The First Yiddish Bestseller and Its Forgotten Author

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the Russian Jewish writer Jacob Dinezon, who in 1877 authored Yiddish literature’s first bestselling novel, The Dark Young Man. Unlike his close friends, the Yiddish literary figures Y.L. Peretz and S. An-sky—the three are buried together in a Warsaw mausoleum—Dinezon is hardly remembered today, and even among scholars few read his work. Reviewing a recent translation of the book by Tina Lunson, Rokhl Kafrissen compares it with the early work of Dinezon’s contemporary Mendele Mokher Sforim, the so-called “grandfather” of Yiddish literature:

[Whereas] a writer like Mendele used an acid, ironic tone to make his points about contemporary Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement, Dinezon employed a much gentler, sentimental tone, as well as a more realistic approach. [Above all], The Dark Young Man is sympathetic to its protagonists, 19th-century Jews struggling toward modernity while trying to maintain their Jewishness.

The Dark Young Man [is] the story of a yeshiva boy called Yosef who leaves home and winds up as the live-in tutor in a wealthy Mohilev home. He falls in love with the beautiful middle daughter, Roza, but their love is thwarted by a mustache-twirling villain-slash-brother-in-law, the titular Dark Young Man, Meyshe Shneyur.

The Dark Young Man was a surprise hit, selling 200,000 copies and spawning a flood of imitators. . . . Dinezon quite self-consciously sets out to teach his readers the value of reading novels. For example, we see excerpts from Yosef’s diary in which he recalls his cousin giving him non-Jewish books and pressing him to look into their deeper meaning. . . . The problem with reading non-Jewish books, though, is that the characters are non-Jews, so even if they set a modern, moral example, how can Jews be expected to imitate them? It’s a not-so-subtle prompt to the reader to be grateful for the creation of Jewish novels.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Mendele Mokher Seforim, Russian Jewry, Yiddish literature


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy