Page 106 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

Rabbi Nahman (1772-1810), who, though a grandson o f the
Baal Shem Tov, carved out his own idiom o f hasidic though t
and teaching, left a legacy o f stories and dreams along with
o the r works o f a more formal and conventional form .4 Rooted
in the world o f Eastern European Jewish tradition in its decid­
edly pre-modern state, his particular mode o f religious though t
was founded on a sense o f paradox and consisted o f an affir­
mation o f faith together with a radical recognition o f the na tu re
o f disbelief. Living at a time when Haskalah Jews who identified
with European culture were still attempting with great difficulty
to take the early uncertain steps o f creating a modern literature
in Hebrew, one which looked to European models and assumed
confidence in rational Western though t and values, Rabbi
Nahm an ’s stories emerged from a very d iffe ren t background.
They are the fru it o f a rich, startling and unham pe red imag­
ination, one in which the depths o f the self merged with the
world-view o f Lurianic Kabbalah.5
During the course o f his long literary career, Shmuel Yosef
Agnon6 (1888-1970), probably the major figure in modern He­
brew prose-fiction and recipient o f the Nobel Prize for Liter­
atu re in 1966, drew from d iffe ren t facets o f the literary legacy
o f Rabbi Nahman. His relationship to Rabbi Nahman extends
much beyond the explicit references to him cited at the begin­
ning o f ou r discussion.
In an article which appeared some two years before Agnon’s
death, Rifka Horowitz7 re fe rred to qualities, patterns and motifs
common to a trio o f storytellers: Rabbi Nahman, Kafka and
Agnon. Among the shared elements she included a sense o f
terro r, o f guilt and loss, the uncertainty o f what comprises “re ­
4. On Rabbi Nahman, see “Nahman o f Bratslav: A Biography,” in Arnold
J. Band,
Nahman of Bratslav, the Tales
(New York, Ramsey and Toronto:
1978), pp. 7-25, and Arthur Green,
Tormented Master: A Life o f Rabbi Nahman
o f Bratslav
(University, Alabama: 1979).
5. See Joseph Dan, Preface to A.J. Band,
Nahman o f Bratslav, the Tales, xiii-xix.
6. For detailed studies and surveys o f Agnon’s writings, see A.J. Band,
talgia and Nightmare, A Study in the Fiction o f S.Y. Agnon
(Berkeley and Los
Angeles: 1968), and Gershon Shaked,
Shmuel Yosef Agnon, A Revolutionary
(New York and London: 1989).
Ikkuv ha-Shelihut,
27 (1968), pp. 178-182.