Jewish Studies Space in Modern Hebrew Literature
Karen Grumberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0197


The complex relationship between space and modern Hebrew literature proceeds from key spatial paradigms of the Hebrew Bible: Egypt, the desert, and Zion. Over centuries, Jews dispersed around the globe used Hebrew to express different modes of spatial engagement: rabbis considered the places and placelessness of God; medieval Andalusian poets longed for Zion; communist Jews in Baghdad and Jewish polyglots in Odessa used Hebrew to narrate their relationship to places their families inhabited for generations; Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians, in an era when Hebrew is no longer the sole purview of Jews, share Hebrew to reflect on homeland and diaspora in poetry and prose. Though “space” is by no means a novel phenomenon, the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences offered scholars of Hebrew culture conceptual and theoretical tools for addressing the diverse spatial configurations they encountered. The theorization of space and place in literature emphasized their active role in social relations and called for new conceptualizations of the construction and subversion of identities. Works by Gaston Bachelard, Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, Doreen Massey, Edward Said, Edward Soja, and Yi-Fu Tuan, among others, have undergirded investigations of space and place in modern Hebrew literature. Because most of the critical work on space in Hebrew literature addresses Hebrew texts from the twentieth century, this entry focuses on this period, though it also provides citations of scholarship analyzing biblical, rabbinic, Andalusian, and Haskalah texts. The citations mostly refer to literary texts but also include spatial analyses in cultural studies and history contexts. While many of the texts cited address the nation and territory or, alternatively, spatial paradigms that coalesce in resistance to the national, others investigate spatial paradigms in Hebrew that circumvent the national to consider fluid spatialities such as diaspora, migration, transnationalism, and travel, as well as historical spatial configurations that exist as memories, dreams, or specters. The preponderance of concrete investigations of specific places such as the city, the desert, and the kibbutz indicates the materiality of much of Hebrew literary spatiality. As the final section on modernity demonstrates, the spatial has opened fruitful avenues of inquiry within the existing historical discourse on Hebrew culture. There is, inevitably, some overlap in these categories: entries under The City, for example, might feel at home under Modernism and Place, while the line demarcating Borders and Beyond is appropriately penetrable, bleeding into Spatialities of Center and Margins. Finally, this entry should by no means be taken to represent all the scholarship on space in modern Hebrew literature, but rather to provide a sense of significant contributions and recent research.

General Overviews

General overviews of the subject of space in Hebrew literature are relatively scarce, while spatial studies of specific authors, works, or subgroups within Hebrew literature (literature by women or Mizrahim, for example) appear more frequently. Several foundational texts have given rise to the burgeoning interest in space in Hebrew literature; because most Hebrew literature is authored by Jews living in Israel, the geographic and political site of the reterritorialization of the Hebrew language, most of these have been preoccupied with Israel. Foremost among them is Gurevitch and Aran 1993, which considers space from an anthropological perspective and proposes the notion of makom katan and makom gadol (place and Place) as central in Israeli identity, an idea that would become highly influential in discourses on Israeli culture. Ben-Ari and Bilu 1997, a collection of case studies, also proceeds from an anthropological context to challenge assumptions of Zionist spatial praxis and discourse through examinations of diverse Israeli engagements with space. Gurevitch 2007 expands on the ideas first proposed in Gurevitch and Aran 1993, namely the centrality of ha-makom, “the place,” in the Israeli sensibility. Schwartz 2007, a study of Hebrew literature, is substantively informed by such social science theorizations of space and place. Published the same year, Weizman 2007 offers a scathing critique of Israeli spatiality from the perspective of its architectural practices. The link between Zionist ideology and material spatiality is taken up in the context of Hebrew literature in Grumberg 2011. Beyond the Hebrew context, Mann 2012 considers the meanings of space in diverse Jewish experiences and communities.

  • Ben-Ari, Eyal, and Yoram Bilu, eds. Grasping Land: Space and Place in Contemporary Israeli Discourse and Experience. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

    This collection of essays considers how Israeli landscapes produce and continuously shape the identity and sense of history of those who inhabit them. Primarily anthropological in approach, the essays offer diverse conceptualizations of “being Israeli” from the perspective of spatial experience.

  • Grumberg, Karen. Place and Ideology in Contemporary Hebrew Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011.

    In this study of late-20th-century Hebrew literature, Grumberg draws from a broad spectrum of theorization on space and place, including humanistic geography, to argue that quotidian, seemingly apolitical lived places allow for the propagation or subversion of ideology as much as do overtly political sites.

  • Gurevitch, Zali. Al Hamakom. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2007.

    This study (On Israeli and Jewish place) expands on the dialectic of Israeli space initiated in Gurevitch and Aran 1993, which is reprinted here as the first chapter. The five new chapters that follow explore the dualistic Israeli experience of place identified via makom from different perspectives and in diverse contexts, including myth, temporality, and specific spaces such as borders.

  • Gurevitch, Zali, and Gideon Aran. “Al ha-makom: anthropologya yisraelit.” Alpayim 4 (1993): 9–44.

    This seminal study (On place: Israeli anthropology) articulates the tension between the Hebrew notion of makom, “place,” in its physical, geographical sense, on the one hand, and as an idea, on the other. Gurevitch and Aran argue that spatiality, and the complex concept of makom specifically, have been central in the formation of Israeli identity.

  • Mann, Barbara. Space and Place in Jewish Studies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

    A broad survey exploring spatial concepts in Jewish tradition and culture, this study highlights space as a key critical category in Jewish studies. Its organization proceeds from the theological and territorial concept of makom in the Jewish tradition.

  • Schwartz, Yigal. Ha-yadata et ha-eretz sham ha-limon pore’ah? Handasat ha-adam u-mahshevet ha-merhav ba-sifrut ha-ivrit ha-hadasha. Tel Aviv: Dvir, 2007.

    This study of Hebrew literature (Do you know the land where the lemon tree blooms? Human engineering and the conceptualization of space in modern Hebrew literature) spanning over 100 years from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, considers the disjuncture between the imagination and the realization of Jewish territorialization. Schwartz examines literary engagement with Zionist dreams and reality to demonstrate the contributions of literature to the construction of a new Jew and a new national home.

  • Weizman, Eyal. Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London and New York: Verso, 2007.

    This study argues that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories has created a political space sustained and informed by certain architectural practices. Analyzing the mobilization of specific architectural structures such as checkpoints, the separation wall, settlements, and fortifications, it demonstrates the political mobilization of architecture in Israel.

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