Hillel Halkin’s books include Yehuda Halevi, Across the Sabbath River, Melisande: What are Dreams? (a novel), Jabotinsky: A Life (2014), and, most recently, After One-Hundred-and-Twenty (Princeton).
In his fiction, and especially in the novel Only Yesterday, S.Y. Agnon casts an ironic, unfooled eye on the inner lives of his fellow Jews and their lopsided bargains with modernity.
Curiosity—the most extraordinary of Greek traits—is a better prescription for writing Jewish history than is trying to breathe into it a “Jewish spirit.”
It is almost as if English and Hebrew had gotten together and decided, “Yes, we don’t as a rule do well rhyme-wise, but for Raḥel we’ll make a special effort.”
Raḥel will be read, sung, and recited long after many excellent Hebrew poets of her age, men and women alike, have been confined within classroom walls.
How a philosopher who had never before engaged in hard physical work moved to Palestine, became an ascetic day laborer, and inspired a movement.
Why is the writing of this great modern Hebrew novelist so dark and anguished, and why does so much of it take such a ferociously negative view of Jews?
Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik’s faith in a Zionist-led Hebrew renaissance never faltered; nor did his labors on its behalf. Yet he also became, so he felt, Zionism’s prisoner.
Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik was called upon by his contemporaries to play the role of a prophet. By consenting, he believed he had betrayed both his talent and his true calling.
In December 1903, Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik burst to fame and notoriety in a storm of rage at Jewish passivity; by 1910, his poetic career had stalled.
Growing numbers of American Jews care about Israel only to the extent that Israel validates their own self-image. Israelis feel much the same way about them.
Why did the great Micha Yosef Berdichevsky, who called on Jews to take personal responsibility for Zionism, never settle in or even visit Palestine?
Despite the failure of his cultural Zionism, the two main pillars of his thought remain central to Jewish life—and to arguments about Jewish life—today.
The unresolved rivalry between the great Zionist thinker and the great Zionist strategist still shapes the contending outlooks of many 21st-century Jews.
None of the great Jewish arguments that raged in the 19th century—tradition versus modernity, secularism versus religion, nationalism versus universalism—is over with.
Elsewhere than Zion, said the greatest Hebrew poet of the 19th century—until he changed his mind, paving the way for others.
The death of his brother in 1041 moved Shmuel Hanagid, one of Jewish history’s most extraordinary figures, to write nineteen piercing poems charting the rise and fall of his grief.
Did Jews recognizably still exist as a people in the late 19th century? Many questioned it. In his packed and vibrant fiction, the great Peretz Smolenskin proved them wrong.
The second Hebrew novelist was the first to imagine the pageantry and passion of life in ancient Israel—and thereby excited the dreams of emergent Zionists.
In 1819, Joseph Perl published Hebrew literature’s first novel. A riotous satire of the ḥasidic movement, it remains largely and unjustly forgotten.
The two-state solution won’t work, the one-state solution won’t work. Where does that leave us?
Zionism is at once the greatest repudiation of the Jewish past and the greatest affirmation of it.
The Jewish people would suffer no great loss if all the Jews of Europe were to pack and leave tomorrow.