Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives

Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives

Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives

Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives

Synopsis

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel, best known for his writings on the Holocaust, is also the accomplished author of novels, essays, tales, and plays as well as portraits of seminal figures in Jewish life and experience. In this volume, leading scholars in the fields of Biblical, Rabbinic, Hasidic, Holocaust, and literary studies offer fascinating and innovative analyses of Wiesel's texts as well as illuminating commentaries on his considerable influence as a teacher and as a moral voice for human rights. By exploring the varied aspects of Wiesel's multifaceted career-his texts on the Bible, the Talmud, and Hasidism as well as his literary works, his teaching, and his testimony-this thought-provoking volume adds depth to our understanding of the impact of this important man of letters and towering international figure.

Excerpt

Alan Rosen

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, a talmudic sage traditionally celebrated as the author of the Zohar, the central book of Jewish mysticism, was himself a refugee, forced to flee from the Romans and hide with his son for years in a cave. Their emergence from the cave came in stages, the first beset by fury, which only with time yielded to empathy. It is this modulated response to profound suffering that, in Elie Wiesel’s view, qualified Rabbi Shimon to be deemed the fountainhead of Jewish mystical life. “Therein lay Rabbi Shimon’s greatness,” augurs Wiesel. “He had to go beyond suffering—the last year [in the cave] was probably the hardest—in order to rediscover compassion and understanding.” With this analysis Wiesel surely attempts to enter the historical context of persecution that defined Rabbi Shimon’s life and milieu. But he also reclaims for his own persecuted generation of Holocaust survivors the talmudic sage’s experience of oppression and the wisdom that steered a path through it. in Wiesel’s universe of historical study, the Jewish past gives direction to the Jewish present (and future), while the Jewish present—particularly the lengthy shadows cast by the Holocaust—orients our approach to the past, dictates the questions we ask of it, and shows our profound relationship to those who inhabited it.

This lifeline strung from the Jewish present to past and back again, an underappreciated facet of Wiesel’s work, is one of the features of this volume. Indeed, a volume dealing with the full breadth of Wiesel’s writing is late in coming; no such collection has appeared in English in over twenty years. During this period, Wiesel has produced dozens of books, and has continued to treat important themes in both fiction and nonfiction. Moreover, his writing on traditional Jewish texts, which during these years has developed far beyond what it was hitherto, has received almost no serious commentary or criticism. the essays in this volume aim to remedy the gap on both accounts. While not covering every facet of Wiesel’s oeuvre and career, they do address most, ranging from earliest writings to those that have only recently appeared. Published almost thirty-five years after the first essay collections to deal with his work, this volume aims to update and expand what has been done previously.

But the goal is not only to add to what came before. This volume comes with a new set of premises, the nature of which is visible in the organization and sequence of the essays, as well as in the section headings that guide the reader through them. Wiesel has been associated primarily, one might say almost exclusively, with the Holocaust. the association is understandable, given his formidable achievement in this area: as a survivor, as a witness, as a key figure in setting forth the vocabulary that shapes any discussion of the event and its implications. But that achievement has meant that his . . .

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