New Jersey Jewish News
Noted writers shrill lamentation decries the fallen-away Jews
The Wicked Son by David Mamet. Schocken, 2006. 208 pages, $19.95
Sidebar Article: You Can Just Be Nothing
Truth be told, Im a big fan of David Mamet. I see all his films, and I enjoy the special Mamet banter that makes his scripts unique. It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I looked forward to reviewing The Wicked Son, his thin volume that explores anti-Semitism and the phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred. Im sorry to report, however, that the book disappoints, for two reasons. The first is that Mamets volume is more a shrill lamentation for the state of lapsed and fallen Jews than a critical analysis of a subject that, according to the author, characterizes all too many American Jews. The second disappointment is that Mamets prose is surprisingly difficult to follow. The writing is so repetitive and convoluted that his arguments are often incomprehensible.
Divided into 38 short chapters, Mamet chastises Jews who seek truth and acceptance anywhere but in Judaism itself. Using the metaphor of the Wicked Son who asks at the Passover seder, What does this story mean to you? Mamet explores the many ways in which Jews distance themselves from their heritage, make a mockery of their customs and traditions, and provide aid and comfort to Israels enemies. He finds the failings of Jews who behave like the Wicked Son largely a phenomena of the United States, and scolds a fallen-away Jew for embracing a life of privilege made possible by the father whose religion and race he discards. (It is surprising that someone as erudite as Mamet continues to refer to Jews as a race, a definition of Jews that has long been rejected by scholars.) The wickedness of the Wicked Son, Mamet continues, is that he feels free to enjoy his intellectual heritage, the Jewish love of learning, while at the same time proclaiming, My parents were Jews, but I do not consider myself a Jew. This, states Mamet, is certainly wickedness.
Although Mamets broadsides are written with great passion, for a writer of his reputation, he has constructed his book with sentences that are labored and tediously written. What are we to make of the following?
The most enlightened of intellects are not protected from the virus of ethnocentrism, merely substituting it is plain, for the everybody knows of the less educated.
Or these flowery sentences about Jews who celebrate Christmas:
It is not, finally, a yearning to be like the Christians which drives these conflicted winter Jews; they have simply fallen under the influence of the old gods. They strive, in their fog, not to come to a final decision about the presence or absence of the mistletoe, but to confess the sin of apostasy and to prostrate themselves, weeping, before the waning sun.
This is not a condemnation of the authors argument; it is only that to understand Mamets thesis, the reader must plow through some very strained prose.
Mamets book begins with the proposition that the world hates the Jews. The world has always and will continue to do so. In their desire to be accepted, states the author, many assimilated Jews overlook the many slights directed toward them by the Gentiles and attempt to distance themselves from their own religion and peoplehood. In their effort to attain approval, the counterparts of the Wicked Son adopt a universalism that negates the teachings of Judaism and offers intellectual succor to those committed to the destruction of Israel. Mamet finds that too many Jews are proud to announce their ignorance of all observance, and who likely have never felt the warmth of Shabbos, the purity of Yom Kippur afternoon and do not weep at the death of [their] cousins in the Shoah.
Many of us may take issue with the seeming exaggeration that characterizes the Jews described in Mamets tome. But one thing is certain. After perusing this passionate polemic, the reading of the Four Sons during the Passover seder will never be the same.
Comment | | |