Geoffrey Chaucer

The Music Libel Against the JewsBy Ruth HaCohen (Yale University Press, 507 pp., $55)   IN NOVEMBER 1934, Privy Councilor Wilhelm Furtwängler, vice president of the Third Reich’s Music Chamber and conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, imprudently took to the pages of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung to defend the composer Paul Hindemith against the charge of “Jewishness” with which Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister for propaganda and enlightenment of the people, had justified a prohibition on the performance of his work.

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Today is Friday the 13th, a day feared by the campers at Crystal Lake, as well as nonfictional humans around the world. (A quick diagnostic quiz: Do you fear Friday the 13th? Then you have paraskevidekatriaphobia. Fear the number 13? Then you have triskaidekaphobia. Fear everything? Ask Lucy van Pelt.) The origins of both parts of the superstition are unknown: the fear of Fridays is mentioned as far back as Geoffrey Chaucer, and the fear of thirteen has been found in several cultures and religions.

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