His Life with Hebrew

Alan Mintz, one of America’s foremost scholars of modern Hebrew literature, died on Saturday at the age of sixty-nine. Last month, he published in Mosaic a personal essay on his career studying, teaching, and speaking the language that, as “the portable component of the Jewish national idea,” was to him a constant and sustaining “source of nourishment and delight”:

In my third year as a graduate student in English at Columbia University, I came to a life-changing conclusion: as much as I enjoyed studying Victorian literature, I couldn’t see myself devoting my life to it. My real passion lay instead with the study of Jewish and Hebraic culture. After finishing my Columbia doctorate in the late 1970s and sampling different sub-specialties in Jewish studies—midrash, medieval Hebrew poetry, and others—I settled on modern Hebrew literature.

By that time, my Hebrew was quite good, at least for someone who had never previously aspired to be a scholar in the field. In fact, it was a source of some pride. The Conservative movement’s Hebrew school I had attended as a child in Worcester, MA had been staffed by committed Hebraists; entering college, I saw my future role in life as a rabbi or a Jewish educator, and at the summer camp where I served as a counselor during my college years, Hebrew was the semi-official language. By then, I could not only read texts in Hebrew but speak the language confidently—or so I thought. But once I decided to profess Hebrew, the rules of the game changed demonstrably. The glass that had been half-full now seemed, in my own eyes, half-empty.

I say “in my own eyes” because much of the anxiety I would experience as an American Hebrew speaker, and to some degree still experience as a long-time professor of Hebrew literature, has come from my sense of exposure to the judgment of others. . . .

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More about: Hebrew, History & Ideas, Jewish education, Jewish studies, Modern Hebrew literature

 

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat