Amos Oz’s Place in the Jewish Literary Canon—in His Own View

The acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz died last week at the age of seventy-nine. While his passing has already begun to generate reflection on his place in Hebrew literature, his final novel, in Michael Weingrad’s analysis, itself addresses this very question. Judas, published in English translation in 2017, has as its central character one Shmuel Asch, who is writing a dissertation about Judas Iscariot. Weingrad writes in his review:

It seems to me that the real engine driving Judas is neither political nor scriptural in nature, but literary. And here we might consider the name of Oz’s protagonist, starting with his surname. “[N]o, to the best of his knowledge he was not related to the well-known writer Sholem Asch” is how Oz, in an indirectly phrased comment, nods in passing to the Polish-born writer who was himself a kind of literary Judas. The bestselling Asch (1880-1957) was the most popular Yiddish writer in the world until his trilogy of novels on Christian themes, beginning in 1939 with The Nazarene, turned his Jewish readership against him.

Meanwhile, Shmuel shares his first name with Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the undisputed master of modern Hebrew fiction, whose presence is so ubiquitous in Oz’s novel as to constitute a kind of literary game. . . . Oz’s protagonist thus unites in his name the transgressive Yiddish writer rejected and the faux-pious Hebrew writer canonized.

In this light it becomes difficult not to see Judas as a meditation on Oz’s own status as Israel’s most famous contemporary novelist: . . . a writer unsure whether he can emerge once again from the rut of his past books. [And] the novel’s dichotomous presentation of Judas and Jesus is suggestive less of theological mysteries than of whether that same writer will be cast out of the lists like Asch or secure a Nobel prize (and have his visage gracing his nation’s currency) like Agnon.

[But] Judas will surely continue to be celebrated in translation by readers eager for another round of Israeli spelunking into the supposed original sin of the country’s founding, undertaken by no lesser a figure than the self-anointed moral conscience of the Jewish state. . . . Judas isn’t a very good book, but critics have taken great pains either to deny [its] weaknesses or to present them in the kindest possible light.

Read more at Mosaic

More about: Amos Oz, Arts & Culture, Israeli literature, Jewish literature, S. Y. Agnon, Sholem Asch

 

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy