You’re my hero!… Franz Kafka

You’re my hero!… Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka

Rabbi Benjy Stanley, young adults rabbi at Reform Judaism, selects the Czech writer Franz Kafka

Kafka is perhaps an unlikely hero, a neurotic young man in insurance. But his writing makes him heroic. He combined restraint and humour with imaginative courage to take on existence, expressing the feeling that we are not in control of our lives. In the short story Before the Law, a man spends his whole life waiting.

His eyesight begins to fail, not knowing “whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him”.

What a beautifully sad line! We can all feel so uncertain, confronted by the fogginess of the world around us and the unreliability of the world within us. Kafka believed that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us”.

He inspires me to come to reading and to Torah in order to be moved, to change, even to be hurt. Growing up, I loved literature, appreciating the need to communicate in an overwhelming world. It was through this love of literature, through a hero like Kafka, that I grew to love Judaism.

Kafka wrote to his father: “I could not understand how, with the insignificant scrap of Judaism you yourself possessed, you could reproach me for not… making an effort to cling to a similar insignificant scrap.”

Yet, Kafka helps me to dream of a Judaism that addresses the big questions, but with thoughtful restraint rather than the impassioned bombast that we sometimes fall into. He conveys the alienation that perhaps we need to recognise if we are to build relationships and communities of meaning.

He shows us that the world can be dark and our eyesight dim, but, with humour and simplicity, he enables me to pray, and to mean it, for internal and external change, as it says in a line from the Amidah: “Let our eyes see Your return to the heart of the world in mercy.”

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