In his epochal new play Leopoldstadt, which has just opened in London’s West End, one of Tom Stoppard’s heart-stopping lines is this:
‘A Jew can be a great composer, but he can’t not be a Jew.’
I have developed that theme with variations in a pair of commentaries for the Spectator:
…. What the play addresses, more cogently than any I can remember, is the question of whether Jews can ever surrender their identity to Christian civilisation. …In a Spectator podcast last week, Damian Thomson asked me why it was that baptized Jews like Heine, Disraeli and Mahler clung so resolutely to their self-recognition as Jews. Why was Disraeli so proud (and Queen Victoria so amused) when Bismarck referred to him as ‘the old Jew’? Was his baptism merely a matter of convenience? Not at all, I responded. It was an available gateway to opportunity in the 19th century, like sailing to America, but only a fool would consider dropping his passport in the ocean along the way….
Read on here.
UPDATE: Here’s some more smart analysis of this important work.