The Founders of Modern Hebrew Literature Faced Challenges Tolstoy and Dostoevsky Never Had to Contend With—and Triumphed

Hillel Halkin’s The Lady of Hebrew and Her Lovers of Zion comprises eleven essays—most of which appeared previously in Mosaic—on the founders of modern Hebrew literature, from the early 19th century up to the creation of the state of Israel. In his review, Adam Kirsch, calling the book “indispensable” and a “masterpiece,” writes:

The purpose of modern Hebrew literature, Halkin insists throughout the book, was to help bring about a Hebrew-speaking Jewish state, and he judges each of his subjects by how well they understood and furthered this mission.

Halkin pays intelligent, loving attention to [the works of] all of his subjects. His original translations show each writer to best advantage, while also serving as a running commentary on the evolution of modern Hebrew into a flexible literary instrument. Yet there’s always at least a hint of impatience in Halkin’s critical stance, a sense that none of these writers managed to solve the quandaries of modern Hebrew literature. Of course, that’s because they were insoluble. To write modern literature in an ancient language, secular literature in a religious language, national literature for a nation that didn’t yet exist—these were challenges that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky didn’t have to contend with. If they had, maybe they wouldn’t have become Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

For Halkin, the destiny of modern Hebrew writers wasn’t to produce masterpieces but to serve as a spiritual “government-in-exile” for the Jewish people—one that “seemed unlikely, to say the least, ever to have a land or a people to rule.” The emergence of a Hebrew-speaking Jewish community in Palestine isn’t directly attributable to these Hebrew writers—Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who did more than anyone to resurrect spoken Hebrew, appears in The Lady of Hebrew but isn’t one of Halkin’s main subjects. But it certainly wouldn’t have happened without them.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hillel Halkin, Jewish literature, Modern Hebrew literature, Zionism


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7