Three Yiddish Stories by One of Hebrew Literature’s Underappreciated Geniuses

Micha Yosef Berdichevsky (1865-1921) wrote the bulk of his short stories and novels in Hebrew. Yet between 1902 and 1906, he composed a series of short stories in Yiddish, set, like most of his work from this period, in a fictionalized shtetl. Seeking neither to satirize nor to romanticize, Berdichevsky—“the most tragic Jewish writer of modern times,” as Hillel Halkin has called him in Mosaic—instead portrayed “outward harmony . . . fraught with inner conflicts.” James Adam Redfield has rendered three such stories, perhaps better described as character sketches, into English. Here is how the first, “Yankev-Nosn,” begins:

Yankev-Nosn was a clever fellow: one of those brainy, traditionally learned Jews who also dabble in other areas. He seemed to know it all; he had an angle on pretty much everything: a page of Talmud or an interpretation by the Tosafists, a verse with Ibn Ezra’s commentary, a tricky math problem, even a discourse on astronomy. He was never so concerned with any one subject in and of itself—what he loved was knowledge as such; he loved being a connoisseur, a scion of our intelligentsia. Nor was he especially pious: he knew there was a God, but that sort of knowledge never moved him, never really took root. He never transgressed a commandment: he was simply too lazy to resist praying or doing whatever you’re supposed to.

Jewishness was just something he did, like pulling on his long coat or his socks and shoes. Desire, now there was a subject he knew nothing about—whether for eating, making money, or other things. What mattered to him, above all, was the intellect—understanding something forward and backward. He didn’t wrap up what he started; having a grasp of it was enough.

Read more at Yiddish Book Center

More about: Arts & Culture, Berdichevsky, Hebrew literature, Shtetl, Yiddish literature


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount