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Kafka And God

This article is a bit of heavy-going (though I realize many would say the same about Kafka himself). I, personally, think  that Kafka's Jewishness and his religion did not influence his writing to any great degree. Quite frankly, Kafka was beyond all that stuff. Still, in my novel about Kafka, KAFKA IN THE CASTLE, I did not ignore the fact he was a Jew.




04 March 1917

              I dreamed I was a prophet. The prophet Amshel, which is my Jewish name. And, I could talk to God. And I was looking at myself in the mirror. And I was looking back at me. I mean, Franz was in the mirror, looking back at me - the me of Amshel - who was looking in the mirror. Except, I was as much me looking out, as I was me looking in. The wall behind the prophet was painted red, while the one behind Franz was of brown wood. They both could raise their fists at each other, and sometimes did. In unison, of course. That was the law. "Certainly, you may speak to God," said Franz. "What is there in that? Everyone speaks to God - in sentences, in actions, with their lives. No one is more talked-to in the Universe than God. But what a prophet needs, is to have God speak back."

     And then God spoke, from somewhere behind the mirror, but He did not speak to Amshel. He spoke to Franz. "You are on the wrong side," said God. "Speak to me," said Amshel. "Wrong side of what?" asked Franz. "Of the mirror," answered God. "Don't speak to him," shouted Amshel. "He is from the world of vipers." And Amshel raised his fist, but Franz had to hold up his fist in turn. "I am not the prophet you seek," said Franz, and pointed his finger at the mirror. "There is your prophet." And Amshel was also pointing toward the glass. "Not him - you don't want him." He then turned his hand toward himself. "I'm the one you want." But Franz was just as vehement, as his thumb arched toward his own chest. "Not me." For emphasis, he placed his hand over his heart. "In this, God, you have erred." And his words echoed those of Amshel, who also had his hand upon his heart. "In this, God, you haver erred." And the two faces stared at one another, their fingers clutching at the garments they wore. But God was silent.



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Kafka’s Yom Kippur Appeal

A century ago this High Holiday, Franz Kafka composed two masterworks, both informed by his Jewish heritage

By James Winchell
(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; insect Shutterstock)

The High Holidays of 2012 mark the centenary of one of Franz Kafka’s most inspired feats of writing—the personal, affective moment of creation of two tales of familial guilt, judgment, and quasi-ritual killing. One day after Yom Kippur in 1912 (which fell that year on Sept. 20-21), Franz Kafka composed his short story “The Judgment” (“Das Urteil”) in a single, feverish night.

The story relates the bizarre, “Kafkaesque” situation of Georg Bendemann, who cares for his elderly father and corresponds with a strangely sketchy friend in Russia; in turn, Georg’s father is unaccountably suspicious of virtually everything Georg says or does. Ultimately, his father condemns Georg to death by drowning, which the son promptly and filially enacts by falling off a bridge.

During the weeks that followed this intense feat of writing—more precisely, from the second half of November to the first days of December 1912—Kafka went on to compose the masterpiece, The Metamorphosis (Die Vervandlung). An uncanny articulation of “sacrificial logic” links “The Judgment” and The Metamorphosis with the Akedah, the command to Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, which is read every year in the Torah service on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Their juxtaposition reveals profound differences between Jews as both “the people of the book” and “the people of the body.” In this connection between texts, readers can discover a distinct, anti-sacrificial, Kafkaesque Judaism for the 20th century.

All of which poses the question: What, if anything, does the close proximity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mean to these narratives? The straightforward, chronological question implies a second, more vexing one: How did Kafka’s Jewish heritage inform his writing?