M.H. Abrams: A Pioneering Jewish Professor of English Literature

April 24 2015

M. H. Abrams, who passed away on Wednesday, was the last surviving member of a “pioneering generation” of American Jewish literary scholars whose university careers began when the academic field of English literature was still largely off-limits to Jews. Adam Kirsch writes (2012):

Meyer Howard Abrams was born in 1912 in Long Branch, N.J., the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Until he started school at age five . . . he spoke only Yiddish, though his knowledge of the language has faded. His father, a house painter, was an Orthodox Jew, while his mother only “played along” at religious observance. While he and his younger brother . . . went to Hebrew school, Abrams recalled, his father “never pressed his sons to follow” his religious path. As a result, Abrams now believes, he “never got to resent religion, and could look at it with a neutral gaze”—a kind of sympathetic interest that is key to the insights of [his book] Natural Supernaturalism, which shows how much of modern literature is a recasting of age-old biblical tropes. . . .

[W]hile Abrams recalled that he experienced no overt anti-Semitism (though “if I looked for it, I would have found it,” he said wryly), he was given a “downright warning” by his faculty adviser that the “profession was not open to Jews.” . . .

In writing about [the influence of religious ideas on romantic literature], Abrams delves deeply into the Christian theological tradition. . . . Only occasionally, however, does he pursue what he calls “the redemptive imagination” back to its ultimate origin in the Hebrew Bible and in Judaism. The farthest he goes in this direction is a brief discussion of kabbalistic ideas of fall and redemption, and the Jewish component of the story of Natural Supernaturalism is left for others to tell.

Still, Abrams told me, his ability to see the Christian and post-Christian tradition in such novel ways might be attributable to his position outside that tradition. His own “freshness of outlook” he credited to the fact that he “didn’t take these [Christian] ideas for granted.” “Jews,” he pointed out, “had an outsider’s eye on a lot of Western tradition,” which may have helped them to see it in unexpected ways.

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More about: American Jewish History, Arts & Culture, Lionel Trilling, Literature, Religion, Romanticism

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror