If you haven’t or haven’t in a while, take this book and read the small portion of it that is the parable known as “Before the Law”: A man awaits his turn at justice, is warned that many guards stand watch to keep him from his goal, and then, on death’s bed, is informed that the path was always his own personal one and that it was always open. What does it mean? Like the rest of the book, and the rest of Kafka’s work, it inspired some of the best minds to see anything from a critique of rabbinic Judaism to a reinterpretation of the messianic ideal. But Kafka being Kafka, the point is beside the point: Frustrating and beautiful, immediate yet just outside of our reach, simultaneously sensible and strange, the book feels like the crystallization of 20th-century Jewish thought, its hero, like its readers, facing shocking calamities yet never losing sight of his roots or his touch for humanity at large.
Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.