Monday, March 3, 2008

Bad Jew

When Leopold Bloom glances through the newspaper cuttings about land speculation, developing kibbutzim, and the burgeoning Zionist movement, he thinks of Moses Montefiore, a reputable Jewish banker and financer. While this association is somewhat merited given Montefiore’s involvement in developing the Holy Land, the fact that Bloom identifies Zionism with a famous Jew who works with money reflects the prejudices of the Christian society in which he is immersed.

His estrangement from his Jewish identity is further illustrated by a biblical allusion the third-person narrator makes that Bloom doesn’t pick up on. The narrator describes Dlugacz as having “sound meat… like a stallfed heifer” and making a “red grimace” before collecting his payment (59). Completely oblivious to the imagery in front of him, Bloom omments on the “blurred” picture in the newspaper of a “young white heifer” that he can barely see (59). In ancient Jewish practice, a red heifer (unblemished and one color, not actually red) was sacrificed to purify those who have come in contact with a corpse. To Joyce or a well versed biblical scholar, the scene signifies that the butcher’s “stallfed heifer” is unfit to erase his and Bloom’s impurities, while the pure “white heifer” grazing on a farm in the Holy Land meets the requirements perfectly.

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