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Course Description

SY Agnon & the Jewish Experience (3 cr)
Stephen Katz
JSTU-L 395 #30965
TR 4:00-5:15 BH 244

Meets with NELC-N 695; JSTU-H 500 #30894

What does it mean to live as a man of faith in a contemporary world? How does that background affect one's view as to modernity, secularism as an alternative world-view, the issue of a liberated woman, Zionism and progress?

These and other concerns will be represented in the writings of S.Y. Agnon, Hebrew literature's most insightful and talented writer. Israel's most highly decorated story teller and Nobel Prize laureate, S.Y. Agnon (1887-1970) composed numerous short and long tales which mirror the dilemmas of traditional Jewish culture's confrontation with issues such as assimilation, secularism and modernization of Diaspora and Israeli Jewry.

Through Agnon's sophisticated vision, we become cognizant of the dynamics of his hero's travails who must confront the reality of being caught in the middle, between a secure though fading world of faith and piety and life in an environment lacking absolute truths, certitudes, comfort and order. Agnon's fiction conveys the tensions represented by the cultural upheavals in the experiences of diasporic and Israeli Jewry, the life and values transformed by circumstances around them.

Following our encounter with the world into which Agnon was born, we will read some of his most powerful tales, those depicting the seemingly innocent life of bygone days, though told through the prism of a modernist's vision. We will then read works telling of the impact of twentieth-century forces on Agnon's heroes, among them those of the First World War, pogroms, the Holocaust, and the existence of the State of Israel. Other themes such as love, kindred spirits, the "agunah" (undivorced single woman), Messianism, and the hero's ambivalent stance about his surroundings will figure centrally in our readings.

The course assumes no previous knowledge of Hebrew, Jewish traditions, or works by this writer. A desire and ability to read are the only requisites. The course will include a midterm and final exam as well as a term paper on a selected short work by Agnon.