You know the drill: Is Judaism a religion or an ethnicity? A nation or a tribe? A clan or a culture? I had the pleasure of interviewing English literary critic Devorah Baum, who writes in her new book, Feeling Jewish, that the best way to think about Jewishness (if not Judaism) is as a state of mind, or brain, represented by a surfeit of feeling, a bubbling-over of emotion. Thus: Some accuse the Jew of neurosis, other of hysteria, or anxiety; we are accused of excessive mother attachment, and we incline toward utopian dreams in politics—in all these cases, the “Jew,” in his own imagination and in the anti-Semitic worldview, is that creature from whom feeling bubbles forth.
By contrast, anti-Semitism is often an attempt to restrain feeling, to tamp it down, to order it—think of fascism in politics, which prizes order, predictability, and a return to known folk ways, against the roil of Jewish disorder and uncertainty. To make her case, she draws on Bernard Malamud, Larry David, the forgotten Victorian English writer Amy Levy, and much more. I had the pleasure of interviewing Baum about her book earlier this month in New Haven. Click on this video to watch some highlights, from a session that was all highlights.