His Life with Hebrew

Alan Mintz, one of America’s foremost scholars of modern Hebrew literature, died on Saturday at the age of sixty-nine. Last month, he published in Mosaic a personal essay on his career studying, teaching, and speaking the language that, as “the portable component of the Jewish national idea,” was to him a constant and sustaining “source of nourishment and delight”:

In my third year as a graduate student in English at Columbia University, I came to a life-changing conclusion: as much as I enjoyed studying Victorian literature, I couldn’t see myself devoting my life to it. My real passion lay instead with the study of Jewish and Hebraic culture. After finishing my Columbia doctorate in the late 1970s and sampling different sub-specialties in Jewish studies—midrash, medieval Hebrew poetry, and others—I settled on modern Hebrew literature.

By that time, my Hebrew was quite good, at least for someone who had never previously aspired to be a scholar in the field. In fact, it was a source of some pride. The Conservative movement’s Hebrew school I had attended as a child in Worcester, MA had been staffed by committed Hebraists; entering college, I saw my future role in life as a rabbi or a Jewish educator, and at the summer camp where I served as a counselor during my college years, Hebrew was the semi-official language. By then, I could not only read texts in Hebrew but speak the language confidently—or so I thought. But once I decided to profess Hebrew, the rules of the game changed demonstrably. The glass that had been half-full now seemed, in my own eyes, half-empty.

I say “in my own eyes” because much of the anxiety I would experience as an American Hebrew speaker, and to some degree still experience as a long-time professor of Hebrew literature, has come from my sense of exposure to the judgment of others. . . .

Read more at Mosaic

More about: Hebrew, History & Ideas, Jewish education, Jewish studies, Modern Hebrew literature

The Possible Death of Mohammad Deif, and What It Means

On Saturday, Israeli jets destroyed a building in southern Gaza, killing a Hamas brigade commander named Rafa Salameh. Salameh is one of the most important figures in the Hamas hierarchy, but he was not the primary target. Rather it was Mohammad Deif, who is Yahya Sinwar’s number-two and is thought to be the architect and planner of numerous terrorist attacks, of Hamas’s tunnel network, and of the October 7 invasion itself. Deif has survived at least five Israeli attempts on his life, and the IDF has consequently been especially reluctant to confirm that he had been killed. Yet it seems that it is possible, and perhaps likely, that he was.

Kobi Michael notes that Deif’s demise would have major symbolic value and, moreover, deprive Hamas of important operational know-how. But he also has some words of caution:

The elimination of Deif becomes even more significant given the current reality of severe damage to Hamas’s military wing and its transition to terrorism and guerrilla warfare. However, it is important to remember that organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah are more than the sum of their components or commanders. Israel has previously eliminated the leaders of these organizations and other very senior military figures, and yet the organizations continued to grow, develop, and become more significant security threats to Israel, while establishing their status as political players in the Palestinian and Lebanese arenas.

As for the possibility that Deif’s death will harden Hamas’s position in the hostage negotiations, Tamir Hayman writes:

In my opinion, even if there is a bump in the road now, it is not a strategic one. The reasons that Hamas decided to compromise its demands in the [hostage] deal stem from the operational pressure it is under [and] the fear that the pressure exerted by the IDF will increase.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas