Jewish Studies Hebrew Literature Outside of Israel Since 1948
Melissa Weininger
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0209


Hebrew literature, defined expansively, has existed outside of the land of Israel since at least the first millennium of the Common Era. Hebrew religious, liturgical, and poetic works were composed in Europe, the Middle East, and North America for a thousand years before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The presence of vocabulary, grammar, and genres that were adapted from non-Jewish-dominant cultures are a testament to the long imbrication of Hebrew in the Diaspora, the areas of Jewish dispersion outside the land of Israel. Hebrew literature in its modern form originated in the cities of Europe in the 19th century, drawing on European languages and literatures, historical layers of the Hebrew textual tradition, and Yiddish for inspiration. In the early 20th century, the Tarbut Ivrit (Hebrew Culture) movement, a deeply Zionist group made up of American Hebraists, most of whom had immigrated from the Russian Empire and been influenced by Ahad Ha’am’s idea of a national Hebrew culture, created another center of Hebrew literary production in the United States. At the same time, the center of Hebrew culture was shifting from Europe to Palestine, and after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Palestine rapidly became the main center of Hebrew literary production. Nonetheless, even since 1948, there has always been a small but significant amount of Hebrew literature written outside of Israel, whether by translingual Hebraists or Israeli expatriates. While most of the American Hebraist movement had died out by the 1960s, a few writers continued to produce Hebrew literature in America until the 1990s. And since that time, Israeli expatriate writers in the United States and Europe have begun to create a contemporary Hebrew literature outside of Israel, with its own idioms and ideologies. Unlike the American Hebraists of the Tarbut Ivrit movement, these writers often see Hebrew in apolitical terms or are explicitly anti-Zionist in their use of Hebrew in the Diaspora. This contemporary Diaspora Hebrew literature has also been accompanied by the rise of multilingual Israeli literature, often with overt references to Hebrew but written in other languages. These Hebrew and multilingual literary cultures are also strongly tied to art in other forms and media, which are essential to understanding contemporary Hebrew culture in a global context.

General Overviews

The contemporaneity of much Hebrew literature outside of Israel means that many of the overviews of this work are journalistic, with scholarly accounts beginning to catch up. Berg and Sokoloff 2018 offers a variety of perspectives on the role of Hebrew in both literature and the academy in the United States. Peleg 2016 provides one of the first scholarly overviews of Hebrew literature in the Diaspora over the last couple of decades, and Weininger 2019 offers a discussion of Hebrew literature outside of Israeli in the context of the history of Jewish multilingualism. Kissileff 2015 and Shemoelof 2016 offer accounts of the Hebrew literary scenes in the United States and Europe. And the literary magazine of the leading Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published a series of first-person accounts of Israeli writers living abroad, several of whom write in Hebrew (see Arad, et al. 2016). Weiss 2015 offers an argument in favor of encouraging the production of Hebrew literature outside of Israel in the wake of the decision to offer the Sapir Prize, Israel’s premier literary prize, only to writers living in the State of Israel.

  • Arad, Maya, Itamar Orlev, Yossi Avni-Levy, Ruby Namdar, Adam Coman, and Shelly Oria. “Exile and Zion: Israeli Writers on Living and Writing Abroad.” Haaretz, 24 April 2016.

    First-person accounts by six Israeli writers, who describe their lives and work outside of Israel.

  • Berg, Nancy E., and Naomi B. Sokoloff, eds. What We Talk about When We Talk about Hebrew (And What It Means to Americans). Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018.

    An anthology of essays, ranging from the personal to the scholarly, on the role and importance of Hebrew in the United States. Contributors include writers and scholars reflecting on Hebrew literature and education in America.

  • Kissileff, Beth. “Israel Has an Amazing Literary Diaspora.” The Tower 22 (January 2015): n.p.

    An overview of contemporary Israeli Hebrew writers in the United States and Europe. Contextualizes Hebrew literature outside of Israel with regard to its historical formations as well as its contemporary manifestations in an accessible way.

  • Peleg, Yaron. “A New Hebrew Literary Diaspora? Israeli Literature Abroad.” Studia Judaica 18.2.36 (2016): 321–338.

    A scholarly introduction to the phenomenon of Hebrew literature in the Diaspora after the establishment of the State of Israel.

  • Shemoelof, Mati. “Creating a Radical Hebrew Culture—in the Diaspora.” +972 Magazine, 19 August 2016, n.p.

    An account of the cultural and ideological implications of Hebrew literature written outside of Israel by a Hebrew poet living in Berlin.

  • Weininger, Melissa. “Nationalism and Monolingualism: The ‘Language Wars’ and the Resurgence of Israeli Multilingualism.” Polylinguality and Transcultural Practices 16.4 (2019): 622–636.

    DOI: 10.22363/2618-897X-2019-16-4-622-636

    Places recent Israeli literature, in Hebrew and other languages, written outside of Israel in the context of a history of Jewish multilingualism. Offers an introductory overview of some of the trends in Hebrew literature outside of Israel.

  • Weiss, Haim. “Israel Doesn’t Have a Monopoly on Great Hebrew Literature.” Forward, 8 June 2015.

    After awarding the 2014 Sapir Prize to the Ruby Namdar, a Hebrew writer living in New York, the prize committee made the decision to only award future prizes to Hebrew writers residing in Israel. This op-ed offers an argument in favor of a more expansive geographical reach for contemporary Hebrew literature.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.