How a Young Literary Scholar Came to Teach the Hebrew Bible at Berkeley

Jan. 27 2016

Robert Alter, now a celebrated scholar and translator of the Hebrew Bible and modern Hebrew literature, tells the story of how leaving New York for the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 led him to look past 18th-century English novels to Jewish subjects:

During my first years in Berkeley, I offered an undergraduate lecture course on contemporary fiction in which I comfortably inserted the Hebrew novelist S. Y. Agnon alongside [Vladimir] Nabokov, the Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer alongside Saul Bellow and Alain Robbe-Grillet. On the graduate level, I began giving seminars on modern Hebrew literature, conducted in Hebrew, for a very small cohort. As word spread, however, that one could do serious work in modern Hebrew at Berkeley, students began to arrive from across the country and from Israel. Berkeley has had a major program in Hebrew literature ever since. . . .

In the mid-1970s, I became interested in biblical narrative, having had a good grounding in biblical Hebrew as well as in the modern language. . . . I devised . . . a new course—conceivably, the first of its kind anywhere—on the poetics of biblical narrative. I had a relatively large group, about ten students, many of them quite gifted and with serious literary interests, and together we soon developed an excited sense that, even though this was the Bible, we were exploring new territory.

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More about: Academia, Arts & Culture, Hebrew Bible, Judaic Studies, Modern Hebrew literature, Translation

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam