The First Yiddish Bestseller and Its Forgotten Author

Aug. 29 2019

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.

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

The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media