A Politics and Poetics of Diaspora: <i>Heine's “Hebräische Melodien”</i>

Bluma Goldstein

in Diasporas and Exiles

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2002 | ISBN: 9780520228641
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520926899 | DOI:
A Politics and Poetics of Diaspora: Heine's “Hebräische Melodien”

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During the first half of the nineteenth century, Central European Jews struggled both to free themselves from the constrictions of the halakha and to become fully integrated citizens. The golden age of Spain—perhaps somewhat idealized in the nineteenth century—served Jewish critics of the oppressive exilic life as the basis of a much more palatable model of Jewish identity. In this context, the chapter sees in Heine's work an inviting positive conception of diaspora as well as a critique of “the devastating consequences of an oppressive exilic life.” Negative images of galut, of exilic life, inhabit the three poems that constitute “Hebräische Melodien.” In the first poem, “Prinzessin Sabbat,” Heine portrays the miserable situation of the “weekday Jew” imprisoned by traditional ritual. In the second, “Jehuda ben Halevy,” the narrator-poet feels the stirrings of the ancient Babylonian exile. The final poem, “Disputation,” dramatizes a kind of exilic “intellectual and cultural immobility.” The specter of galut in these poems serves to highlight Heine's suggestion of a different model, that of “an integrative diaspora that promotes interactive dialogue across borders.” Heine thus makes available to us the prospect of “integrating substantive aspects of Jewish tradition and secular culture.” The result is a picture of diasporic life in which the modern Jew might thrive as a Jew and as a European.

Keywords: Central European Jews; halakha; exile; Jewish identity; diaspora; galut; Prinzessin Sabbat; Jehuda ben Halevy; Disputation

Chapter.  8563 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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