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.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Mosaic

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

Hizballah Is Preparing Terror Attacks on U.S. Targets

June 18 2019

On May 16, a New York jury convicted the Hizballah operative Ali Kourani on multiple terrorism-related counts, including planning attacks on FBI and Secret Service offices as well as on an Army armory. His arrest and questioning, writes Matthew Levitt, suggest that the Iran-backed Lebanese organization is far more focused on carrying out attacks on U.S. soil than law-enforcement agents previously believed:

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Canada, Hizballah, Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Security