The Gentile Literary Critic Who Loved Israel, Hebrew, and Jews

A descendent of distinguished Protestant clergymen on both sides, Edmund Wilson (1895–1972) was a gifted journalist and perhaps the greatest American literary critic of his day. He began enthusiastically studying biblical Hebrew in the 1950s, and kept up his study for the remainder of his life. Writing for publications like the New Republic, Commentary, and the New York Review of Books, he also rubbed elbows with a number of prominent American Jewish intellectuals—not all of whom shared his views about Israel, of which, as Shalom Goldman writes, he “was an enthusiastic supporter.” Goldman continues:

What Wilson saw in the Jewish intellectual tradition was an affirmation of the scholarly, and an openness to criticism. As a representative of an American cultural world that he believed was disappearing, he sought allyship in the Jewish tradition. In his mind, what was noble about the American tradition was its “Hebraic” element. In Jewish culture he saw the possibility of American renewal or, at the very least, cultural preservation.

A bannerlike inscription in biblical Hebrew hung over his desk in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and it was this phrase, Hazak hazak v’nithazek (“be strong and be strengthened” in Wilson’s translation), that is engraved on the base of his tombstone.

In his occasional excursions into short fiction, Wilson also took up Jewish themes. In Encounter, Wilson published a short story, “The Messiah at the Seder.” In that story the messiah appears in mid-20th-century Manhattan on the eve of Passover. He is invited to a seder on the Upper West Side. There he discovers that the fractious and contentious participants at the seder—which include a Freudian, a Marxist, and a religious thinker—are unable to accept that he is the redeemer. . . . This satire on the multiplicity of opinions in the Jewish world is anything but savage. The satirical effect is achieved with considerable subtlety and verve.

The short story is a delightful one and the most sensitive fictional portrait of Jewish life by a non-Jewish author that I’ve ever read.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Christian Hebraists, Jews in literature, Literary criticism, Philo-Semitism

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7