Sholem Aleichem’s Lost Novel of Jewish Horse Thieves

Aug. 26 2021

Thanks in part to the popularity of Fiddler on the Roof, Sholem Aleichem is best known today as an author of short stories, and especially for his series of stories about Tevye the Dairyman. But he also wrote novels, the last of which, Moshkele the Thief, was long forgotten—and will soon be published in English for the first time. Curt Leviant, the translator, writes:

The mys­tery of this novel’s dis­ap­pear­ance goes back to the cre­ation of the clas­sic 28‑vol­ume Com­plete Works of Sholem Aleichem, a project that was begun after Sholem Aleichem’s death in New York City. Moshkeleh the Thief was left out of this endeav­or. We can only spec­u­late that per­haps the fam­i­ly thought that a work by Sholem Ale­ichem that deals with thieves and the Jew­ish under­world was not . . . fit­ting, or not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his work.

And yet Sholem Ale­ichem him­self regard­ed the sto­ry of Moshkeleh as a great achieve­ment. His view that Moshkeleh Ganev (the orig­i­nal Yid­dish title) was impor­tant is reflect­ed in two let­ters he wrote in 1903. In one, the author pre­dicts that Moshkeleh Ganev will have the same suc­cess as his popu­lar sec­ond nov­el, Stem­penyu (1889). In anoth­er let­ter he states: ​“I now feel as if I’ve been born anew, with new—brand new—strength. I can almost say that now I’ve real­ly begun to write. [Sholem Aleichem’s empha­sis.] Until now I’ve only been fool­ing around.”

Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture had long main­tained a tra­di­tion of edelkeyt, refine­ment. Yid­dish and Hebrew authors eschewed vio­lence, the dark­er side of life, and peo­ple on the fringes of respectabil­i­ty. But Moshkeleh Ganev sig­nals Sholem Aleichem’s lit­er­ary thrust away from this almost self-imposed silence. With this nov­el he enters a Jew­ish are­na that had not hith­er­to been explored in Yid­dish fic­tion. . . . By tak­ing horse thieves as his sub­ject and focus­ing on a man who is reject­ed by soci­ety, Sholem Ale­ichem enters unchart­ed lit­er­ary ter­ri­to­ry.

In this sense, the novel anticipated the works of the next generation of Yiddish writers—such as Moshe Kulbak, Oyzer Varshavksi, and I.J. Singer—who would find their voices after the First World War.

Read more at Jewish Book Council

More about: I.J. Singer, Sholem Aleichem, Yiddish literature


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount