Agnon and Joyce on the cruelty of community

Israel/Palestine
on 45 Comments

I had a wretched reading experience on my trip to Israel last fall. I was trying to get into S.Y. Agnon, who was born in Poland in 1888 and moved to Palestine and won the Nobel Prize for Literature as an Israeli, and I’d brought along his 1935 novel A Simple Story. As the title says, it’s a simple story, set in a small market town in Galicia. A freshly-orphaned girl, Blume, moves in with rich cousins and falls in love with the son, Hirshl. The family intervenes. They have a good match in mind for him, to a materialistic young woman. Hirshl pines after Blume. Even after he’s plighted. He loses his mind, for love, stalks Blume from afar. “His world had shrunk so that almost nothing was left of it but the street on which Blume lived.” This stuff is the best part of the book, the lovesickness. Hirshl goes into the woods and turns into a rooster. He is at last treated by a doctor in the city of Lemberg.

But the last 50 pages of the book are devoted to Hirshl’s acceptance of his lot, and his learning to love his wife. “Love comes to us only when no one stands between it and us,” Hirshl says on the penultimate page. The community has triumphed and the author is also pleased. On the last page, Agnon writes that he can tell nothing of what became of poor Blume. I threw the book across the room in East Jerusalem.

One of my favorite stories is about the same theme, and I reread it the other night (partly because I’d been hanging with Desmond Travers): A Painful Case, by James Joyce. Agnon and Joyce were rough contemporaries, though A Painful Case was written 20 years before Agnon wrote his novel, and published in the book Dubliners. 

In A Painful Case, a lonely bank cashier named James Duffy whose life is secretly devoted to ideas meets a woman named Emily Sinico who is married to a boat captain who is often at sea. They become close friends and meet often. They share books and music. She falls in love with him, she signals that her marriage is not an impediment, she makes a helpless pass at him. In a paroxysm of rectitude Duffy breaks off the relationship and frames a famous, abstemious lesson: “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse.” Four years later, still lonely, in a bar, Duffy reads in a newspaper of her suicide at 43, throwing herself in front of a train. 

The last 1000 words of the story are so majestic you should just go read them yourself. Duffy at first lacerates Emily Sinico for her depravity and thanks god that he did not join his life to hers. What a fitting ending she had, he moralizes. But as he walks home through the dark streets, he realizes the full measure of the tragedy. And though at first he tries to rationalize the outcome, saying things would never have worked out, how could they have lived openly with one another, he comes to a crushing conclusion:

“Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? He felt his moral nature falling to pieces.” 

The back of my copy of Dubliners says that Joyce wrote the book as “the moral history of his community.” And that’s the book’s achievement; he had left Ireland years before and could reflect on that community’s makeup.

Agnon never left the Jewish community. Because of anti-Semitism, Zionism– yes it would be cruel to be reductive about this, he stayed in the Jewish community– and the work is interesting, provincial and unchallenging. Of course James Joyce is James Joyce, but Isaac Singer or Bernard Malamud would have known how to handle this material, and so I’d conclude with a thought Desmond Travers had– the majesty of the Jewish achievement as a minority in the west.

45 Responses

  1. eatbees
    May 26, 2011, 10:54 am

    It’s interesting that Agnon seems to have stolen his story from the classic Arabic romance of Qais and Leila. But in the original Qais dies in the wilderness, still pining for love (he never married and used to send Leila messages from afar through his poetry), and Leila visits his tomb which is guarded by animals.

    • Haytham
      May 26, 2011, 12:56 pm

      eatbees:

      It’s so great that you pointed this out! I haven’t thought of this story in years and I remember my father adapting a version of it into one of his (oral) bedtime stories for my sister and I. It was like a mini-series of sorts, that he would continue every night, but only after we reminded him exactly where he had left off…The man is a writer and he knows how to set up a proper cliffhanger.

      Being reminded of these things out of the blue is like catching the faint aroma of a favorite dish you haven’t tasted or even thought about in years.

  2. Ethan Heitner
    May 26, 2011, 11:16 am

    “Stolen his story from the classic Arabic”– uhm, just because he is Israeli doesn’t mean everything he did was stolen from Arabs. The story is a near universal one.

    Phil, if you want some classic Israeli literature I highly recommend ‘Khirbet Khizeh,’ by S. Yizhar. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it. It is a beautifully, poetically rendered tale of the expulsion of a Palestinian village from the perspective of the Israeli soldiers doing the expelling, written in 1949 after Yizhar had personally witnessed such events. It used to be part of the core curriculum of all Israeli high school students.
    link to ibiseditions.com

    • annie
      May 26, 2011, 11:29 am

      ethan, a simple story was written in 1935 before israel was even founded. there’s nothing in eatbee’s comment implying “because he is Israeli doesn’t mean everything he did was stolen from Arabs”. try not to let your resentment ooze out between the lines.

      • Ethan Heitner
        May 26, 2011, 11:59 am

        Eatbees comment doesn’t explain why xe feels Agnon stole his story from Qais wa Laila, true. I am making the assumption that it is meant to be a critique of implied Zionism, which seemed fair to me given the context of this website and the general tone of comments on it. Which I also don’t have any sort of problem with in general. I similarly don’t know why you are assuming I am resentful of anything. I am merely calling out what I saw as an (admittedly implied) assumption of anything Israeli=Zionist=stolen from Arabs. I saw a comment elsewhere that “Israel has no culture, how can it, it is only 60 years old” and I think that sentiment is very wrong, even from an anti-Zionist perspective.

      • Haytham
        May 26, 2011, 1:31 pm

        As an American, an Israeli, a Lebanese and a Palestinian*, I agree with what you’re saying on a very basic level.

        On another level, I must say, Israel has “stolen” so much from Palestinians and Arabs, I find it hard sometimes to resist the impulse to see many things in these simplistic terms. I mean how many times have you seen references in media or seen things on your grocery store shelf with labeling like “Delicious Israeli Cous Cous” or “Hummus–Israeli Cuisine?” [The answer for me: All the time.] I mean, have you ever looked at an Israeli Cookbook?? It’s 90% Palestinian/Lebanese/Syrian food: cous cous, za’ter, humus, tahini, kinafi, falafel, tabouli, baba ghanouj, traditional “Arab salad,” etc.

        I actually read a comment on a blog recently that said that Arabs need to shut up and stop blaming Israel for ripping off their food, that the Arabs were “lucky” that Israel had invented Hummus and falafel. Not joking, wish I was.

        *If you care to know, I’m about half Lebanese, half Palestinian and I hold Israeli citizenship. And I was born in the United States so I’m an American above all.

        I realize that because food is so central to human existence and society that it is foolish to argue about where things came from originally, like for example, pizza, but come on. It’s not like there are Palestinian cookbooks that have things like “Traditional Palestinian Challah.” When you find something remotely similar to that, then we can talk.

        This is from about.com

        Israeli Salad, by Lisa Katz about.com staff
        The secret to a really good Israeli salad is finely chopped vegetables. Fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from Israel help.
        Prep Time: 10 minutes
        Ingredients:

        3 cucumbers
        3 tomatoes
        1 green or red pepper
        3 green onions
        olive oil
        lemon juice
        salt
        zaatar (hyssop spice)

        I am not exaggerating when I say this is traditional “Arab Salad” that has been eaten in the Arab world for who knows how long, but longer than 60 years. There is absolutely nothing Israeli about it. Maybe if there was some “tweaking” of it or something but, no, there isn’t.

        Apparently the secret to great Israeli salad is the conquering of land, ethnic cleansing of the original inhabitants and theft of farmland in order to grow perfect ingredients, and then ripping off the indigenous culture for the recipe. Bravo.

        An old friend of mine used to say, first they stole our land, then they stole our food. And I’m sorry, but on a basic level, that’s 100% true.

      • annie
        May 26, 2011, 2:21 pm

        *If you care to know, I’m about half Lebanese, half Palestinian and I hold Israeli citizenship. And I was born in the United States so I’m an American above all.

        oh my, that’s quite an accomplishment, lucky you.

        last i heard israelis invented the olive.

        ;)

      • Mooser
        May 26, 2011, 4:43 pm

        Ethan Heitner, there is one genuinely Israeli cultural attribute, and you comment proves it! The Israelis and Zionist excel in vintage whines. The initial whiff of bullshit, followed by a bitter aftertaste, identifies them every time. They’re world famous.

      • GuiltyFeat
        May 27, 2011, 5:40 am

        So now Zionism is bad because we’re better at branding things?

        I don’t mind you being outraged about land theft, but attacking Jews for chutzpah might be the most unwinnable war in the Middle East.

        On a more serious note, this sideways topic may be significant. Why is it that Israeli was able to brand and claim these things? I went to an exhibit recently that looked at the origins of Jaffa oranges and the whole thing was created as a branding exercise for Israel even before there was an Israel.

        You have to give those early visionaries credit for that at least.

        I for one would be happy to support a rebranding effort that puts an Arab spin on Arab culture, whether it be food, literature or whatever. I think this will be an important part of developing Palestinian statehood.

      • Ethan Heitner
        May 27, 2011, 8:35 am

        Mooser, why the attack? You don’t know who I am or my politics. Not that my politics or personal identity should be relevent– reread the comment I made and identify the problem you have with it. I am an active BDS organizer in New York City. You are being anonymously rude.

      • tree
        May 27, 2011, 1:49 pm

        So now Zionism is bad because we’re better at branding things?

        No, its bad because it destroys cultures while simultaneously taking false credit for aspects of those cultures. Its called theft of ideas. If I claimed I invented the cell phone, I’d be guilty of taking credit for something I didn’t do. You may want to use the euphemism that I am “rebranding” something, but its really intellectual theft.

        Why is it that Israeli was able to brand and claim these things? I went to an exhibit recently that looked at the origins of Jaffa oranges and the whole thing was created as a branding exercise for Israel even before there was an Israel.

        I hope you aren’t claiming that Jaffa oranges were originated by Zionists in Palestine, because that would be just another example of theft. Jaffa oranges were a variety developed by Arab farmers in Jaffa in the mid 1800’s, well before any Zionists entered the fray and the first use of the term “Jaffa Orange” for marketing purposes was by a German Templar Colony in the 1870’s. Oranges were the main export of Palestine during this period totally up to 38 million oranges in 1870.

        Led by the burgeoning orange trade, there was increased European economic penetration of Palestine in the years after the Crimean War(1853-56), and concomitantly, increased European interest and involvement in the development of Jaffa. The most important reason for this intensified interest was economic: oranges replaced cotton as the most important export crop to Europe and especially to Great Britain, which led to the expansion of groves in the area surrounding the towm. An extensive 1902 study of the Jaffa orange trade by two Zionist officials pays tribute to the growth of the industry, the various Arab owners, and the wide reach of its markets (with Englan, followed by Turkey and Egypt grouped as one unit, and, well below them, Austria-Hungary as the primary markets).

        Even as the study complains about the “primitive” state of Palestinian Arab cultivation (Arabische Kulturmethode), the discussion of the costs involved for Arab versus European proprietors bears out the praise of Arab cultivation methods as much more cost-efficient than the supposedly more modern Zionist-European ones made two decades later by the founder of Zionist agronomy, Yitzhak Elezari-Valkani. A similar rise in demand for grain and sesame led to their increased cultivation in Jaffa’s hinterland, which had already seen “considerable economic activity,” as reflected in the drainage of swamps and the handing out of a concession for a water mill on the ‘Auja/Yarkon River, in the immediate wake of Napoleon’s invasion.

        From Mark Levine’s “Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine”, available in part in Google books,

        link to books.google.ca

        Without the stolen Jaffa orange groves Israel probably would not have survived economically in its early years. The income from the seized Arab orange groves and the payment of reparations from Germany were the most significant contributors to the early Israeli economy.

        Why is Israel able to rebrand these things? Because from the very beginnings Zionists used lies to promote their enterprise, and they found lying to be so successful that they have become addicted to it. And lack of knowledge and racist assumptions of the “superiority” of European culture and ability have allowed them to get away with their lies. But times are slowly changing and the lies are growing thin.

        I for one would be happy to support a rebranding effort that puts an Arab spin on Arab culture, whether it be food, literature or whatever. I think this will be an important part of developing Palestinian statehood.

        Palestine only needs Israel’s boot off its neck. It doesn’t need “rebranding” to “develop” Palestinian statehood. The Palestinians aren’t “primitive” people, despite the Israeli propaganda to such effect. They can handle statehood without racist offers of assistance in “development”.

      • Haytham
        May 27, 2011, 8:06 pm

        tree:

        Well done, sir.

      • Haytham
        May 27, 2011, 8:11 pm

        GuiltyFeat:

        How would you like it if I came over to your home, forcibly evicted you without legal right, noticed your beautiful decorating touch, and started parading people through “my” home on the weekends so they could see what a lovely job I did decorating “my” beautiful new home? What if this enterprise was so profitable that I began making money off of it by selling my services as a “decorator?”

        Is that kinda what you mean by “rebranding?” If so, then yes, you guys are the best at it.

        (h/t tree)

      • tree
        May 27, 2011, 9:16 pm

        Well done, sir.

        Thank you kindly, but with one small correction. I’m of the female persuasion.

      • bijou
        May 28, 2011, 10:13 am

        The best film about the expropriation of the Jaffa orange brand – a must see:

        Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork

        Trailer here

        Might be available free online here

        Small write-up here.

      • Haytham
        May 28, 2011, 6:05 pm

        tree:

        My apologies. “tree” is a neutral handle so I guess my sexism is showing.

      • tree
        May 28, 2011, 9:46 pm

        No apologies needed, Haytham. As they say, no harm, no foul. I have to admit I’ve made the same assumption about gender on occasion.

  3. annie
    May 26, 2011, 11:30 am

    a wonderful post phil.

  4. HRK
    May 26, 2011, 11:33 am

    Never read either story. But I’m confused: When Joyce mentions his community, is he thinking in terms of its (supposedly) sectarian Irish Catholic mindset? (I’m neither Catholic nor Irish, by the way, so I’m not angered by my allegiance to those communities by Joyce’s comments, if indeed I’ve pegged them correctly.) And so one is supposed to get from the story that people should just have adulterous affairs–to show how open-minded they are? I could be totally off on this–I literally just do not understand. Also, how would one know that if he had the affair this wouldn’t have caused the woman’s husband to commit suicide? Isn’t fiction supposed to deal with complexity? And this passes as complex?

  5. Shunra
    May 26, 2011, 11:50 am

    The Joyce story is eerily reminiscent of the actual life (and death) of that vile racist, Kahane.

    The wikipedia entry for him says: “As reported by Michael T. Kaufman in The New York Times (and subsequently followed up by The Village Voice in the early 1980s), Rabbi Kahane (under his pseudonym Michael King) allegedly had an affair with a gentile woman, Gloria Jean D’Argenio. In 1966, Kahane/King allegedly sent a letter to D’Argenio in which he unilaterally ended their relationship. In response, D’Argenio jumped off the Queensboro (“59th Street”) Bridge; she died of her injuries the next day. According to Kaufman, Rabbi Kahane admitted to him that “he loved Ms D’Argenio and had sent roses to her grave for months after her death.” These allegations were categorically denied by Rabbi Kahane, his family, and his closest friends.”

    As to reading Agnon in translation: I can’t imagine his work being translated. It’s not about plot but rather, about cunning use of language – he was making up Hebrew as he went along, relying on the many strata of Hebrew that was liturgical and very much divorced from the everyday world. To this end Agnon used vocabulary, grammatical structure, and endless allusions to early texts and the worldviews they conjure. While I believe that literary translation is a very doable thing, Agnon may be one of the exceptions – since language is always one of the protagonists in his novels. Especially the Simple Story.

  6. pabelmont
    May 26, 2011, 12:12 pm

    Sometimes, “endless allusions” may contain among them allusions to the possibilities of the future. Here, no Israeli (not even an author or poet) can be unaware of the divorce being concocted and the likely suicide or murder of the Palestinians (at least in the Zionist imagination of the time; Jabotinsky being active then). I imagine, then, that no reader of this story, then or now, will miss the heartlessness (or tragedy) of the abandonment of Blume.

  7. Rafi
    May 26, 2011, 12:34 pm

    Blume = Poland, materialistic young woman = Israel, The family intervenes = anti-Semitism, the majesty of the Jewish achievement as a minority in the west will forever be tarnished by the gas chambers, my grandfather was born in the city of Lemberg (Levov!), he gave me my surname but i am from Israel.

  8. jon s
    May 26, 2011, 2:48 pm

    While we’re on literature, here’s an illustration of the insanity of the boycott:

    link to express.co.uk

    On Agnon, I agree with Shunra’s every word as to the difficulty of translation.

    • James North
      May 26, 2011, 3:34 pm

      jon: You seem like a reasonable person. Netanyahu has just ended whatever flickering hopes still survived for a genuine 2-state solution. Yet you describe the boycott as “insane.” I would have thought the word could be better applied to Netanyahu’s speech, and to its enthusiastic reception in the U.S. Congress. But assuming you really do want a peaceful settlement, just exactly what do you propose instead of the boycott?

      • jon s
        May 26, 2011, 4:15 pm

        James, In previous posts I’ve expressed the view that the total boycott of Israel is both morally wrong and practically counter-productive (unlike a boycott of the settlements, which I support and practice).
        In this case I was reacting to the boycott of books. Who bans books?!
        The Inquisition? The Nazis? The Stalinists? I really think it’s crazy.

        Of course I realize the damage Netanyahu has done, and ,yes, “insane ” can be applied to that, too. In short, there’s a lot of insanity going on…

      • James North
        May 26, 2011, 6:09 pm

        jon: Thanks for your response.

      • Mooser
        May 26, 2011, 4:50 pm

        James, you are asking too much! Don’t you know by now that it is sufficient, in fact more than sufficient, for an Israeli/Zionist to simply express some criticism of Israel or it’s leaders or some aspect of its policies or actions? To ask them to actually do anything about it, or even adhere to a consistent position is asking too, too much! And of course, its only reasonable to suspect anti-Semitism in those who do.

    • Ethan Heitner
      May 26, 2011, 4:44 pm

      So, Mondoweiss friends, what Jon is linking to here is important: apparently some councils in Scotland took it on itself to ban books by Israeli authors from libraries.

      That is not part of the BDS call put out by Palestinian civil society and I think personally has no place in the BDS movement. The ,BDS call for cultural boycott comes with very specific guidelines and clearly stands against boycotting individual Israeli artists or authors, or cultural producers. It calls for boycotting cultural institutions, which include the tours of Israeli artists funded by the Israeli foreign ministry, but not the cultural output of individual Israelis.

      If the Express article is accurate, it is NOT an accurate application of the boycott call and I think can be denounced reasonably. Personally, not speaking for anyone other than myself, I think it is important to denounce such overreaches. The goal of BDS has never been to blacklist individuals.

      Haytham, I entirely agree with everything you have said. Just because Israel does have its own cultural contributions doesn’t mean it also doesn’t engage in cultural appropriation, and the felafel/hummus/”israeli salad” stuff annoys the hell out of me.

      I’m just saying that negating the contributions of Agnon, Yizhar, Bialik, or Rutu Modan or Assaf Hanuka, wholsesale is as much an anti-human position to take as Zionism. We are not here to dehumanize Israelis.

      • piotr
        May 26, 2011, 8:46 pm

        In Israel, it is illegal to sell books printed in Lebanon which is a major publishing center for Arabs, including a large proportion of translations. It is hard to imagine any of “boycott” actions that is not practiced by Israel. Say, the right of Palestinians to engage in scientific exchange are severely restricted, both by denial of visas and deportation of visitors.

      • tree
        May 27, 2011, 3:16 am

        If the Express article is accurate, it is NOT an accurate application of the boycott call and I think can be denounced reasonably. Personally, not speaking for anyone other than myself, I think it is important to denounce such overreaches. The goal of BDS has never been to blacklist individuals.

        Reading the Express article, it is apparent that it is NOT “blacklisting individuals”. It is boycotting any new book PRINTED or PUBLISHED in Israel, regardless of author. The West Dunbartonshire Council spokesman quoted in the article says exactly that.

        A little googling turns up this complete statement from the West Dunbartonshire Council, by way of the PACBI site:

        Council refutes media-claims regarding the Israeli boycott

        West Dunbartonshire Council utterly refutes recent media claims that it has ‘launched a boycott on Israeli books’.

        The Council’s boycott does not in any way seek to censor or silence authors and commentators from Israel.

        The Council’s boycott only relates to goods ‘made or grown’ in Israel. The vast majority of mainstream books by Israeli authors are published in the UK and are therefore not affected by this boycott. Only books that were printed in Israel and transported to the UK for distribution would be potentially boycotted.

        In the two and a half years the boycott has been in place there has never been a case when the library service has been unable to purchase a book it wished to as a result of this boycott.

        Contrary also to some media reports the boycott is not retrospective and absolutely no books have been or will be removed from our library shelves as a consequence of the motion.

        West Dunbartonshire Councillors voted to introduce the boycott in 2009.

        The full motion is:

        ‘This Council deplores the loss of life in Palestine which now numbers well over 1,000. This Council also recognises the disproportionate force used by the IDF in Palestine and agrees to boycott all Israeli goods as a consequence. Officers should immediately cease the purchase of any goods we currently source, which were made or grown in Israel. Officers should also ensure we procure no new goods or produce from Israel until this boycott is formally lifted by WDC.’

        link to pacbi.org

      • tree
        May 27, 2011, 3:24 am
      • Ethan Heitner
        May 27, 2011, 8:36 am

        Thank you for doing that research. I should have, and I’m glad I included a caveat in my initial statement, but I apologize for my laziness. Of course, books printed in Israel are boycottable.

      • tree
        May 27, 2011, 2:01 pm

        You’re welcome, Ethan. And may I gently suggest that all the information you needed was actually available in the Express article. You just needed to read the statement given by the Dunbartonshire Council spokesman there, and ignore the ravings of the Israeli Embassy Spokesman. I find it ever so helpful to simply ignore whatever a Israeli government spokesperson says, as, for the vast majority of cases, the way to tell when they are lying is when their mouths are moving.

      • jon s
        May 28, 2011, 3:06 am

        The statement quoted confirms the point I made: that the boycott includes books. Some of you are comfortable with that. I find it, as I said, insane.

      • Shunra
        May 28, 2011, 12:17 pm

        The boycott *by* Israel includes people. THAT is what I’m not comfortable with.

  9. jon s
    May 26, 2011, 3:00 pm

    Just as a taste, here are the opening lines of Agnon’s “Tehillah”. It always makes me think of my grandmother:
    “There was once an old woman in Jerusalem. A handsome old woman, the likes of which you have never seen in your life. She was righteous and wise, graceful and modest. The light from her eyes was benevolent and merciful, and the wrinkles in her face were blessing and peace.”

    • Mooser
      May 26, 2011, 4:51 pm

      How can we even think of criticising Israel when Jon s has a grandmother like that?!? Da noive!

      • jon s
        May 26, 2011, 10:30 pm

        I should have added “my grandmother, of blessed memory”.

  10. Mooser
    May 26, 2011, 4:32 pm

    “His world had shrunk so that almost nothing was left of it but the street on which Blume lived.”

    As I remember the book, he had often walked on that street before, but the pavement never moved beneath his feet before. And Oh!, that towering feeling, just to know somehow she was near, the overpowering feeling that any second she might suddenly appear!

    In one chapter he stood outside her window and yelled: “It’s not fair, lady!”

  11. RoHa
    May 26, 2011, 9:47 pm

    “Hirshl goes into the woods and turns into a rooster. He is at last treated by a doctor in the city of Lemberg.”

    So this rooster goes to a doctor and says ….

  12. Elliot
    May 27, 2011, 10:22 am

    Ethan points out the obvious: you can’t reduce all Jewish culture – even Israeli Jewish culture – to Zionism.
    Eatbees: can you make the case that Agnon got his story from Arab literature? I’d be fascinated to learn about that connection.
    Given that Agnon was in Palestine at the time (1935), it’s not completely implausible that that story was in the air. Since Agnon is an important field of academic study, there may be material on that out there.

  13. Philip Weiss
    May 27, 2011, 12:50 pm

    Thanks for the incredible smart comments!!! thanks!
    Im learning.

  14. GalenSword
    May 30, 2011, 9:09 am

    Agnon was familiar with world literature in German translation and was probably quite familiar with German orientalist scholarship. In all probability he knew Qais wa-Laila before he wrote A Simple Story.

  15. GalenSword
    May 30, 2011, 12:42 pm

    From Wiki:

    Goitein’s lengthy correspondence with the Nobel-prize winning author S.Y. Agnon was published by his daughter, Ayala Gordon, in 2008.[4][5] Agnon’s wife, Esther, had studied Arabic privately with Goitein while she was a student at the University of Frankfurt. When Goitein moved to Jerusalem, he and Agnon became close friends. Most of the letters are from the mid-1950s onwards, after Goitein left Israel, a move of which Agnon was highly critical.[4][5]

    —–

    SD Agnon married in 1920. Esther studied with Goitein before Goitein left for Palestine in 1923. Goitein like many other Zionists of the time period was heavily involved in fabricating and appropriating an Oriental identity for European Jews, whose connection to Palestine was wholly mythological as Goitein almost certainly knew.

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