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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy