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The Nerds Who Make English The Merriam-Webster editor informs us that the German word for a lower-back tattoo is “Arschgeweih,” which literally means “ass antlers.” Henry Hitchings reviews “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper.

‘Lexicographer” is not a seductive word. Samuel Johnson famously defined it, more than 260 years ago, as “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.” His own “Dictionary of the English Language” belied this impression of soulless passivity, but the image has stuck. There is a common assumption that dictionaries are put together by faceless dullards. In the judgmental world of online dating, saying that you’re a lexicographer has all the aphrodisiac potency of admitting that you enjoy reorganizing your sock drawer.

Yet the reputation of lexicography is starting to change, and the main reason is the emergence of a new generation of word mavens who brighten social media with linguistic curios and discussion points. Among these is Kory Stamper, an editor at Merriam-Webster. That venerable firm of course takes half its name from Noah Webster, and one of Webster’s key statements was that “the business of a lexicographer is to collect, define, and arrange, as far as possible, all the words that belong to a language.” As Ms. Stamper comments, modern practitioners shift the emphasis: Today the aspiration is “to collect, define, and arrange, as far as possible, all the words that belong to a language.” After all, no dictionary can document everything.

Ms. Stamper’s responsibilities at Merriam-Webster include defining new words and revising out-of-date entries. She also appears in its “Ask the Editor” video series, where she holds forth on matters such as the correct plural of “octopus” and the question of whether Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” actually has anything to do with irony—two topics beloved of half-informed pedants. Meanwhile, on Twitter, where wholly uninformed pedants outnumber any other group, she is a voice of sassy realism, apt to celebrate “badass word-nerd women” or proffer golden nuggets of trivia, such as the fact that the German word for a lower-back tattoo is “Arschgeweih” (which literally means “ass antlers”).

In “Word by Word,” Ms. Stamper maintains this “nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty, worm’s-eye view.” We learn that her suitability for her chosen career revealed itself when she was a child. Growing up in Colorado, she devoured her parents’ hoarded catalogs. At age 9, having gorged on a medical dictionary, she alarmed her father by announcing, “I’m reading about scleroderma.” Though she doesn’t say so, learning about an ailment that causes hardening of the skin may have been useful preparation for a life of being teased by people who think that logophilia is itself an illness, not an endowment. CONTINUE AT SITE

David Goldman Book Review: The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher

You Can’t Go Home Again (But You Can Hide Out)

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. Sentinel Press. 262 pages with index. $25.00

There is something inherently odd about the Benedict Option, the view that Christians should retreat from the world into small and tightly-knit communities where they may live a Christian life with a minimum of disturbance from the evil side of modernity. Christianity by its nature has a universal mission. It speaks to the evil of our age that devout Christians want to encyst themselves against the secular world.

Rod Dreher, a prominent conservative writer, describes his Benedict Option as follows:

We live liturgically, telling our sacred Story in worship and song. We fast and we feast. We marry and give our children in marriage, and though in exile, we work for the peace of the city. We welcome our newborns and bury our dead. We read the Bible, and we tell our children about the saints. And we also tell them in the orchard and by the fireside about Odysseus, Achilles and Aeneas, of Dante and Don Quixote, and Frodo and Gandalf, and all the tales that bear what it means to be men and women of the West.

Dreher’s book has both the charm and merit of a participant’s account of the practicalities of withdrawing from the world. The first half of the book tries to account for the decline of Western civilization, an issue to which I will return later; the strongest chapters come later, recounting the experience of the religious who have tried to separate themselves from secular society, and exhorting the reader to embrace work, risk, and faith. Christians should be prudent, that is, not seek needless career martyrdom in pursuit of principles where victory is impossible; they should save themselves for family and community. Where believers are driven out of certain professions by the new secular inquisition, Dreher says, they should instead be entrepreneurial. Christians should rediscover the trades, where the religious can make a living without signing on to secular ideology. They should buy from other Christians and help Christians find employment.

These examples and exhortations will be of great help to religious people who find it impossible to protect their children from the plagues of pornography and commercialism that erode the content of contemporary life. Dreher proposes sensible, well-considered measures to achieve family and community independence from mainstream society rather than radical demonstration.

Jews have no business telling Christians how to conduct their lives, but there is something in the Jewish experience that resonates with the idea of withdrawal from the mainstream of society. When I speak to Christian groups the question I hear most often is: “How do the Jews keep their children in the fold?” The answer, of course, is that most of us don’t. As the joke goes, the difference between Donald Trump and a liberal Jew is that Trump has Jewish grandchildren.

When Are Bystanders Complicit? By Richard Baehr

The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust by Amos N. Guiora, Ankerwycke, April, 2017

Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah, was born in Israel, moved to America as a child with his family, and later moved back to Israel, where he had a long career in the Israeli Defense Forces, serving in the Judge Advocate General Corps. In recent years he has been a faculty member at several American law schools. For the record, Amos is a friend, and we both attended Kenyon College.

Guiora’s grandparents on his father’s side were murdered at Auschwitz. Both his mother and father had near death experiences in Nazi occupied Hungary and Yugoslavia towards the end of World War 2. In his new book, Guiora examines the role of the bystander during the course of the years when Germany and its proxies slaughtered approximately six million Jews in Europe, nearly 2/3 of the prewar Jewish population on the continent.

Guiora’s key question surrounds whether this Nazi extermination program could have succeeded without the complicity of many people in the countries of Europe, who were not themselves perpetrators of the crimes against the Jews. Were they innocent bystanders or guilty themselves for failure to assist those in immediate need, oftentimes their neighbors. The author clearly believes that many more Jews could have been saved had bystanders intervened, and the bystanders were in many cases guilty of the crime of complicity.

Guiora extends his analysis to a more general approach to evaluate complicity of bystanders to crimes that they see in the modern world, including suggested language for when standoffish behavior by bystanders is in effect unacceptable, and subject to penalty of some sort.

My major problem with Guiora’s analysis relates to whether his suggested approaches to complicit behavior by bystanders today would have had any impact during the dark days of 1939-1945. The United States is a country with the rule of law and established procedures to deal with those who break the law — either as perpetrators, or as bystanders when the laws were changed in many places to make bystander complicity (however it should be defined) illegal. In Nazi occupied or controlled Europe, the idea that bystander behavior would have been better — more intervention to help the beleaguered Jews marching or being rounded up had there only been laws on the books to punish those who did not help the bystander if there were no physical risk to themselves — seems highly unlikely. At the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, there are dedications to the righteous among those in Europe who took personal risks in order to shelter or assist in some other way the Jews of Europe. In essence, there were those whose values, ethics, or personal moral code required or enabled them to act. These people were a distinct minority among many others who were either indifferent or worse — in some cases creating additional pain for the Jews in distress.

Anti-Semitism in Europe during the pre war period and in World War 2 was widespread, more open than is acceptable today for most Europeans, (though that seems to be changing), and had a long ugly history in many of the countries where the highest percentage of pre-war Jews perished during the Holocaust. It is interesting that Guiora’s parents had little or no confidence in their neighbors or countrymen behaving any better than they actually did. Guiora’s father was saved from death by an attack by Yugoslav partisans on a march toward Hungary from a camp in Serbia. Yugoslav history during World War 2 was one of the bloodiest in all of Europe (10% killed), and resembles to some extent modern Syria, with shifting alliances and targets among ethnic groups with long histories of grudges toward others in their country carried over centuries. That his father was saved was more happenstance than noble behavior by a group. Tito’s partisans wanted to defeat the Nazis, not look out for the Jews.

Guiora lays out examples of where appropriate bystander behavior today might involve nothing more than using a cellphone, if one is in the presence of a crime, to notify authorities that someone was at risk of physical harm. No intervention is required which would impose the risk of physical harm to the bystander or his family. There could be other extenuating circumstances as well. He suggests that bystander complicity might result in a $500 fine upon conviction.

The type of legal approach suggested by Guiora is certainly a mainstream suggestion, already in existence in a few states, and would draw both proponents and opponents, depending on how one feels about personal autonomy and personal responsibility. But Guiora is certainly correct that doing nothing is often a contributing factor to creating harm for victims of attacks. This week, there was a report of a gang rape in Chicago seen by 40 people on Facebook, none of whom thought to notify authorities.

Violent crime rates in the United States are on the rise again after a long period of decline, and the clearance rate is way down from earlier periods. People won’t “snitch” on their friends or neighbors or volunteer to correct a fake news record (e.g. Michael Brown was an innocent victim walking with his hands up when shot by a policeman). But it is likely that police could identify who watched and did nothing on a social media site whose primary beneficiary at this point appears to be the company receiving ad revenue.

Guiora believes that laws that make bystander complicity legally liable will have a deterrent effect, making it more likely that fewer crimes are committed with wide public exposure. However, whether this is likely depends on whether the sanction is sufficient to change bystander behavior and or perpetrator behavior. Will the possibility of a $500 fine cause someone to call 911 when they see a crime being committed on Facebook, something they get to view because one is linked to at least one of the perpetrators who was proud to send video around of his “accomplishment”?

When I was a young child of 12 or 13 in New York, I was robbed on a subway train by three adults with knives and clubs while coming back home from Madison Square Garden to the Bronx. So too were two friends who were with me. The train car was an express during the robbery, with no stops, and no one else in the car lifted a finger to intervene. They buried their heads in their newspapers (this was back when people read newspapers). We all surrendered what we had, and that seemed enough for the robbers. But what if the perpetrators had been more malicious and had decided to pound us physically? My guess is that would have created even a greater inhibition for action by the bystanders on the train, none of whom would have been identifiable in any case after the event. The idea of bystander complicity being punishable will only work if there is no risk of physical harm to an intervener and the requirement for action is something as simple as a call to 911. But will a statute requiring such behavior result in more intervention (this occurs at times today with no legal sanction for non-intervention), or more people disappearing while crimes are being committed to avoid ever being questioned or judged?

INTERMISSION-VACATION

POSTINGS WILL RESUME ON MARCH 27

The Hawk Dressed as a Dove Why, given Yitzhak Rabin’s decades of staunch defense of Israeli security, did he agree to the Oslo Accords? Elliott Abrams reviews “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman” by Itamar Rabinovich. see note

Sorry folks, Rabin who should have lived to see the disastrous legacy of his handshake with vermin Arafat…was neither dove nor hawk….he was a rat who dressed as a mouse. He was callous to the terror that followed the infamous Oslo surrender and abandoned the settlers that he encourage in 1967 stating, after a series of terrorist incidents….”let them spin like propellers in the wind” and he called the victims of the unprecedented terrorist incidents which followed Oslo- children in mangled strollers, women in markets, passengers on buses, soldiers at stations, diners at cafes- the “casualties of peace,”rsk

More than two decades have passed since Yitzhak Rabin was shot to death by a right-wing extremist in November 1995, and in the years since his assassination he has become a potent icon for the Israeli peace movement. Rabin’s signing of the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization and his famous handshake with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993 have made him, as Itamar Rabinovich writes in analogizing Rabin to John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln in the first chapter of his biography, “the subject of a new mythology.”

But the truth, as Mr. Rabinovich convincingly argues, is that “it is wrong to remember and commemorate Rabin as a dovish leader.” Rabin’s primary concern throughout his life was Israeli security—and throughout his long career in the military he proved himself capable of carrying out extremely tough action.
Yitzhak Rabin

By Itamar Rabinovich

Yale, 272 pages, $25

Born in Jerusalem in 1922 to parents who had emigrated from the Russian empire, Rabin joined the pre-independence Jewish security forces in 1941 after an interview with a young officer named Moshe Dayan. During the years until Israel’s independence in 1948, Rabin rose through the ranks, working first with, and then against, the British who ruled Mandatory Palestine; he was even jailed by them for five months in 1946.

It was Rabin who, as a senior officer in the new Israeli Defense Forces in 1948, gave the order (under instructions from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion) to fire on the Altalena, a ship carrying arms to the rival militia led by Menachem Begin, in what remains one of the most hotly contested incidents in Israeli history. It was Rabin who signed an order to expel Arab residents from Lydda in what has become a deeply controversial episode in Israel’s war of independence. Later, it was Rabin who, as minister of defense, put down the First Intifada—the violent Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the West Bank—with considerable force.

Zion’s Mother TongueVisions of a Promised Land The Language Of Survival By Benjamin Balint See note please

The remarkable rebirth of Hebrew is a tale worth revisiting in modern Israel. In 1948, besides the scholars and Jewish Palestinians probably more people spoke Kalmyc Mongolian than Hebrew. With the independence of Israel hundreds of thousands of Jews arrived from the graveyards of Europe, North and South Africa, the Arab countries, South and Central America, Australia, and Asia. They spoke and read different languages with different alphabets. Israel beset with the problems of surrounding enemies, lack of water and food, and lack of proper housing, undertook an epic ingathering of so many people from every corner of the world. They established a system of learning centers called “ulpans” where Hebrew was taught in intensive total immersion classes. Within one decade Hebrew was a language in which people joked, bickered, became leftists, were derided by rightists, and cursed and loved. Today, it is spoken by 8.59 million people. Incredible and commendable….rsk

The other day, I took some American visitors to the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. My guests were struck not so much by the parchments themselves as by the sight of a group of Israeli fourth-graders, their noses pressed to the display cases, reading aloud from texts that were two millennia old.

In “The Story of Hebrew,” Lewis Glinert, a professor at Dartmouth College, aims to track the fate of the Hebrew language “from the Israelites to the ancient Rabbis and across two thousand years of nurture, abandonment, and renewal.” The most ambitious attempt since William Chomsky’s groundbreaking 1957 study, “Hebrew: The Eternal Language,” Mr. Glinert’s biography of Hebrew succeeds in representing the language not just as a vehicle of communication but as a crucible of national cohesion.

Mr. Glinert’s narrative, related with impressive sweep, begins with the classical Hebrew of biblical literature. The Bible’s sublime idiom is marked by stylistic suppleness and breadth, he says, that could encompass “narrative, prophecy, law, proverbs, philosophy, elegy, romance” and much else. The era of biblical Hebrew reaches as far back as the second millennium before the Christian era, and Mr. Glinert suggests that the spoken language survived the Jews’ exile to Babylon, their return and their struggles under Roman rule.

Spoken Hebrew seems to have died with little fanfare around A.D. 200, more than a century after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. But throughout the diaspora, Jews used written Hebrew to scaffold elaborate edifices of religious and legal interpretation. Though stateless, Hebrew would flourish as a written medium of cultural continuity. If the Jews safeguarded Hebrew, it was said, the holy tongue safeguarded “the people of the Book.”

The first of these edifices, the Mishnah, was compiled in the second and third centuries. This record of religious teachings and laws “created a rich lexical heritage that could be passed on to future generations,” Mr. Glinert writes, “and that Hebrew poetry and prose would draw upon long after Hebrew had ceased to be a spoken language.” The Babylonian Talmud—another great edifice of interpretation, setting out the authoritative commentary on rabbinic law—expanded Hebrew’s expressive possibilities by inflecting Hebrew with Aramaic, the lingua franca of the ancient Near East.

In the ensuing centuries those who standardized Hebrew’s grammatical architecture and honed its philological precision saw the language not just as a precious possession in itself but also as a fulcrum of Jewish life. “It must constantly be on our lips,” the Egyptian-born linguist and sage Saadiah Gaon wrote in the year 902, “for it affords us an understanding of the Divine Law.”CONTINUE AT SITE

Beholding Hell Before Age 20 Growing up in Brooklyn, Freely dreamed of sailing the world in the wake of Odysseus. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he got his chance. Greg Crouch reviews “The House of Memory” by John Freely.

When young John Freely asked his mother if they belonged to the working class, she answered, “We would indeed be of the working class if your father could find steady work.” Mr. Freely was born in 1926, the son of two Irish immigrants struggling to gain a toehold in Brooklyn. By the onset of the Great Depression, his father had failed as a trolley-driver and longshoreman. His mother kept the family from starvation with overnight work as a Rockefeller Center cleaning woman, but endured many humiliating evictions until his father finally caught steady work as a gravedigger in Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery.

On two separate occasions in the early 1930s, Mr. Freely’s mother took him and his younger sister back to Ireland to live with her people on the Dingle Peninsula. The young boy imbibed the Celtic lore of his grandfather in the primitive and poverty-stricken landscape that gained wide fame in the Great Blasket memoirs of Maurice O’Sullivan, Peig Sayers and Tómas O’Crohan. “The House of Memory,” the nonagenarian author’s account of the first quarter of his life, might be considered his contribution to the canon of the impoverished Irish, though life would soon carry him far from his upbringing.

When young John Freely asked his mother if they belonged to the working class, she answered, “We would indeed be of the working class if your father could find steady work.” Mr. Freely was born in 1926, the son of two Irish immigrants struggling to gain a toehold in Brooklyn. By the onset of the Great Depression, his father had failed as a trolley-driver and longshoreman. His mother kept the family from starvation with overnight work as a Rockefeller Center cleaning woman, but endured many humiliating evictions until his father finally caught steady work as a gravedigger in Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery.

On two separate occasions in the early 1930s, Mr. Freely’s mother took him and his younger sister back to Ireland to live with her people on the Dingle Peninsula. The young boy imbibed the Celtic lore of his grandfather in the primitive and poverty-stricken landscape that gained wide fame in the Great Blasket memoirs of Maurice O’Sullivan, Peig Sayers and Tómas O’Crohan. “The House of Memory,” the nonagenarian author’s account of the first quarter of his life, might be considered his contribution to the canon of the impoverished Irish, though life would soon carry him far from his upbringing.

A polymath educated on the G.I Bill, Mr. Freely would earn a Ph. D. in physics and spend his academic career teaching at Istanbul’s Bosphorus University, somehow finding the time to write more than 60 books on topics that include Turkey, Greece and the history of science. He first acquired the rudiments of an education at Fourteen Holy Martyrs School and Brooklyn Tech, but it was outside of class that he developed his especial fondness for Homer; young Mr. Freely dreamed of sailing the world in the wake of Odysseus. Soon he would: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into the war, though not until the middle of 1944 was Mr. Freely old enough to join the Navy. Mr. Freely volunteered and was placed in “Amphibious Roger Three,” a Navy unit (considered one of the precursors of the Navy’s modern SEAL teams) that was being sent to China to train elite forces in the armies of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

ANDREW HARROD: AMIR HUSSAIN’S UNCONVINCING BOOK

“Muslims have helped us to be more American, to be better Americans,” writes Loyola Marymount University theology professor Amir Hussain in his new book Muslims and the Making of America. Yet his volume offers little support for this multicultural, politically correct thesis.

“There has never been an America without Muslims,” Hussain states while noting Muslims among America’s African slaves both before and after the United States’ founding. Historians estimate their numbers at between ten and 20 percent of all slaves brought in bondage to America. He analyzes the subsequent “impact of Islamic practices on African American worship and music,” although, as other studies have noted, slave-master repression ultimately extinguished Islamic belief among American slaves.

Similarly examining the American founding, Hussain also concludes that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s “owning a copy of the Qur’an and reading it is crucial to my argument that Islam is part of the history of America.” He “began learning Arabic in the 1770s, after he purchased a translation of the Qur’an in 1765,” namely the 1734 English translation of the Quranic Arabic by English Orientalist George Sale. “It was this Qur’an that Keith Ellison used when he was sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress in 2007,” Hussain enthuses.

“To be clear, Jefferson was no fan of Islam,” Hussain writes, and Sale’s Quran offers reasons why. Sale’s introductory essay describes Islam as “so manifest a forgery” that has motivated “calamities brought on so many nations by the conquests of the Arabians.” Hussain also notes President Jefferson’s campaigns against North Africa’s Muslim Barbary pirates; thus the “founding of the modern American Navy is connected to the Muslim world.”

The worlds of entertainment and sports loom large in Hussain’s assessment of Islam in America. Therefore he dedicates his book to Ahmet Ertegun “and to Muhammad Ali, perhaps the two American Muslims with the greatest global influence.” While Ali dominated the boxing ring, Ertegun was “president and cofounder of Atlantic Records and the chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a man who shaped the music of the twentieth century.”

A strange Muslim role model, Ertegun’s biographies say almost nothing about piety, but note his elite background as a diplomat’s son who came to America when his father was Turkey’s ambassador. Using a truly broad definition of “Muslim,” Hussain concedes that Ertegun “wasn’t a ‘good’ Muslim. He lived the high life, was a bon vivant, drank, partied to excess, and had numerous affairs.” Ertegun himself noted in a 2005 interview that he “used to drink a bottle of vodka a day, every day, for about 40 years.”

NIDRA POLLER’S NEW BOOK: “TROUBLED DAWN OF THE 21st. CENTURY

“…a new world order is taking shape before our eyes. Will it be a world faithful to democratic values, and huddled under the umbrella of American military might, or a world delivered up to the logic of blackmail: we can do this to you because you don’t know how much we suffer and you can’t hit back at us because if you do we’ll send the whole world down the tubes.
What is happening to Israelis today will happen to every one of us tomorrow. Troubled Dawn, April 2002

July 2000. The Oslo Process reaches a dead end with the failure of the Camp David talks. What did you know about Islam then? September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon’s “provocative” visit to the Temple Mount triggers riots in Israel. Two days later, an international blood libel, the “killing” of Mohamed Al Dura, breaks the taboo against genocidal Jew hatred. Did you know the scene was staged? Al Aqsa Intifada! “Suicide bombers” go on a killing spree in Israel. In fact, they were martyrdom operations committed by shahids. The French called them kamikaze.

The floodgates opened, spewing murderous rhetoric and thuggish antisemitic violence worldwide. We were told peace process, national liberation, two-state-solution, and the Palestinian plight. Who knew that 9/11 was on the horizon? Did we understand why Israel and, by extension, the Jews were held responsible for endless atrocities committed against us? Accused of disproportionate force? What did I know about the history of jihad conquest?

American, Jewish, consecrated to the art of the novel, living in Paris since 1972, I found myself in the European heart of that upheaval. I set aside my literary research and focused on the 3-dimensional international novel unfolding before my eyes.

Troubled Dawn is the writer’s notebook I opened at that tipping point in contemporary history, my learning curve, a bildungsroman, a singular account of events as they unfolded. No retrospective reconstitution could ever convey the dramatic suspense of those years.

Perplexed, wounded, horrified by the power of the media and self-appointed experts to hone public opinion into a destructive weapon I forged my own tools to understand and resist those hostile forces. Hundreds of pages of notebook entries published here for the first time, interspersed with my earliest articles, trace my itinerary from an alarmed citizen to an internationally recognized journalist.

For George Eliot, to Appreciate the Jews Was to Save England by Alan Arkush

“I am Daniel Deronda.” https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2017/03/for-george-eliot-to-appreciate-the-jews-was-to-save-england/

With these words, Colonel Albert Edward Goldsmid, formerly of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, presented himself to Theodor Herzl in 1895 when the latter, who was soon to found the World Zionist Organization, made his first trip to England in search of supporters. There was some truth to what Goldsmid said. Like the eponymous hero of George Eliot’s 1876 novel, Goldsmid grew up as an Englishman, unaware of his Jewish origins, but ultimately returned to his people and became an early lover of Zion.

Goldsmid’s story, however, was much simpler than Deronda’s. The son of baptized Jews, he was a young officer serving in India when he first learned the truth about his background and reverted to Judaism—much as, in recent years, some Portuguese descendants of conversos have rejoined the Jewish people after uncovering their family history. By contrast, the coincidence-strewn path that leads Daniel Deronda, the ward of an English aristocrat, to the happy discovery that he is a Jew unwinds over hundreds of pages.

It all begins with Deronda’s rescue of a young waif named Mirah Cohen, who is about to drown herself. His efforts to assist Mirah in locating her long-lost mother and brother lead him to London’s Jewish East End, where he makes the acquaintance of a certain Mordecai, who is actually, as Deronda eventually learns, none other than Mirah’s brother, Ezra Mordecai Cohen.

And who or what is Mordecai to Deronda? Consumptive, not far from death, he is a Jew who clings to a vision of his people’s restoration to the Holy Land. This vision he struggles to transmit to Deronda, of whose own Jewishness Mordecai is almost completely convinced despite the latter’s honest but ignorant demurrals. Still, before he has any inkling of his own true identity, Daniel does figure out the two siblings’ relationship and succeeds in reuniting them. In the course of doing so, he falls in love with Mirah.

Not long afterward, the unrelated intervention of a friend of Daniel’s grandfather induces the Jewish mother whom Daniel has never met to summon him to Genoa, where she explains the lengths to which she has gone to spare him the burden of Jewishness. To her dismay, but not to the reader’s surprise, Daniel proclaims himself glad and proud to learn that he was born a Jew.

Upon returning to England, Daniel shares the good news with his new Jewish friends. Mordecai dies shortly afterward, content that he has breathed his soul into Daniel, and the novel ends with the newlywed Daniel and Mirah heading east together to fulfill Mordecai’s Zionist dreams. As the novel is set during the time in which Eliot was writing it, Daniel and Mirah would have moved to the land of Israel roughly two decades before Herzl would come to write The Jewish State.

So this,in a nutshell, is the story of Daniel Deronda. But it is by no means all there is to George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, an 800-page novel of which the tale of Daniel’s Jewish and Zionist initiation constitutes but a part. Indeed, in the eyes of one prominent 20th-century literary critic, the Jewish component of the book was wholly dispensable. The illustrious Cambridge professor F.R. Leavis dreamed of “freeing by simple surgery the living part of [this] immense Victorian novel from the dead weight of utterly different [that is, Jewish] matter that George Eliot thought fit to make it carry.”

And what was that “living part”? Specifically, Leavis proposed to sever, from the story I’ve just summarized, the “compellingly imagined human truth of Gwendolen Harleth’s case-history” and make it into the core of a presumably renamed novel. But who or what is Gwendolen Harleth to Daniel Deronda? A vivacious, alluring young woman suddenly reduced from a coddled existence to one of “poverty and humiliating dependence,” Gwendolen has been maneuvering to claw her way out through a marriage of convenience to a wealthy aristocrat she knows is unworthy of her. Her life intersects with that of Deronda already in the novel’s first pages, but they do not converse with each other until halfway through. As Gwendolen’s wretched marriage becomes more and more excruciating, Deronda becomes at first her moral adviser and then the object of her strongest affections. But not even the fortuitous death of her husband can bring him within her reach.

Apparently unimpressed by Gwendolen’s sad story, the book’s first Hebrew translator, David Frischman, made it his business, as Gertrude Himmelfarb has observed, to perform Leavis’s surgery “in reverse” by publishing a Hebrew edition “without the Gwendolen distraction.” Indeed, many appreciative readers of Daniel Deronda, even if they have never entertained the thought of operating on it, have found themselves wondering about the relationship between its two rather disparate parts.