Literature as a Moral Laboratory: Reading Selected Twentieth Century Hebrew Prose

By Feig, Haya S. | Hebrew Studies Journal, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Literature as a Moral Laboratory: Reading Selected Twentieth Century Hebrew Prose


Feig, Haya S., Hebrew Studies Journal


[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (Literature as a moral laboratory: Reading selected twentieth century Hebrew prose). By Adia Mendelson-Maoz. Pp. 275. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2009. Paper.

In her book, Literature as a Moral Laboratory: Reading Selected Twentieth Century Hebrew Prose, Adia Mendelson-Maoz is trying "to connect between the philosophy of morals or ethics and literature" (p. 1). She opens her introduction with a quote from D. H. Lawrence in which he claims that philosophy nails down and limits literature to an extreme, which is why Dr. Mendelson-Maoz is looking for a way to show a new methodology for literary criticism.

The book discusses an impressive amount of Israeli texts written in Hebrew during the twentieth century. This is why the literature teacher/professor who wants to present the students with a different point of view can definitely use the scheme brought by the author.

The book is divided into four parts or "gates." In the first part, Mendelson-Moaz attempts to connect the two elements of literature and ethics. Here the author is trying to prove that literature is placed at the juxtaposition of moral life and moral principles. The chapter is full of footnotes, some of them are long and cumbersome explanations that lead to no conclusion. The author allows the future reader of any prose the freedom the make up his / her own mind. In addition, she claims (and I tend to agree) that "each text that deals with ethics will include the three layers: the aesthetic layer, the fictional ethic layer and the reading ethic one" (p. 86).

The second part deals with war stories. Here Mendelson-Maoz discusses three texts: "Hirbeth-Hizeeh" by S Yizhar, "The Origin" by Y. H. Brenner, and Himo the King of Jerusalem by Y. Kaniuk. In the introduction to this part, she proffers the discussion about the connection between the value of human life and sticking to the goal. She uses "Hirbet Hizeeh" as a representative of "the end of innocence" as S Yizhar, according to her, researches the dynamics of war crimes while using aesthetic tools and formatting the dissonance. In contrast, Y. H. Brenner's story deals with the residents of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, who, because of the expulsion, becoming immigrants and focuses on the relationships between the immigrants and the people in the village where they temporarily settle. …

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