Saturday, January 29, 2005


There's a facinating piece at TNR on the letters of Isaiah Berlin (Who was Isaiah Berlin? Years ago, I asked the same questions, and was told "Not to know Isaiah Berlin is to argue yourself unknown." Great line, no? In brief: He was brilliant. He was Jewish. Tzeh u'lemad.)

For the general Jewish audience, here are two bits from the recent TNR article likely to amuse, inform, and perhaps enrage:

First bit:
The synagogues that he attended with his parents in Bayswater, Hampstead, and Golders Green were, architecturally and socially, testaments to the determination with which bourgeois Anglo-Jews staked their claim to a stable place within the institutions of late-imperial Britain. The interiors were (and are) oak-paneled; the windows neo-Victorian stained glass; the yad, or pointer, for the Torah readings was made from Hatton Garden sterling silver; and the synagogue's official notables, the 'wardens,' were dressed in black silk top hats and seated in their very own closed pew, the 'box,' which solemnly opened and shut each time one of them emerged to mount the steps to the Ark. "
Second bit
In Palestine in 1934... Berlin diagnosed much of the surliness of British officials (neither malevolent nor benevolent) toward the Jews as stemming from a resentment that their usual imperial role of Kulturträger to the natives had been usurped by dentists from Kraków, demoting the pukka pashas to the status of glorified traffic cops. Hence the romantic eagerness of the British to adopt the role of protector of the noble Arabs against the pushily disruptive Jews and their Mitteleuropa culture of coffee, cake, and Kinder.