James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, Moses, Judaism

Is Leopold Bloom Jewish?

It is odd that the creator of the most outstanding Jew in modern literature did not at that time know any of the Jewish community in Dublin. – Padraic Colum, p. 56, Our Friend James Joyce

Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. – James Joyce, in the New York Times

It is a truth universally acknowledged that James Joyce’s modernist epic Ulysses tells the story of a Jewish Dubliner named Leopold Bloom. So famously Jewish, in fact, that Mel Brooks borrowed the name for the peevish accountant in The Producers. I say this because the title of this post may seem absurd on its face. “Of course Bloom is Jewish!” you may be scoffing. Before you turn to another blog, hear me out. Is Dublin’s most famous Jew not really Jewish?

Bloom’s father Rudolph was a Hungarian Jew, so most of the Jewish references swimming around Bloom’s mind have their origins in childhood memories of him. Jewishness is matrilineal, however, and Bloom’s mother, Ellen (née Higgins) was not Jewish. There is some speculation among folks who are given to speculate about such things that Ellen’s father, Julius Higgins, was also a Hungarian Jew and therefore Leopold is ¾ Jewish, though this is not explicitly backed up in the text of Ulysses. We know little about Julius Higgins other than that he was born Karoly. While this is a common Hungarian name, it doesn’t necessarily make him Jewish.  Regardless, even if Julius had been devoutly Jewish, his status alone wouldn’t factor into whether Leopold or Ellen were Jewish as he was a father and not a mother.

Continue reading “Is Leopold Bloom Jewish?”

James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, kidney

Agendath Netaim

He took a page up from the pile of cut sheets: the model farm at Kinnereth on the lakeshore of Tiberias. Can become ideal winter sanatorium. Moses Montefiore. I thought he was. Farmhouse, wall round it, blurred cattle cropping. He held the page from him: interesting: read it nearer, the title, the blurred cropping cattle, the page rustling.

The cited passages appear mainly on pgs. 59-60 of Ulysses (1990 Vintage International Edition). 

Sometimes all a man needs is a nice pork kidney to start his day.

Leopold Bloom is endeavoring to do just this in “Calypso,” Ulysses’ fourth episode. Our hero has nipped around the corner from his house to buy the last pork kidney from Mr. Dlugacz, a porkbutcher and fellow Hungarian Jew. This encounter highlights just how tepid Bloom’s Judaism is – he’s opting for a decidedly un-kosher breakfast treat while ogling the “moving hams” of a stout cleaning woman. To reign in his lust while waiting in line, Bloom picks up a pamphlet for Agendath Netaim, a Zionist “planter’s company” offering to sell plots of land in Palestine to be planted with citrus trees and other crops. The Zionist movement encouraged the Jewish diaspora to settle in Palestine in order to create a Jewish homeland, eventually (spoiler alert) culminating in the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. Bloom reads the pamphlet with interest, but given the casual nature of his Judaism, does it stir a longing in him for a Promised Land far to the East? 

Continue reading “Agendath Netaim”