Tuesday, 25 August 2015

KAFKA’S JUDAISM. Dear father, Judaism could not save me from you.

A passage from Franz Kafka's Letter to His Father:

One would think it might have been helpful, or rather, that we two could have found each other in Judaism or even that it would have been a common starting point for us. But what kind of Judaism did you offer me! Over the years I developed three stances. As a child, and in agreement with you, I reproached myself because I did not go to the synagogue often enough, didn’t fast, etc. I thought I injured you rather than myself thereby, and I was seized by bad conscience, which was always at the ready. 

Later, as a young man, I could not understand how you with your non-existent Judaism could reproach me, because I did not out of respect for my parent, as you put it, made no effort to practice an equally meaningless Judaism. As far as I could see it really was non-existent, a nothing, a joke, not even a joke. Four times a year you went to the synagogue, closer in spirit to those who didn’t care than to those who were serious. You patiently went through the prayers, perfunctorily, surprising me sometimes by pointing out a passage in the prayer book which was being recited at the time. As for the rest, I was allowed to bum around wherever I wanted as long as I was in the synagogue (that was the main thing). So I yawned and fooled around for many hours (the only time I was as bored was later when I took dancing lessons) and tried to enjoy the few distractions offered there, such as when the ark of the covenant was opened, which always reminded me of shooting galleries, where a door opened if you hit the target, with the difference that there something interesting popped up, and here it was always the same old headless dolls. Even so, by the way, I was full of anxieties, feeling not only the obvious fear of being among many people and in close contact with them, but also that I might be called to [recite a blessing over] the torah, as you casually mentioned. For years I trembled at the thought of it. 

Otherwise I was not bothered a great deal by the boredom, except perhaps during bar mitzvah, which required only meaningless memorizing, that is, led to a meaningless test performance. Also there were a few small, insignificant events involving you, such as when you were called to the torah and weathered that occasion (a purely social event according to my sentiments), or when you remained in the synagogue during the commemoration of the soul and I was sent out, which for a long time gave me the vague impression that it was something indecent because I was sent away and because I had no further involvement. 
(Source: Letter to my Father, text on www.kafka.org; my translation)

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