Fast-paced and abrasive in content, the song echoes in form the pervasive flow of statistical data in Jewish public spheres, while simultaneously mocking, through its poetics, the overwhelming presence of numbers in Jewish life. However, as critical a reflection on numbers as this song provides, its lyrics also disclose their inescapable grip: “Me too,” the chorus admits, “like all Jews, is obsessed with numbers 24/7, twelve months a year.”

Hadag Nachash is not alone in its use of numbers as a structuring device for popular narration of Jewish-Israeli culture. in the late Yossi Banai’s famous song, “Sfirat Melai” (generally translated as either “stocktaking” or “counting stock”), the famous Israeli singer-actor relied on numbers to tell an insightful story about Jewish life in Israel. Playfully toying with the numerical associations of the Passover song “Who Knows One?,” Banai introduces some twists into a familiar numerical tradition. Instead of counting Jewish motifs and teachings alone, as is done in the Haggadah (e.g., the number of the tablets of the covenant or the number of the tribes of Israel), Banai’s song weaves together older Jewish numbers with more contemporary ones. Look, he teasingly lays out, at just how many numbers Israel has managed to accumulate in its national and political stockpiles: “One state, two seas, one lake and malaria as well … one nation, full of uniqueness, one headache and three pills, six days and seven nights … a huge immigration following two thousand years of diaspora … one moment of security . . .

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