(A Photograph) Muselmann (Henryk Ross)


I was not aware that such a thing exists, but this seems to be a photograph of a “Muselmann.” The designation refers to those suffering hollowed out people, physically alive while pushed to the brink of psychic-spiritual death. Perhaps the assumption has been that the phenomenon of the Muselmann was restricted to the labor, concentration, and extermination camps. But this photograph (it was on view at the exhibition last year at the Jewish Museum of Heritage) was taken in the Lodz Ghetto.

The photographer was Henryk Ross, who worked for the Department of Statistics for the Jewish Council. At the exhibition, no special attention was given to this particular photograph. The official title of the photograph is “Hungry man walking on the street with a pail and an empty plate.”  If I remember correctly my visit to the exhibition, I first stumbled by accident upon the image as it appeared in a Hebrew language newspaper edition (?) of the Diary of a Young Girl in the Ghetto by Rywka Lipszyc. I think there was a blowup of the photograph prepared for the museum exhibition. At some point I looked and found the more diminutive “original” snapshot copy. The smaller copy of the photograph appears on the lower right of the photographer’s contact sheet, also shown at the museum.

I hope I have done justice to this remarkable picture. My own designation that this photograph of the young man is a photograph of a Muselmann is a spectacular and perhaps false claim. What justifies the designation is that the young man is identified as such (a Muslimi) in the caption of the photograph as it appeared alongside and illustrating the material from Lipszyc’s diary.

About the collection of photographs and the exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross, you can see more here. https://mjhnyc.org/exhibitions/memory-unearthed/



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Rav Naftali Tzvi Weiss (Auschwitz Album)

In America there’s no such thing as Holocaust Rememberance Day, but Twitter constitutes a country of its own. That is where I found this photograph of Rav Naftali Tzvi Weiss, Rosh Yeshiva in Bilke, and his students waiting for selection on the ramp in Auschwitz. The photograph was originally discovered in the so-called Auschwitz Album, a collection of photographs about which you can read here. Some two hundred photographs were taken presumably by an SS man, and they document the murder of the Hungarian Jews. Apparently, the image of these hasidic Jews appears on the first page of the album.

[On a trivial personal note. I’ve never seen this photograph before and was immediately moved by it. Part of this was finding this arresting image at Twitter. And then trying to post the image, finding a few words on the fly,  I posted the picture and realized I forgot to add the title. How do you name the people and the things that you see, the terrible things that you are given to see, and how do you compress that into the tight format of a social media post? I came up with one thing then the next, settled with “Rav Naftali Tzvi Weiss (Auschwitz)” and within five or ten minutes fixed it to “Rav Naftali Tzvi Weiss (Auschwitz Album)” in order to memorialize the name of the man, the memory of his murder, and the location of the image.]

[Part of the rareness of the photograph is that it is the photograph of an important hasidic leader, at Auschwitz. On Twitter in conversation with more religious people, they see in this extraordinary picture the expression of spiritual values (emunah), and they found genuine comfort in that. But without access to states of mind, all I see is not “expression” as much as the surface “impression” of pain, shock, stress, and suffering. I do not feel comfortable discomfiting the other more religious point of view of other people, but nor am I confident reading any more than that into the photograph of three pious men staring into an abyss. This is not a unique philosophical problem; the photograph gives one to reflect upon the problem of {understanding} other minds, here at a moment and place of severe extremis.]


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A Painful Question re: Rabbis & Racism & Judaism & Israel

Image result for eli west bank settlement

You can read here about the remarks by Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, the head of the Bnei David academy in Eli, and Rabbi Giora Redler, also at Bnei David, about enslaving Arabs and in support of racism and Hitler. I’ll start with this thought, which you can find in the article at the link. According to Redler, “The real Holocaust was not when they murdered the Jews, that’s not it. All these excuses — that it was ideological or systematic — are nonsense. Humanism, and the secular culture of ‘We believe in man,’ that’s the Holocaust.”

Most people will insist that this is not “Judaism,” and scholars can argue that Judaism is a construct, and the good ones will insist on tracking the very local ideological and institutional conditions that contextually determine this kind of expression. Alas, though, there is something of a thin reed quality to this kind of apologetic. After all the sentiment expressed here constitutes a living form of contemporary Judaism, which is not without history and textual warrants read in the new historical contexts that mark our own day.

So I will ask a crude question, knowing that it’s crude and ideologically loaded. A painful question, no doubt, but is there in fact no co-relation between racism and what Jonathan Garb calls “modern Kabbalah” emerging out of Sefat in the 16th C. and into the 18th C. in Eastern Europe and then into the 20th C. with the religious Zionism of Abraham Isaac and Zvi Yehudah Kook? Maybe you don’t want to draw thick lines between one thing and another, say for instance, the idea of Israel. But can you point me, at least, to the textual resources there in the anti-enlightenment and anti-emancipation tradition of modern Kabbalah in Ashkenaz that could put a brake to the kind of racism expressed by a rabbi at a religious Zionist settlement in the occupied West Bank? Or are there none?

It could be that much about the story about the racist rabbis in the settlement of Eli will be overblown, already by now. You can read here this old’ish article about Bnei David yeshiva, whose rabbis, according to  journalist Anshel Pfeffer have for a long time been at the focus of serial media storms. This is merely the latest. While some might still argue that the religion of reason is dull beer, Judaism without reason and rationalism, unchecked or let loose by state power, is bitter fruit that grows today in the Land of Israel.

Extending the metaphor –one can identify the source of the growth of this kind of expression on the occupation or on Zionism, and surely there’s as much truth to such a claims as there is to the claim that it’s not so simple to say that Zionism or the occupation poisoned the well. Because the problem or part of the problem is the well itself, and that these two things, the poison and the well, are not made of entirely different stuff.

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(Bund) Hagodeh Shel Peysekh With A Socialist Nusekh (1900/19)

Haggadah Socialist

‘There’s a lot of nostalgia going on at the anti-Zionist Jewish left for the heyday of Jewish socialism in East Europe. I wish I could read Yiddish or would love to see a complete translation of this Hogedeh with a Socialist nusekh. It’s appearance here is the 1919 version. As Seth Schwartz has noted on FB, the haggadah “was first printed in America in 1900 and then reprinted by “Sozialdemokrat”–the publisher of this 1919 edition–in 1910 with some slight changes to the first edition.” For now, I’ll settle for and share these snippets provided here at Jewish Currents. The whole thing in Yiddish is here.

Short of being able to read the entire text, I’ll only draw attention to the call for violent political action in the answer to the simple child’s question.

“Tam ma hu oimer, the simple honest person asks: “ma zois?” [What’s this?] What’s happening here between you? What are you fighting for? Over what are you struggling? Why don’t you just resolve this affair in good humour? V’amarto elav, to him you should answer: “B’chozek yad” [with a strong hand]. Only through violence were we liberated from Egypt, and so too only through violent struggle will we free ourselves today.”

And then the consummating conclusion to the Chad Oyvedo (a parody of the Chad Gadya):

“V’oso HaSocialism Borukh Hu—Then came socialism—blessed may it be—and ended the revolution that demolished the crisis that scorched the bankruptcy that annihilated the banker that wolfed down the loan shark that gobbled up the shopkeeper that displaced the bum that beat out the worker that my father bought for two pennies. Chad OyvedyoChad Oyvedyo.”

What was one to think in 1919, in Jewish Galicia? In historical retrospect, a critical reader might respond with sadness and horror. Some of you might find this thrilling. But there is something dispiriting about the Haggadah as an object, caught as it was between the advents of totalitarianism and fascism. As if innocent, although not quite, the violence of the rhetoric reflects the destructive political vortex at this historical moment that the ideological movement and its creators thought they would ride but which they could not and did not survive.

That’s my cynical political reading. Less cynical is the desire to pull this brand from the fierce fire that consumed it. Perhaps more interesting is a genre question, the way in which a left-political satire builds off the tradition whose authority it seeks to subvert. But again, a critical question intrudes, this one having to do with the shelf-life of this kind of satire.


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Israeli Black Panther Haggadah (1971)

Black Panther

You can find here a partial translation of the 1971 Israeli Black Panther Haggadah. There are 7 pages of the Hebrew original co-authored by Reuven Abergel and an English translation. Contents include the compilers’ introduction as well as political satirical variants of old favorites such as Ha’Lachma Anya, Ehad Mi Yodea, Arba’ah Banim, and Dayeinu. It was originally issued as part of a hunger strike held at the Western Wall during Pesach of that year. Thanks to Rebecca Pierce for sharing on Twitter the post from Unruly, which is self-described as “a social and racial justice blog by the Jews of Color and Sephardi/Mizrahi Caucus organized in partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace.”

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(Brooklyn) Lamb (Paschal)


(photo credit; Marta Braiterman Tanenbaum)

Marta also posts:

“Inside The Market Place, a huge, bustling new supermarket on East New York A,enue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Lubo<itch Hassidic, near “770 Eastern Parkway.” It’s really Schneerson-influenced here. Satmar, Bobo< and other Hassidim are in other neighborhoods of Brooklyn, like Williamsburg, or Borough Park. I can shop here wearing bluejeans with no hat, and the Luba<itch still treat me like a ba-al-ah- ha-bayiS. One young man saw me take some raw horseradish, and rushed to show me the stuff the workers had ground that day, for customers. I thanked him, exchanged products, and told him he sa<ed me many tears. Super friendly.”

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A Woman’s Voice & Nocturnal Judaism (Victoria Hannah)

22 letters

Victoria Hanna performed a piece at the Text Unbound: (Re-)Imagining the Talmud workshop at Bard College organized by Shai Secunda. Some of the performance was taken from Ani Yeshena (I Sleep), drawn from Song of Songs, which you can find here. She performed immediately after a lecture by Galit Hasan-Rokem in which Babylonian rabbis (in tractate Moed Katan) give voice to the strong poetry of women’s keening laments for the dead. Hannah’s performance reversed the voice. Shai recommended that I watch 22 Letters, taken from the Book of Creation (Sefer Yetzirah) which you can find here. (If you can’t follow the Hebrew, google search, for instance, “Victoria Hannah 22 Letters lyrics” and you’ll find translations.) Striking is the power of a woman’s voice and its visualization as that voice takes over, embodies, and transforms the nocturnal poesis of a patriarchal and mystical tradition. The frame is Mizrachi and (ex)religious. I would like very much to use the word “bewitching,” except that perhaps the term is too loaded.

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