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

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria