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.

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

 

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror