Why Secular Hebrew Literature Was Born in the Yeshivas of Russia

The great Hebrew poets and novelists of the 19th and 20th century, who revived Hebrew literature and paved the way for Zionism, for the most part began their literary careers in yeshivas, surreptitiously reading the works of Friedrich Schiller and Dmitri Pisarev—which they hid inside their large volumes of the Talmud. Thus the rejection of tradition became one of the main themes of this new literary genre. Yet who else but yeshiva students had sufficient knowledge of the sacred tongue to use it to craft new works? Shai Secunda reviews a new book about this generation of writers:

In The Yeshiva and the Rise of Modern Hebrew Literature, a short monograph with a bold thesis, Marina Zilbergerts [argues that], despite the complex transformations that Hebrew literature and its writers endured in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a kind of alchemical conservation of energy at work. Of course, the redeployment of a sacred, scholastic language to forge a politically charged, sometimes sensuous, and frequently transgressive literature was revolutionary. Yet, Zilbergerts insists, despite the secular shift in the themes and tenor of the new Hebrew literature, “this revolution originated in the world of tradition”: the rabbinic ideal of pure intellectual devotion to even the most obscure traditional texts was secularized into a radical commitment to writing pristine prose in a largely inaccessible language.

The Yeshiva and the Rise of Modern Hebrew Literature is a blessedly jargon-free book. . . . Despite the historical twists and turns that her argument must take, Zilbergerts’s thesis retains a powerful simplicity. Modern Hebrew writing emerged in Eastern Europe as an enduring, modern literature in part due to the persistent traditionalist commitments of its first writers.

Yeshiva life, and Jewish life more generally, was an imaginatively rich existence, with an abundance of fictions—mainly of the legal sort—and a preference for prooftext over prosaic existence. (The famous Yiddish—and Hebrew—writer Mendele Mokher Seforim once satirized this by telling the story of shtetl mavens who, upon being introduced to a juicy exotic fruit, resorted to scripture to confirm its existence.) Even when budding Hebrew writers abandoned rabbinic learning and engaged in newfound secular pursuits, they continued to read texts voraciously and to spin new, beguiling webs in an updated version of rabbinic Hebrew. In this way we get Micha Yosef Berdichevsky’s indelible image of a formerly pious yeshiva boy holding a midnight study vigil, only now it is a secular Hebrew book over which he pores.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Berdichevsky, Modern Hebrew literature, Russian Jewry, Yeshiva

Why Saturday Was a Resounding Defeat for Iran

Yaakov Lappin provides a concise and useful overview of what transpired on Saturday. For him, the bottom line is this:

Iran and its jihadist Middle Eastern axis sustained a resounding strategic defeat. . . . The fact that 99 percent of the threats were intercepted means that a central pillar of Iranian force projection—its missile and UAV arsenals—has been proven to be no match for Israel’s air force, for its multilayered air-defense system, or for regional cooperation with allies.

Iran must now await Israel’s retaliation, and unlike Israel, Iranian air defenses are by comparison limited in scope. After its own failure on Sunday, Iran now relies almost exclusively on Hizballah for an ability to threaten Israel.

And even as Iran continues to work on developing newer and deadlier missiles, the IDF is staying a few steps ahead:

Israel is expecting its Iron Beam laser-interception system, which can shoot down rockets, mortars, and UAVs, to become operational soon, and is developing an interceptor (Sky Sonic) for Iran’s future hypersonic missile (Fattah), which is in development.

The Iron Beam will change the situation in a crucial way. Israell’s defensive response on Saturday reportedly cost it around $1 billion. While Iron Beam may have to be used in concert with other systems, it is far cheaper and doesn’t run the risk of running out of ammunition.

Read more at JNS

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iron Dome, Israeli Security, Israeli technology