Amos Oz’s Place in the Jewish Literary Canon—in His Own View

The acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz died last week at the age of seventy-nine. While his passing has already begun to generate reflection on his place in Hebrew literature, his final novel, in Michael Weingrad’s analysis, itself addresses this very question. Judas, published in English translation in 2017, has as its central character one Shmuel Asch, who is writing a dissertation about Judas Iscariot. Weingrad writes in his review:

It seems to me that the real engine driving Judas is neither political nor scriptural in nature, but literary. And here we might consider the name of Oz’s protagonist, starting with his surname. “[N]o, to the best of his knowledge he was not related to the well-known writer Sholem Asch” is how Oz, in an indirectly phrased comment, nods in passing to the Polish-born writer who was himself a kind of literary Judas. The bestselling Asch (1880-1957) was the most popular Yiddish writer in the world until his trilogy of novels on Christian themes, beginning in 1939 with The Nazarene, turned his Jewish readership against him.

Meanwhile, Shmuel shares his first name with Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the undisputed master of modern Hebrew fiction, whose presence is so ubiquitous in Oz’s novel as to constitute a kind of literary game. . . . Oz’s protagonist thus unites in his name the transgressive Yiddish writer rejected and the faux-pious Hebrew writer canonized.

In this light it becomes difficult not to see Judas as a meditation on Oz’s own status as Israel’s most famous contemporary novelist: . . . a writer unsure whether he can emerge once again from the rut of his past books. [And] the novel’s dichotomous presentation of Judas and Jesus is suggestive less of theological mysteries than of whether that same writer will be cast out of the lists like Asch or secure a Nobel prize (and have his visage gracing his nation’s currency) like Agnon.

[But] Judas will surely continue to be celebrated in translation by readers eager for another round of Israeli spelunking into the supposed original sin of the country’s founding, undertaken by no lesser a figure than the self-anointed moral conscience of the Jewish state. . . . Judas isn’t a very good book, but critics have taken great pains either to deny [its] weaknesses or to present them in the kindest possible light.

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More about: Amos Oz, Arts & Culture, Israeli literature, Jewish literature, S. Y. Agnon, Sholem Asch

Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank