A Great Talmud Scholar’s Appreciation of a Great Novelist

Both the Yiddish poet and novelist Chaim Grade and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s leading talmudist, Saul Lieberman, were products of the great yeshivas of pre-World War II Lithuania. The former depicted this milieu in his literary works, the latter sought to marry its intellectual activities to modern critical scholarship. In 1967, Lieberman wrote an encomium to Grade in Yiddish, translated into English for the first time here:

[Grade’s fiction is] filled with all kinds of personalities and characters, with never a single one even remotely resembling any of the others! Such weird types, such as Vova Barbitoler in Tsemakh Atlas [translated into English as The Yeshiva], or the blind beggar Muraviev in Der Shulhoyf [The Synagogue Courtyard, untranslated]: original characters that never once, even by coincidence, are reproduced. . . . So too, the depictions of women. . . .

By the time I got around to reading Tsemakh Atlas, I had already been stunned by the accuracy of Grade’s depictions. But in this work—aside from the central figure of the title, who is a literary creation forged by melding a variety of personalities, each consisting of numerous dispositions—I personally felt as if I knew almost every one of the major “participants” in Grade’s novel, [including] Khaykl Vilner [a stand-in for the author] and his rebbe, the Makhze-Avrohom, [who is transparently modeled on Lieberman’s cousin Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz]. The same is equally true of each and every one of the rabbis in The Agunah, who were all just like cousins of mine.

Many volumes have already appeared about the musar movement [a 19th-century movement focused on the cultivation of individual piety and ethics] and its proponents. You can choose to believe, or not accept, these works. But once having reads Grade’s depictions of yeshivas [that adopted musar teachings], you will know everything as if you had been there.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, Chaim Weizmann, Musar, Saul Lieberman, Yeshiva, Yiddish literature


A Catholic Reporter Attends Anti-Israel Protests and the Pro-Israel Rally

Mary Margaret Olohan has spent much of her career in journalism covering demonstrations of various kinds. Since October 7, she has attended numerous anti-Israel gatherings, an experience she discusses with Robert Nicholson and Dominique Hoffman. Olohan explains the ways protestors intimidate outsiders, the online instruction booklet for protests distributed by Students for Justice in Palestine, the systematic avoidance of any condemnation of Hamas, and much else. To this, she contrasts her experience at the joyous yet serious November 14 rally for Israel. Olohan also talks about how her own Christian faith has influenced her journalism. (Audio, 61 minutes.)

Read more at Deep Map

More about: American Jewry, Gaza War 2023, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict