Kafka and the Rabbis: Re-reading “The Judgment” in Light of Rabbinic Law

Oliver Hiob


This article focuses on the judgment in Franz Kafka’s “The Judgment.” It reevaluates the father’s sentence, “I now condemn you to death by drowning!” from a religious-legal perspective. To approach Kafka’s text from this perspective challenges traditional interpretations of this narrative, which tend to not question the validity of the father’s judgment at all. By highlighting the various transgressions of halakhah, i.e. rabbinic law, by Georg as well as his father, this essay shows that it is in fact not Georg, but his father who is guilty and therefore needs to be punished. It shows how the father transgresses halakhah on several occasions and that his sentence over the son is illegitimate. Additionally, by pointing out the connection of Kafka’s narrative to rabbinic law, this essay highlights its midrashic, i.e. commentary character and relates it to the biblical story of Jacob and Esau in the Book of Genesis. (OH)

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