Bloomsday 2001 e.v.
16 Juno 80 p.s.U.
97 years ago today Leopold Bloom, a fictitious man, wandered the streets of Dublin, a real city; and Joyce scholars still argue about his odd odyssey. I would like to add to the confusion with a note about Bloom’s “Jewishness.”
“Is” Leopold Bloom a Jew?
Not according to Orthodox Rabbinical law, which defines a Jew as the child of a Jewish mother. Bloom as the child of a Protestant mother “is not” a Jew.
According to Nazi law, however, a Jew “is” a person with a known Jewish ancestor. Bloom as the son of Rudolph Bloom [born Rudolph Virag], “is” a Jew.
See how easily a person can “be” and “not be” a Jew at the same time?
On the third hand, most humanists define a Jew as one who believes in and practices the Judaic religion. By this definition, Bloom who neither believes in nor practices any religion “is not” a Jew. But Marilyn Monroe, who practiced and probably tried to believe in Judaism while married to Arthur Miller, “was” a Jew by that definition– for those few years, if not before or after.
Extensionally or phenomenologically, a Jew “is” somebody considered Jewish by all or most of the people he meets. By this standard the multi-ordinal Bloom “is” a Jew again.
Once more: in terms of pure existentialism a Jew “is” somebody who chooses to consider themselves Jewish. Bloom obviously doesn’t consider himself Jewish but Irish, most of the time. Only when under verbal assault by the anti-semitic Citizen in Barney Kiernan’s pub does Bloom define himself as Jewish ["And Jesus was a Jew too. Your god. He was a Jew like me."] Here he obviously has in mind the “known Jewish ancestor” rule, because he adds “And so was his father,” to which the Citizen replies, as a correct Catholic, “He had no father,” and Bloom, unfamiliar with that theology — logic played with deuces, eights and one-eyed jacks wild — can only pragmatically reply, “Well, his uncle then.”
But recalling the incident later, Bloom says “And he called me a Jew, which as a matter of fact I’m not.” Here he returns to his customary “believer in Judaic religion” definition.
I suppose Joyce made Bloom such a tangled genetic and cultural mixture to expose the absurdities of anti-semitism; but I also suspect that he wanted to undermine that neurolinguistic habit which postmodernists call “essentialism” and which Korzybski claimed invades our brains and causes hallucinations or delusions every time we use the word “is.”
robert anton wilson