A Very Serious Jew

A Very Serious Jew


norman lebrecht

March 07, 2010

Before you sit down tonight to watch the Oscars, you may wish to sample the latest in-depth analysis of one of the outside contenders.

A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers’ account of second-generation immigrant alienation in the 1960s Midwest has already been subjected to more second-hand cogitation than its essentially light narrative can bear – a topic I discussed here when it came out on first release.

But the film has now reached Israel and the critical responses there are not just confused and misplaced but personal, polemical and often preposterous. The title has been translated into Hebrew as ‘Yehudi Tov’ – or A Good Jew and amid all the post-zionist dialectical writhings of critics who are more used to reviewing teen frolics, there is a lead review in Haaretz which proclaims A Serious Man to be, and I quote with care, ‘most profound and most important statement that has been made in recent years on the subject at hand: What is Judaism?’ Read it here, and weep.

The Jewish religion, it is true, has lacked a leading exegetical voice since the deaths in 1993-4 of Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik and Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz, but the notion that a pair of filmmakers – a brace of visual storytellers – could define the state of the faith in our times is so unbalanced that, once I’d got over the fit of giggles, I wondered how any fact-based newspaper could have allowed such piffle past its subs desk.

Art criticism has never been one of Israel’s stronger exports, but this has no bearing on any recognisable reality. A Serious Man, in Israel, has been spun to virtual insanity