Current Issue Article Abstracts

Winter 2021, Vol. 111.1

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"I Work for People Who Love . . .": David Lazer, Marc Chagall, and the Jewish State
Elżbieta Kossewska

David Lazer, an editor of Nowy Dziennik in Krakow, a founder of Maariv in Israel, and the editor of Maariv's literary section, maintained written and personal contact with Marc Chagall from 1957 to the mid-1970s. Lazer visited Chagall at his home in Vence and Saint-Paul-de-Vence. This article presents their correspondence and describes their meetings and the nature of their relationship, which was sentimental and emotionally rich. Lazer was a great storyteller with a talent for eloquent statements, supported by his knowledge of Jewish culture and literature, which included a fascination with Jewish folklore. This allowed him to feel at ease in the Yiddish cultural sphere, which was important to Chagall and through which he expressed his personal and creative identity. Lazer was also a good source of information on current affairs in the bloc of Central and Eastern European countries, about which Chagall was extremely curious, and Lazer likewise kept Chagall informed about the political problems faced by Israel. Lazer wrote detailed reports about each of his visits to Chagall for Israeli readers, for whom the world depicted by Chagall in his paintings was very familiar—a village, a shtetl, a Jewish street. In one letter to Chagall, Lazer told him that he was the author of the largest number of articles about him in the Hebrew press. Apart from the artistic value of his paintings, Lazer's fascination with Chagall stemmed from the cultural proximity of the diasporic Jewish world, which had given them a similar spiritual and intellectual formation, and from his interest in Yiddish literature.

Hebrew Grammar in Contact with German Grammar during the Jewish Enlightenment: Pronouns as Case Study
Yehonatan Wormser

This essay offers an initial examination of the influence of German grammatical theory on Hebrew grammatical works at the beginning of the Jewish enlightenment (late eighteenth century). The examination is based on the terminology and description of one issue—Hebrew pronouns—as presented in two main works: Moses Mendelssohn's booklet Or lintivah(Berlin, 1783); and the comprehensive grammar of Judah Leib Ben-Ze'ev, Talmud lashon ‛ivri (Breslau, 1796). The essay reveals the German sources of these two scholars and analyzes the manner in which the sources were used. This analysis paints a picture of their careful and selective adaptation of the German model, while illustrating the manner in which they perceived Hebrew grammatical elements through German features. This approach has left its imprint on Hebrew grammar to this day.


Solomon and Ashmedai Redux: Redaction Criticism of bGitin 68b
Reuven Kiperwasser

This paper deals with the redaction criticism of a story from the Babylonian Talmud, bGit 68b. This study aims to distinguish further between the diverse sources of this complex narrative and to differentiate between the Eastern and Western elements that it contains. The conclusion is that the unusually long story in bGitin is a product of a late and tendentious editing. It is based on a minimum of three once-independent narrative traditions. The first told of how King Solomon built the Temple with the help of a friendly demon; the second told of how King Solomon built the Temple with the help of a miraculous object called shamira. It seems that these stories were in competition with each other; that is, one of them clearly appeared as an antithesis to the other. The late editor decided to harmonize them, transforming the two tales into a single story about how a friendly demon built the Temple with the help of a miraculous object. This composite story served as an introduction to the third narrative tradition, mobilized by the editor. According to this account, the throne of King Solomon was captured by an insidious demon, and the king went into exile. Blending the story of how a friendly demon built the Temple with one about how the throne was usurped by an evil demon was the last stage in the tortuous emergence of this extraordinary tale.

The Impact of Hagin le Juif's French Translations on Subsequent Latin Translations of Abraham Ibn Ezra's Astrological Writings
Shlomo Sela

From the Middle Ages until the present, the development of astrology among Jews has been associated with Abraham Ibn Ezra (ca. 1089–ca. 1161). He created the first comprehensive set of Hebrew astrological textbooks, which addressed the main systems of Arabic astrology and provided Hebrew readers with access to the subject. Some of his works became known to Christian scholars during his years in the Latin West and shortly after his death. However, Ibn Ezra's astrological writings remained outside the mainstream of Latin astrological literature until the last decades of the thirteenth century. An Ibn Ezra renaissance took place in the Latin West, thanks to a number of almost simultaneous translation projects. This essay aims to shed light on a limited but fundamental facet of the Ibn Ezra renaissance in the Latin West: the impact of the earliest datable translation project—Hagin le Juif's French translations, carried out in 1273—on subsequent Latin translations of Ibn Ezra's Hebrew astrological writings. The current study examines all of Hagin's French translations and all the relevant Latin translations of Ibn Ezra's astrological writings. In addition, the current study presents hitherto unknown biographical information about Hagin le Juif and attempts to explain the cultural context of his French translations.

Jesus in Arabic, Jesus in Judeo-Arabic: The Origins of the Helene Version of the Jewish "Life of Jesus" (Toledot Yeshu)
Miriam Goldstein

The polemical anti-Christian narrative Toledot Yeshu (henceforth, TY) is the earliest freestanding composition written by Jews against central tenets of Christianity. Broadly speaking, the narrative is a subversive rendering of central aspects of the life of Jesus and was composed at some point during Late Antiquity or the early Islamic period. This article discusses the origins of the long ("Helene") version of this polemical parody, which was well known in most parts of the Jewish world, and argues that this expanded version of the narrative was a creation of the classical Islamic period, in Judeo-Arabic, likely around the ninth or tenth century. This argument is supported by manuscript evidence in Judeo-Arabic from a slightly later period. Furthermore, Jewish-Christian debate in a variety of Near Eastern languages was and remained active during the first few centuries of the Islamic period, and the tone and contents of TY are typical of the polemics composed during this time. A further backdrop for the creation of this Jewish polemical narrative was the existence of numerous accounts of Jesus's birth and childhood in Arabic, among Muslims and Christians, which would have provided fertile ground for the creation of a Jewish account of Jesus's birth and childhood, or "Jewish infancy gospel," as found in TY.

The Political Theology of the Feminine Jew and Anticolonial Criticism in the Writings of Yehoshua Radler-Feldman (R. Binyamin) during WWI
Avi-Ram Tzoreff

During World War I, Yehoshua Radler-Feldman (R. Binyamin) published in the newspapers [email protected] and Ha-po'el Ha-tsa'ira series of reports and commentaries. In these articles, Radler-Feldman severely criticized the ongoing state of war, which he considered lacking any semblance of political logic or moral reasoning. His main criticism was directed toward the Allied powers, which, in his view, bore the major responsibility for the outbreak of the war. Radler-Feldman determined that the Allied powers also caused the war to drag on in order to protect and enhance their own colonial interests. However, they obfuscated these interests in order to implant the feeling that the war was inevitable.

This essay examines the way the critical approach of Radler-Feldman to World War I reveals the unique Jewish cultural position that he wished to put forth. It shows that he integrated into his writings elements of the pacifist-feminist philosophy of his time, as well as theological views of the Jewish feminine and anticolonial criticism. Through this unique cultural amalgamation, Radler-Feldman intended to uncover the political-cultural order that enabled the war to continue and that influenced the modes of creation of modern nations in general. Furthermore, disengagement from the prevailing political-cultural order would have given the rising Jewish existence in Palestine, according to Radler-Feldman, freedom from the patterns that such an order imposed on its formation and would have turned it into an entity unlike, and inimical to, the one that the European nations were determined to replicate.


"We Were Slaves": Deportation to a Soviet Forced Labor Camp during WWII as Depicted in the Memoirs of the Polish-Yiddish Writer Avrom Zak
Magdalena Ruta, Maria Piechaczek-Borkowska

This essay discusses the memoir Knekht zenen mir geven (Buenos Aires, 1956), by Avrom Zak (1891–1980), a Polish-Yiddish journalist, poet, and prose writer who survived WWII in the Soviet Union. While in the USSR, he was deported in summer 1940 to a forced labor camp in the Republic of Komi, where he spent more than a year. The essay focuses on the reconstruction of the existential experience that Zak's memoirs contain against the backdrop of the memoirs of Polish Gulag prisoners who, unlike the Jewish prisoners, have already become the subject of extensive research by literary historians. Moreover, the essay addresses the uniqueness of the Jewish experience. Yiddish memoirs of Polish Jews who were prisoners of Soviet forced labor camps during WWII, heretofore absent from studies of so-called Gulag literature and/or Soviet exile literature and, in a broader sense, from Holocaust studies, are still waiting to become incorporated into that discussion. It is only by collecting the greatest possible corpus of testimonies that we shall be able to reconstruct a wider image of the Soviet aspect of the Jewish experience of WWII.