How Chaim Grade Sought to Bring the Rabbis of Prewar Europe Back to Life

Oct. 19 2022

Born in Vilna in 1910, in what was then the Russian empire, Chaim Grade eventually forsook the yeshivas where he spent most of his youth to pursue a career as a secular Yiddish poet. He turned to prose after World War II with My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner, a fictionalized version of a real-life debate between the author and a devout friend over the possibility of faith after the Shoah. Reviewing Ruth R. Wisse’s new translation of the book (first published in Mosaic), David Fishman explains what motivated this work, as well as Grade’s subsequent novels:

In his major works of prose, Grade set out to reconstruct the world of prewar Jewish Vilna: street by street, one house of prayer after another, character type by character type—rabbis, businessmen and street peddlers, pious congregants and underworld criminals. His plots unfold against the backdrop of an ethnographically rich picture of prewar life, depicting the home furnishings, foods, clothing worn by men and women of different social classes, medical remedies, and local lore.

Grade attempted to perform the impossible: to undo in literature what had occurred in history. His literary mission was to revive the dead of Jewish Vilna, or, more precisely, to write as if they were still alive. The novels that effect this tekhiyas ha-meysim (revival of the dead) never refer to or hint at the subsequent destruction of Vilna’s Jews. There are no flash-forwards to the ghetto, no retrospectives by a survivor, no ominous shadows. The narrator always seems to be speaking as if it is August 1939, and he doesn’t know what will happen to his characters during the next few years. The Holocaust was the driving force behind Grade’s prose, but it was not an overt theme. Except for My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner.

But in a different sense My Quarrel was just as foundational for his later work as My Mother’s Sabbath Days. It was Grade’s first attempt to explore the inner spiritual and personal struggles of a rabbi. Rabbis had figured previously in Yiddish literature, but they were usually secondary characters who were lampooned (as in the work of Mendele Mokher Seforim), portrayed as wise father figures (Sholem Aleichem), or used to represent abstract values and ideas (I.L. Peretz, S. An-sky). Grade portrayed rabbis as human beings. He populated his works with a whole class of men with beards and caftans (and some women in wigs), each with a differing temperament, personal fate, professional career, and religious outlook. While a few of these rabbis were cynical political operatives or cowardly conformists, most were men of conviction, learning, and insight who had confronted temptation and suffering.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Chaim Grade, East European Jewry, Holocaust, My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner, Rabbis, Yiddish literature

 

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror