Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe

By Shachar M. Pinsker | Go to book overview

Thirteen
In the Shadow of God
The Quest for New Religiosity in European
and Hebrew Modernism

After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries
in a cave—a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but
given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of
years in which his shadow will be shown.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1887

If someone would say about me that I am a “mystic,” […] I would
not think of this as an offense.

—Yosef Chaim Brenner, “A Letter to Shimon Bichvsky,” April 11, 1907

As we have seen in the previous chapter, at the turn of the twentieth century, tremendous cultural energy was given to creating neo-aggadic and neo-hasidic stories, as well as to various modern collections and anthologies of traditional texts. This kind of activity, which was typical of transitional figures like Y. L. Peretz, Micha Yosef Berdichevsky, and Chaim Nachman Bialik, was not the path undertaken by most writers of modernist Hebrew fiction of the next generation. The trajectory of these “transitional” writers, which was pronounced also in many East European Jewish writers and thinkers who were active in Germany (like Martin Buber), found its best practitioner in the figure of Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the “revolutionary traditionalist” of modernist Hebrew fiction.1

Agnon was indeed, at least in this context, an heir of Berdichevsky, Bialik, and Peretz. Not only had he written new (or pseudo-) aggadic, midrashic, and hasidic stories, he also became involved in a number of anthological projects. For example, in the early 1920s—while living in Germany—Agnon collaborated with Martin Buber on a large anthology of hasidic stories entitled Corpus Hasidicum (in German) and Sefer Hasidut (in Hebrew). This large, four-volume project was in the final stages of preparation, but was abandoned when a fire destroyed Agnon’s house in Bad Homburg and burned the entire manuscript.2

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