Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Late night thoughts on listening to Bach's St Matthew Passion

Over on the other side of the county, Julietta comments about Easter and being Jewish and dealing with the “Jews killed Jesus” stuff, and related musings:

Which is why when Easter comes around, I want to go into hiding. Because I have studied the blood libel against Jews and can’t help but feel oh shit, here we go again, someone is going to call us Christ-killers and believe we drain the blood of Christian babies to make matzohs. Surely, you say, that couldn’t happen NOW, but you would be wrong (keep reading to the middle of the page on this site, down to the letter written by a certain Winston Smith, penned in 1997).

My people have been massacred as a result of this ridiculous myth since 1144 CE (Common Era, as opposed to AD or “After Death,” because hey, imagine: Some of us don’t look at history in terms of when Jesus died). It kinda sorta stopped in a mass way after WWII, when Adolph Hitler revived the blood libel myth to help justify exterminating us, but there are still people who believe that Jews practice ritual murder.

I wanted to comment, but I think I have more to say than goes in a comment, so I’ll put my comment here in a main entry. There are the odd and end little things, like that “AD” isn’t for “After Death”, but “Anno Domini”, “the year of our Lord” (supposedly (though inaccurately) reckoning time from Jesus’ birth, not his death); and like that “CE” is a semantic cop-out, because it’s really just saying that we’re marking time from Jesus’ birth, same as the Christians, only we won’t call it that, nyah-nyah.

More significantly, I, as Julietta, am Jewish by heritage, if not by belief, and yet I also love the liturgical music of the classical times. My favourite music includes the B-Minor Mass and the St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach, the Mass in C Minor and the Requiem by Mozart, Haydn’s oratorio Die Schöpfung (“The Creation”), and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. One doesn’t have to believe in it to love the soaring sounds.

Most significantly, my experience differs from Julietta’s, in that I’ve had no exposure at all to Jew-hating. Indeed, one can easily find it from searching the web, so clearly there are still people who believe all sorts of bizarre things about Jews, and there are certainly people who would label us all “Christ killers”. But I have not met them.

I have met many people who hate blacks, or Latinos, or Asians. It’s not hard at all to find them, and, as I’ve said here before, they don’t seem shy about letting people know how they feel.

Yet I’ve never, not once, had the impression that anyone has even treated me differently because my ethnic background is eastern-European Jewish. No one has called me names, no one has barred me from anything, no one has made comments behind my back but within my earshot.

In that, I’ve been lucky, because Julietta is certainly right when she says that Jews have been sequestered, beaten down, and massacred throughout history.

As to the question of whether one should feel guilty about loving the music of those who would persecute one, I say that art transcends hatred and separation and persecution. Art has its own world, in which there’s only the artist and the art lover, and the art fills that world and leaves no room for guilt or uncertainty.

Maybe one could get one’s music director to include Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service, or a vocal version of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. But I’ll point out that Mr Bernstein often conducted Christian music, and that one of his own most significant compositions was his 1971 Mass.

I’ll give the final word on guilt to another composer, Tori Amos, who clearly sees that no religion holds sole deed to the house of guilt:

I’ve been raising up my hands
Drive another nail in
Got enough guilt to start
My own religion

Posthumous apologies to Lewis Thomas for this entry’s title....


Julietta said...

Lewis Thomas, as in Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas? And now I know where Billy Collins gets I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Three Blind Mice.

I sang the Bach B Minor Mass, and Mozart Requiem, and we ROCKED.

Nyah nyah. Very funny. And excellent point. Should I give up calendars altogether in protest, or just go along with the obvious majority?

Your little hebe aka sheeny aka mocky aka kike aka hymie aka yid friend.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, as in Lives of a Cell and Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony Lewis Thomas.

On calendars: I suppose you could use the Jewish calendar, though it'd be a little hard to coordinate with others that way. Happy 18th of Adar II, 5768.

Alternatively, you could just figure that you don't usually have to say "CE" or "AD", so it mostly doesn't matter.

Paul said...

I have never understood the anti-semetic sentiments of those who say, "the Jews killed Jesus." In my understanding of the Jesus myth, those who were responsible for the death of Christ were specifically the corrupt leaders of the Jewish religion at the time whose power was under attack by his teachings. Blaming Jews as a group would be like blaming all Christians worldwide for the persecution of Galileo by the Vatican.

Besides, according to Christian dogma, it all unfolded according to divine plan. It's not like anyone had a choice.

Barry Leiba said...

Paul: yes, and yes. And, it was almost 2000 years ago, so anyone involved has been dead for a good long time. And yet, still, there's a small but significant group of people who do "blame the Jews", including the current ones.

No one said it makes any sense.

Julietta said...

Oh, so you get on my case for saying anti-Semitic instead of anti-Jewish, but not on Paul's? Okay, fine, be that way. :-)

Wanted to let you and everyone know that our Master Singers concert is April 5th and 6th, Bedford Presbyterian Church, more info here: http://pages.prodigy.com/XVXH78A/msw.htm,
and can you please teach me how to code a hyperlink again???