Page 105 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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ABERBACH / AGNON AND THE NEED FOR TRADITION
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he seem ed no m o re th a n an inconsp icuous O r th o d o x Jew , sho r t ,
com pact, quizzical; each day he p ray ed th re e times an d s tud ied
a p o r t io n o f th e T a lm u d . Yet he was o u ts ta n d in g am ong H e ­
brew w riters no t only in d ep ic ting the joy o f comm una l ob se r ­
vance, o f piety an d study , b u t also th e crisis o f fa ith , the disillu­
s ionm en t an d gu ilt a t hav ing p rov en a ren eg ad e to his trad ition .
Fo r all A g n o n ’s a p p a r e n t am b ivalence to O r th o d o x y , no w r ite r
has re c re a ted with g re a te r insigh t th e relig ious life o f E as te rn
E u ro p e an Jew s (pa rticu la rly in the novels
Hakhnasat Kallah
[T h e
B rida l Canopy] an d
Oreah Natah la-Lun
[A Gues t fo r th e N ight]),
o r , with the possible excep tions o f M ende le M okhe r Sefarim
an d C .N . Bialik, has m ade b e t te r use o f biblical, ta lm ud ic , an d
la te r rabb in ic idiom . (Bialik said th a t A gnon w ro te the way
Hasid im o u g h t to write, i f only they knew how.) Some o f
A g n o n ’s most a rd e n t disciples w ere conv inced th a t by re ad in g
him one virtually fu lfilled o n e ’s du ty to study the T o ra h . I n ­
de ed , this was the im p ression A gnon was aim ing at: in one o f
his stories, “Im Kenisat ha-Yom ” (At the O u tse t o f th e Day),
th e n a r r a to r finds th a t an o rig ina l scroll o f his is placed in a
synagogue a rk a longside o f T o r a h scrolls.
Most critics in Israe l an d ab ro ad ag re e with the verd ic t o f
E dm u n d W ilson who, on re ad in g A gnon in tran s la tion p r o ­
claim ed him a gen ius o f the first o rd e r , an d h e lp ed h im to
win th e Nobel Prize fo r l i te ra tu re in 1966. T h ey adm ire an d
envy his p ru n e d , lucid, in im itab le style, his psychological sh a rp ­
ness, his gifts fo r satire an d u n d e rs ta tem e n t , his encyclopedic
know ledge o f trad ition a l Jew ish texts an d customs, his u t te r
devo tion to his a r t.
‘DARKER T RU TH S ’
Still, th e grace an d accom p lishm en t o f A g n o n ’s p rose h ide
d isqu ie ting t ru th s abou t the m an and his a r t. T h e d eb a te over
his relig ious a ffin ities has served to gloss ove r some o f the
d a rk e r t ru th s in his writings. In try ing to red re ss the balance,
some critics have accused A gnon o f d ishonesty tow ards his m a ­
terial, o f aes the tic iz ing his ch a ra c te rs ’ em o tions , o f m ak ing them
passive types, em o tiona lly stifled , imm e rsed in fantasy , annoy ­
ingly indecisive an d m a lleab le .9 Yet, these critics have shown
9. See in particular Hochman,
op. cit.