The Arty Semite

An Italian Moses and Mountaineer

By Benjamin Ivry

Erri De Luca

Italian author Erri De Luca shares two passions with the Biblical lawgiver Moses: mountaineering and the Hebrew language. Such is the message of “And He Said,” translated from the Italian original which appeared from Feltrinelli Editore last year..

Born in 1950 in Naples, Luca was a militant leftist in “Lotta continua” (Continuous Struggle), a group which comprised several activists of Jewish origin, including Gad Lerner and Alexander Langer. After years in the masonry trade as a laborer, Luca became fascinated with the Bible and the Hebrew language, which he began to study in 1983 before making a humanitarian trip to Africa. This fascination increased, and Luca eventually produced translations into Italian of the Books of Exodus; Jonah; Ecclesiastes, and others. Luca also learned Yiddish in order to translate Itzhak Katzenelson’s poem “Song of the Murdered Jewish People,”, about the Warsaw Ghetto.

“And He Said” notes that Moses repeatedly climbed Sinai as the first alpinist in recorded history. An avid mountaineer himself, Luca describes the Hebrew language in lively poetic terms, likening the letter Yod to an “apostrophe located on top of a line, an almond on a branch.” Luca stresses the emotional ties between 20th century Jews and Southern Europeans who “boarded the same ships” as humble emigrants; Italians “fled poverty, and [Jews] the burning houses of pogroms.” Whereas Italians “left their bitter homeland, [Jews] went from one exile to another. We journeyed together to the four corners of the wind.” These emotional consonances inspired Luca to start every day at 5AM by reading a passage in Hebrew, although without any intention of actually converting to Judaism. As Luca puts it, “I share the journey of Judaism, not its arrival. My dwelling place is not in the Promised Land, but on the outskirts of the encampment…My share of manna is assured by readings in Hebrew, begun before each dawn.” Luca describes himself quixotically: “Just as a youth departing from his homeplace to follow a circus caravan, so did I begin to follow the people of Sinai.” Luca concludes that for him, Judaism is a “caravan pathway of consonants accompanied above and below the line by vowels flying hither and thither.”

“And He Said,” an ardent love letter to the Hebrew language, deserves prompt translation into English, as do Luca’s essays about Bible readings, “A Cloud-Carpet”; “Olive Pit”; and “My Tongue Doth Cleave to my Palate”, the last-mentioned an allusion to Psalm 137.

Listen to Erri de Luca on French radio here.

Watch Erri de Luca explain on Italian TV in 2011 why he wrote about Moses here.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: mountaineering, Moses, Erri De Luca




Find us on Facebook!
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.