- Joyce and the Jews: Culture and Texts
In Joyce and the Jews Ira Nadel offers the most complete discussion to date of Joyce's keen interest in the Talmudic tradition; he also presents convincing evidence of Joyce's psychological and creative affinities with the Jewish mind. The thoroughness of Nadel's approach to the cultural and historical complexities of the subject makes this study a must not only for Joyceans but for anyone interested in Jewish contributions to the culture of our time. An incident cited by Nadel early in the book provides a shocking initiation to Joyce's lifetime rapport with Jewish lore. Rabbis caught by the Romans studying the Torah were instantly set on fire wrapped in the "Scroll of the Law," a cruel but unmistakable recognition of the inseparability of text and reader. Such temporal and eternal synthesis could not have escaped Joyce who, in a sense, saw himself as the living temple of the word. "Joyce's Judaism is textual," writes Nadel, "because like the writer, the Jew [and Joyce] expects the identity from the book."
Jewish internationalism appealed to Joyce to the point that he became a Wandering Jew by choice. Nadel identifies Joyce's sense of history with the Jewish kairos, an extended moment filled with meaning, because Jewish history is not perceived through various details but through a feeling of continuity. Memory and remembrance play an essential role in transforming myth into history, a process reminiscent of Finnegans Wake's cyclical approach. Moses, a dominant presence in Joyce, finds his voice in the Wake where Joyce inscribes his "own tablet which his readers alternately spurn and obey." Nadel further argues that collective oral participation, a standing practice in Talmudic tradition, is beneficial to the exegesis of Finnegans Wake, a text that can be enriched by readers with different linguistic backgrounds.
Parallels between Joyce's rejection of Catholicism and many Jews' voluntary disfranchisement from mainstream Judaism explain Bloom's uncertain acceptance of his Judeo-Christian inheritance. Actually, Nadel sees Bloom as "a complex encoding by Joyce of this duality." To illustrate the contradictory nature of the Jew, the urge to self-denial and the resulting lack of identity, Nadel quotes Hitler's Mein Kampf, wryly commenting that the Führer's remark: "the language of the Jew 'is not . . . a means of expressing his thoughts, but a means for concealing them,'" is pretty much on target. Because the Jew was compelled to repress means of self-expression, including the language (Hebrew and Yiddish), "he often adopted a new aggressive career, that of the journalist, and a new public language, journalism. The role of journalist suited the Jew because it gave him license to roam about the city or country questioning events and actions." Bloom roams enough to fit the description. His role in the world of journalism, however, is peripheral. Nadel finds Bloom's position as advertising canvasser a subtle satire of Jewish prominence in journalistic circles.
Joyce and the Jews touches upon every aspect of Joyce's lifelong absorption in Jewish culture, the various friendships he formed in the cities he chose to grace with his presence, his lasting fascination with the irresistible "dark, passionate voluptuous quality" of the Jewish woman transferred by proxy to Bloom, whose first positive impression of Molly is indebted to her Jewish looks.
Although Nadel's study is characterized by scrupulous scholarship and exceptional [End Page 801] objectivity, there are times when a prophetic undercurrent seems to undermine the self-imposed detachment of the writer to make a case for the Jewishness of Joyce. The last sentence in the book is revealing: "For some, Joyce as a 'Jew' may only be an alluring myth, but for others, it is a key to understanding his life." Ira Nadel hands over this key. It opens many doors.