Podcast: Jeffrey Saks on Shmuel Yosef Agnon

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Chapter 1: One Who Was Born in Jerusalem

Chapter 2: The Last Hebrew Classic

Chapter 3: Scholem, Bialik, and Agnon on Hebrew’s Revival 

Chapter 4: The Still Small Voice

Chapter 5: Agnon’s Significance Today

Shmuel Yosef Agnon was one of the giants of modern Hebrew literature. His short stories, novels, and anthologies reflected and shaped the national spirit of the Jewish people in an age that witnessed the rise of Zionism, the founding of Israel, and the horror of the Holocaust. In 1966, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first—and to this day the only—Hebrew writer to receive the honor.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Alan Rubenstein is joined by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, one of the world’s most renowned scholars of Agnon, to discuss his life, work, and legacy. Rabbi Saks, the founding director of ATID and WebYeshiva.org and director of research at Agnon House, recently completed his work assembling the S.Y. Agnon Library—a collection of over a dozen English translations of Agnon’s writings—for the Toby Press. Rubenstein and Saks use two essays to frame their discussion: “S. Y. Agnon—The Last Hebrew Classic?” by Gershom Scholem (later published in Commentary as “Reflections on S.Y. Agnon”) and “Agnon’s Shaking Bridge and the Theology of Culture” by Rabbi Saks. They discuss the differences between Agnon’s real life and his literary persona, the distinct features that make him such a unique Jewish writer, and the perils of reading Agnon both in Hebrew and in translation.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

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