Yiddish Literature’s Reckoning with Tragedy

Oct. 17 2023
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at Tikvah. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s newsletter, it is important—even in this time of war and national danger—not to lose sight of cultural and religious matters. And perhaps no body of literature has contended with unfolding tragedy and horrors as Yiddish literature has. This was the case when Sholem Aleichem wrote of his most famous fictional character—Tevye the Dairyman—being expelled from his village even as such expulsions were actually happening in Russia. And it was the case when the poet and novelist Chava Rosenfarb wrote down her verses on the ceiling above her concentration-camp bunk with a contraband pencil. In conversation with J.J. Kimche (whose searing condemnation of Harvard’s moral cowardice in response to evil I mentioned last week), Ruth R. Wisse provides a concise overview of the history of Yiddish literature. The two then delve into one of the most powerful theological reckonings with the Holocaust: Chaim Grade’s novella My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner—Wisse’s translation of which was first published in Mosaic. (Audio 58 minutes.)

Read more at Podcast of Jewish Ideas

More about: Chaim Grade, Holocaust, Yiddish literature

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy