Romance, Old Age, and Even Comfort in the Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer

When one thinks of the fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer, filled as it is with depictions of human frailty and depravity, and with demons real and imagined, neither comfort nor coziness are the first things that come to mind. Rokhl Kafrissen nonetheless reports that she has found a measure of solace in rereading his stories with their “absolute obsession with mourning, loss, [and] grief,” even if she “wouldn’t say that they were exactly comforting.”

Consider, for example, the married couple of Shmul-Leibele and Shoshe in “Short Friday.” Though they are still young, Shmul-Leibele and Shoshe have no children. As with many of Singer’s stories, this couple is mismatched: she was something of a beauty in her youth; he is shorter than she is and an object of mockery in their town. Nonetheless, the two are equally pious and snugly wrapped in a blanket of mutual admiration.

Though they are poor, and Shmul-Leibele isn’t much of a provider, on Shabbat, they live like royalty, especially during the winter. Rather than try to get everything ready during the short winter day, they would stay up all night on Thursday, making their Sabbath preparations. Shoshe kneads the dough, tends the oven, and even prepares the Shabbos chicken (or goose) by candlelight, while making little nibbles to feed Shmul-Leibele, who likes to climb up on top of the oven and watch Shoshe at her tasks.

The story itself is permeated with something . . . cozy, warm, sheltered, and held in love.

And even though the story’s ending can be read as tragic, it is closer to Ovid’s tale of Baucis and Philemon than to Romeo and Juliet.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jewish literature, Yiddish literature

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security