Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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HOROWITZ / PORTNOY S SISTER
37
in sharp contrast to the figuring o f eros in earlier male texts,
where sexual desire draws one away from the Jewish community
and from Jewish practices. T here , Juda ism and Jewish cu lture
are figured as symbolically (if not actually) castrating. (Portnoy’s
overwhelming m o ther has become an ethnic cliche.) In n a r ra ­
tives by Jewish men, Juda ism smothers male desire, and inhibits
male behavior. Thus , a resurgence o f erotic feeling becomes
both the reason one leaves the restrictions o f Judaism , and the
reward for do ing so successfully.
IMPACT OF HOLOCAUST
A lthough not explicitly elaborated, the destruction o f Euro­
pean Jewry underlies the bu rgeon ing male eros tha t pulls one
ou t o f Judaism . T he American discourse about the Holocaust
in the late 1940’s, fifties and sixties criticized the perceived pas­
sivity o f Holocaust victims. T h e image o f the “old Jews” — pious
and learned — came to rep resen t the European Jew, figured
as politically powerless and sexually im po ten t.1Jewish-American
writers distanced themselves from Jewish catastrophe, figuring
themselves as new Jews, whose erotic powers mark the ir d if­
ference from the old Jew. Interestingly, this desexualized po r ­
trait o f the old Jew repud ia tes anti-Semitic stereotyping which
troped the Jew as lusty and perverse, irresistible and irrep res­
sible, while the Jewish-American erotic gusto ironically and un ­
intentionally reproduces tha t trope. In any case, the sexual ex­
ploits and desires which drive the heroic emplotments o f Jewish
American male fiction o f tha t era serve as counter-narrative
to the real o r imagined passivity o f the ir ancestors o r co­
religionists in Europe.
By the time Rapoport, Goodman, Roiphe, Ochs and others
write, thinking about the Shoah has grown more complex, and
narratives o f passivity, heroism or martyrdom have begun to
unravel. With historical distance — the passage o f time from
then to now — the th rea t o f a second Shoah recedes and a
feeling o f loss takes its place. Hence, a sense o f generosity to­
wards Orthodoxy , and deference to its claim o f unb roken con­
tinuity with destroyed communities.
1. Janet Hadda’s
Passionate Women, Passive Men: Studies in Yiddish Literature
(New York: SUNY, 1988) suggests that this had some basis in reality.