Jewish Studies Space in Modern Hebrew Literature
by
Karen Grumberg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0197

Introduction

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 20th 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.

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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  • 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.

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    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-19th to the mid-20th 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.

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

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    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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Spatialities of Center and Margins

A growing body of scholarship uses spatial theories to address territoriality and nationalism in the Hebrew context. Some studies focus on highly specific, significant places or types of places to argue for their symbolic and material significance in the construction of Zionist identity and to problematize this significance. The desert, because of its centrality in the biblical narrative that underpins Hebrew national and literary culture, has been an especially fertile field of investigation. Omer-Sherman 2010 analyzes Hebrew and non-Hebrew Jewish literary texts to argue that the desert serves as a productive subversive counter-site to established narratives of nation and territory. Zerubavel 2018 offers an analysis of the desert in Zionist culture from a historical perspective based on a wide variety of texts, including literature. Not only the desert, but also the sea, has attracted scholarly inquiry. Hever 2012 traces divergent attitudes toward the sea in left- and right-wing Zionist discourse. Besides natural geographic locales with symbolic ideological significance to nationalist discourse and practice, spaces designed and constructed to help realize ideological goals, such as the kibbutz, have garnered much scholarly attention. Milner 2011, Gertz 2015, and Omer-Sherman 2015 examine Hebrew literary representations of the kibbutz, perhaps the place associated more than any with Zionist practice, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Increasingly, studies of space in Hebrew literature are concerned with the representation of spaces marginal to the Hebrew experience, both geographically and metaphorically. Unlike the kibbutz, which signifies the hegemonic experience of Ashkenazi (European) Zionist Jews, these are spaces of marginalized experiences, such as those of Mizrahi (North African and Middle Eastern) Jews, Palestinians, and other non-Jews in Israel. Oppenheimer 2012 and Hever 2004 both address the representation of space in Hebrew literature by Mizrahi Jewish authors and its divergence from the hegemonic experience of space in Israel. The Nakba and the legacy of 1948 emerge as key aspects of the spatiality of Palestinians in Hebrew writing by Jewish authors (Hochberg 2012) and Palestinian authors (Levy 2012). Some studies have critiqued the dominance of the European dimension in conventional paradigms of Israeli identity and offered alternatives. Nocke 2009 proposes the conceptualization of Israeli identity as Mediterranean as a means of acknowledging Israel’s geographic location and its blending of European and Asian cultural elements. Some consider the Mediterranean paradigm of Israeli identity problematic for its continued emphasis on native belonging and its resistance to the Arab dimension of Israeli culture. Some, such as Hochberg 2004, propose Levantinism as a spatial category mapped by culture rather than geography.

  • Gertz, Nurith. “With a Face to the Future: The Kibbutz in Recent Literary Works.” Journal of Israeli History 34.1 (2015): 93–107.

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    The downfall of the kibbutz, the place most closely associated with Labor Zionism in the collective Hebrew imagination, has spurred numerous studies of the fissures within the kibbutz movement and the kibbutzim themselves. Examining contemporary Hebrew fictional representations of the kibbutz, this essay argues that its demise is more than the product of internal rifts—it is a stage in a broader historical process that will birth new social values.

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  • Hever, Hanan. “‘We Have Not Arrived from the Sea’: A Mizrahi Literary Geography.” Social Identities 10.1 (2004): 31–51.

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    This essay considers Mizrahi (North African and Middle Eastern Jews in Israel) authors as positioned in a “third space” in Israeli culture, between the Ashkenazi or European hegemony of their present and the Arab world of their past. This metaphorical space, Hever argues, allows them to challenge the Eurocentric status quo in Israeli culture and broaden the boundaries of acknowledged Jewish histories and their places to reshape Israeli identity.

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  • Hever, Hanan. “The Zionist Sea: Symbolism and Nationalism in Modernist Hebrew Poetry.” Jewish Culture and History 13.1 (2012): 25–41.

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    This essay examines the conflicting and shifting significations of the sea among Labor Zionists and in the right-wing Zionist conceptualization. It demonstrates that modernist Hebrew poetry was instrumental in these significations and provides an illuminating analysis of the sea’s erasure of traces of territorial conflict and violence.

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  • Hochberg, Gil. “‘Permanent Immigration’: Jacqueline Kahanoff, Ronit Matalon, and the Impetus of Levantinism.” boundary 2 31.2 (2004): 219–243.

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    This essay historicizes the concept of Levantinism and its perception as a threat to Israeli culture, and critiques recent attempts to reappropriate and critically revise Levantinism as an alternative to Eurocentric conceptualizations of Jewish identity. Instead, it offers a vision of Levantinism as a contemporary cultural space that resists notions of nativeness and historical belonging.

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  • Hochberg, Gil. “A Poetics of Haunting: From Yizhar’s Hirbeh to Yehoshua’s Ruins to Koren’s Crypts.” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society 18.3 (2012): 55–69.

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    This article identifies an increasing tendency in modern Israeli literature to represent spectrally the violence associated with the displacement and exile of Palestinians following the 1948 war. Hochberg analyzes the spatiality of destroyed Arab villages as represented in three prominent Israeli works to demonstrate the lingering history of violence.

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  • Levy, Lital. “Nation, Village, Cave: A Spatial Reading of 1948 in Three Novels of Anton Shammas, Emile Habiby, and Elias Khoury.” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society 18.3 (2012): 10–26.

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    This essay posits various Palestinian spaces other than the nation as critical to understanding Palestinian identity after 1948. Focusing on Palestinian texts in Hebrew and Arabic, it proposes the cave as the key image of post-1948 spatiality, citing its function as an “underground homeland.”

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  • Milner, Iris. “Agitated Orders: Early Kibbutz Literature as a Site of Turmoil.” In One Hundred Years of Kibbutz Life: A Century of Crises and Reinvention. Edited by Michal Palgi and Shulamit Reinharz, 159–172. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2011.

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    This essay, printed as a chapter in a collection on the kibbutz, examines Hebrew fiction from the early 1920s to the late 1940s to argue for the dual role of literature vis-a-vis the kibbutz: on one hand, it helped establish the connection between the ideology of the kibbutz and the Zionist project; on the other, it created the conditions for critique of the kibbutz as an exclusionary site of redemption.

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  • Nocke, Alexandra. The Place of the Mediterranean in Modern Israeli Identity. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004173248.i-282Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study considers the idea of Yam tikhoniyut, or Mediterraneanism, in Hebrew culture, as a reaction against the Eurocentric sensibility that governed the collective conceptualization of Israeli identity. It positions Mediterraneanism as an attempt to articulate a “natural” identification with the place, one that accommodates and blends cultural elements of East and West; it also engages with critiques against the paradigm of Mediterraneanism as the basis for Israeli identity.

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  • Omer-Sherman, Ranen. Israel in Exile: Jewish Writing and the Desert. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

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    While most of this study of the significance of the desert in literature analyzes Hebrew works, it also considers Jewish authors writing in other languages to argue that the desert challenges and complicates assumptions embedded in national identity as well as the Jewish spatial dyad of home and exile.

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  • Omer-Sherman, Ranen. Imagining the Kibbutz: Visions of Utopia in Literature and Film. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

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    This study examines literary and cinematic representations of the kibbutz to argue that this most stereotypically Israeli place encompasses key tensions in Israeli society. It charts shifts in representation and signification of the kibbutz from its early years through the 21st century, and attends to the critiques and elisions in these literary depictions.

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  • Oppenheimer, Yochai. “Representation of Space in Mizrahi Fiction.” Hebrew Studies 53.1 (2012): 335–364.

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    This essay examines literary representations of the peripheral geographies of Mizrahim in Israel. It argues that these geographies give rise to a diasporic consciousness among the Mizrahim who inhabit them, who perpetually migrate between an attractive but unattainable center and the inhospitable margins.

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  • Peleg, Yaron. “Writing the Land: Language and Territory in Modern Hebrew Literature.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 12.2 (2013): 297–312.

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    This essay considers three modern Hebrew authors writing over the course of half a century to examine their engagement with the link between language and territory.

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  • Zerubavel, Yael. Desert in the Promised Land. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018.

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    This study traces the construction of the desert as a symbolic landscape in Zionist culture. Analyzing the discourse and practice that have maintained the desert as a resonant symbolic space, Zerubavel emphasizes the desert’s spatiality as encompassing physical, social, and mental dimensions.

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Spatialities of Movement: Exile, Diaspora, Migration, Travel

A substantive avenue of investigation of space in Hebrew literature has been the engagement with and against the conventional notion of emplacement understood as rootedness. The significance of the experience of exile in Jewish history and the discomfort that Zionist culture has evinced in regard to exile position movement as a key spatial paradigm in Hebrew literature, whether it is understood negatively, in accordance with Zionist ideas, or positively, as a means of bypassing territorially bound paradigms of space and culture. As a result of the Nakba and the War of 1967, movement and displacement are central also to Palestinian Arabs writing in Hebrew. For Palestinian authors, as for Jewish authors, displacement evokes reflections on memory, forgetting, and loss. Spatial investigations of earlier Hebrew literature in the context of displacement and exile include Kraemer 2015, which considers space in rabbinic writings; Elinson 2009, which examines nostalgic memories of Andalusia in medieval Hebrew literature; and Pelli 1991, an analysis of the travelogue in the literature of the Haskalah. In studies of modern Hebrew literary representations of spatialities of movement, several studies consider travel a primary spatial category. Frieden 2016 links travel and the specific spatial medium of the sea as significant for Hebrew translation culture. Naveh 2002 proposes travel narratives as central to modern Hebrew literature. Shemtov 2005 indicates divergent conceptualizations of movement and space through two paradigms of travel—Israeli and Jewish–in Yehuda Amichai’s poetry. While travel suggests choice in regards to displacement, exile connotes a lack of agency. A rich body of critical work on exile in Hebrew literature engages with the complexities of dispersal, displacement, and longing. Ezrahi 2000 offers an authoritative analysis of exile and return as the crux of the geographical poetics of the Jewish experience from the medieval period through contemporary times. Berg 1996 complicates the conceptualization of home and exile through the writing of Iraqi Jewish immigrant authors in Israel. She addresses the challenges presented by these authors’ “homecoming” to Israel, their attachment to their Iraqi “exile,” and the material manifestations of their spatial experiences as exposed in their literary depictions of the ma’abara (immigrant transit camps). Mendelson-Maoz 2013 examines works by Ethiopian Hebrew authors who call on key sites in biblical narrative to invert the conceptualization of Africa as exile and Israel as home. Like the Iraqi authors in Berg’s study, Ethiopian Hebrew authors redefined their understanding of homeland and exile upon their experience of Israel. Mann 2015 considers memory-sites and landscape architecture to theorize Palestinian memory of lost place within Israeli culture.

  • Berg, Nancy. Exile from Exile: Israeli Writers from Iraq. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    This study is one of the first to expand the boundaries of the Hebrew literary canon by broadening its geographical scope to include Middle Eastern Hebrew authors. Analyzing works by Iraqi-born Israeli authors, Berg focuses on representations of Iraqi and Israeli homes and exiles, on specific sites such as immigrant transit camps, and on the question of language.

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  • Elinson, Alexander E. Looking Back at Al-Andalus: The Poetics of Loss and Nostalgia in Medieval Arabic and Hebrew Literature. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004166806.i-190Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study analyzes Hebrew and Arabic literary representations of Al-Andalus. It argues that these texts reconstruct Al-Andalus through prisms of memory and loss, together composing not a portrait of a fixed geographic locale, but rather a fluid symbolic landscape reflecting the multivalent histories and experiences of its authors.

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  • Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. Booking Passage: Exile and Homecoming in the Modern Jewish Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    This seminal study argues for a poetics of exile and return that is specifically Jewish. It examines Jewish literary texts in Hebrew and other languages to consider wandering and reterritorialization as well as key sites in Jewish geographies to argue that Jewish authors found in exile an imaginative privilege, while homecoming posed new challenges.

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  • Frieden, Ken. Travels in Translation: Sea Tales at the Source of Jewish Fiction. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2016.

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    Historicizing modern Hebrew literary culture through the dual prism of translation and travel writing, this study examines translations into Hebrew of European sea travel narratives beginning in the late 18th century, arguing that they called for imaginative solutions to the limitations of the Hebrew language in this period. More broadly, this study emphasizes the contribution of non-Hebrew sources to the development of modern Hebrew literature.

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  • Kraemer, David. Rabbinic Judaism: Space and Place. New York and London: Routledge, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315673257Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study posits spatiality as a chief preoccupation of rabbinic Judaism in Late Antiquity. Kraemer argues that the sense of homelessness and loss effected by the Roman conquest of the Holy Land and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE spurred a rabbinic reconfiguration of the Jewish relationship with space, ultimately emerging as a reconceptualization of the place of God and of Israel in Judaism.

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  • Mann, Barbara E. “‘An Apartment to Remember’: Palestinian Memory in the Israeli Landscape.” History & Memory 27.1 (2015): 83–115.

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    Employing notions of landscape architecture in the Israeli context, with a particular focus on memory-sites, this essay analyzes a Palestinian-Israeli novel and a park constructed on the ruins of a predominantly Arab neighborhood in Jaffa. It demonstrates the geographic, historical, and linguistic dimensions of Palestinian memory of the Nakba in Israeli culture.

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  • Mendelson-Maoz, Adia. “Diaspora and Homeland—Israel and Africa in Beta Israel’s Hebrew Literature and Culture.” Research in African Literatures 44.4 (2013): 35–50.

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    Reading Ethiopian-Israeli Hebrew literary texts, this essay focuses on the biblical narrative of the exodus from Egypt and of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden to demonstrate the inversion of the conceptualization of Africa as diaspora and Israel as homeland.

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  • Naveh, Hana. Nos’im ve-nos’ot: sipurey masa be-sifrut ha-ivrit ha-hadasha. Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 2002.

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    This study of travel narratives in modern Hebrew literature (Traveling men and women: Travel narratives in modern Hebrew literature) considers the significance of travel from myriad perspectives in a broad range of Hebrew texts. Underpinning this investigation is the notion that travel itself constitutes a paradigm of the development of and the encounter with narrative.

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  • Pelli, Moshe. “The Literary Genre of the Travelogue in Hebrew Haskalah Literature: Shmuel Romanelli’s Masa Ba’Rav.” Modern Judaism 11.2 (1991): 241–260.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/11.2.241Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This essay aims to redress the neglect of the Hebrew travelogue. It argues for the particular generic characteristics and the literary significance of 18th-century Hebrew travelogues.

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  • Shemtov, Vered. “Between Perspectives of Space: A Reading in Yehuda Amichai’s ‘Jewish Travel’ and ‘Israeli Travel.’” Jewish Social Studies 11.3 (2005): 141–161.

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    This essay argues that the popularity of the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai among readers of contrasting ideological beliefs can be attributed to his conceptualization of place, particularly his representation of Israel as both a physical real place and a mythical spiritual place.

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Borders and Beyond

Though Hebrew literature is not produced solely by Jews, and though it precedes the birth of political Zionism in the 19th century and of the State of Israel in the 20th, its complex entwinement with nationalist ideologies supporting the territorialization of Jewish space and identity have made geopolitical borders an important locus in Hebrew literature. Cleary 2002 offers a comparative reading of literature produced in the context of partition in Ireland and Israel/Palestine. Goldshmidt 2008 analyzes the border as site and metaphor in Hebrew literature of and about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mendelson-Maoz 2018 considers Hebrew literature produced during the first and second intifadas, focusing on these works’ representations of national space, borders, and their accoutrements from the perspective of ethics. Several studies have offered alternatives to borders and the divisions and separations they impose in their interpretations of Hebrew literature. An influential study in this vein is Hochberg 2010, which identifies modes of resistance to the dominant narrative of insurmountable separation between Arabs and Jews in literature by both. Rimmon-Kenan 2009 and Shemtov 2006 both read wandering and the transgression of borders as a rejection of conventional geopolitical space. Another alternative to the dominant discourse of borders in Hebrew literary spatiality can be found in transnational paradigms. Levy and Schachter 2015 considers Jewish literatures, among them Hebrew, to encompass a multilingual and transnational spatiality that demonstrates the applicability of transnationalism beyond the literature of metropolitan centers. Jacobs 2017 analyzes transnationalism in contemporary Hebrew poetry.

  • Cleary, Joe. Literature, Partition, and the Nation-State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    This study offers a comparative perspective on the cultural legacies of partition in Ireland and Israel/Palestine since the 1960s. One chapter examines Amos Oz’s frontier journeys and a second analyzes the formation of national literatures in the wake of partition.

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  • Goldshmidt, Tali. “Ha-gvul shel ha-sifrut: Al musag ha-gvul bi-sifrut ha-sikhsukh.” Alpayim 21 (2008): 60–82.

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    This essay (Literature’s border: On the concept of the border in the literature of the conflict) employs the prism of the border to consider Hebrew “literature of the conflict” written since the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Despite the diversity of the texts at hand, it argues, they all perpetuate the notion that the function of borders is to separate Israeli Jews from Palestinians physically and in terms of identity.

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  • Hochberg, Gil Z. In Spite of Partition: Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of Separatist Imagination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400827930Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study offers readings of Hebrew, Arabic, and Francophone texts to argue that they work against the logic of partition that dominates discourse about Arabs and Jews. Instead of replicating the binary separatist identities associated with related political paradigms, Hochberg argues, these texts reflect the intertwinement of self and other.

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  • Jacobs, Adriana X. “Ho! and the Transnational Turn in Contemporary Israeli Poetry.” Prooftexts 36.1–2 (2017): 137–166.

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    This essay examines the critical reception of the first issues of the Israeli literary journal Ho! Understanding modern Hebrew culture to have been nourished by the multilingual, diasporic Jewish nature of modern Hebrew’s past, Jacobs argues, the journal’s commitment to translation can be understood as a strategy to reengage with transnationalism.

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  • Levy, Lital, and Allison Schachter. “Jewish Literature/World Literature: Between the Local and the Transnational.” PMLA 130.1 (2015): 92–109.

    DOI: 10.1632/pmla.2015.130.1.92Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Configured as a corrective to studies of world literature that focus on metropolitan centers, this essay reads Middle Eastern and Eastern European Jewish literatures comparatively to propose Jewish literature as an exemplar of mutlilingual and transnational world literature beyond the center-periphery model.

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  • Mendelson-Maoz, Adia. Borders, Territories, and Ethics: Hebrew Literature in the Shadow of the Intifada. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvh9w0vnSave Citation »Export Citation »

    Engaging the dynamics between ideologies, space, and ethics, this study examines Hebrew literature produced between 1987 and 2007 on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation. It analyzes these texts in light of theories of ethics and space to argue that ambiguous geographical borders express the tension between humanism and occupation in Zionist practice.

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  • Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. “Place, Space, and Michal Govrin’s Snapshots.” Narrative 17.2 (2009): 220–234.

    DOI: 10.1353/nar.0.0019Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Reading Govrin’s novel through the theoretical lenses of Luce Irigaray and Michel de Certeau, this essay proposes the spatial concept of “a place that is not one” to articulate the oscillation between wandering and temporary dwelling that characterizes the experience of characters in the novel and to illuminate the relations between reading and boundary-crossing.

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  • Shemtov, Vered. “The Bible in Contemporary Israeli Literature: Text and Place in Zeruya Shalev’s Husband and Wife and Michal Govrin’s Snapshots.” Hebrew Studies 47.1 (2006): 363–384.

    DOI: 10.1353/hbr.2006.0000Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This essay examines different Hebrew literary representations of biblical narrative and devices to consider the significance of the Bible in the contemporary Hebrew experience, highlighting its role in the legitimization of either territorial sovereignty or mobility.

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Historical Spaces of/in Hebrew Literature

Studies engaging with memories and revisions of the historical spaces of Hebrew culture abound. While some of these studies have examined Hebrew memories of historical Palestinian spatiality, as noted above, the majority of Hebrew texts are concerned with the historical spaces of the Jewish experience, addressing regions of Jewish histories or the specific places associated with them. Exemplifying the latter, Miron 2000 offers a sweeping analysis of the shtetl as an aesthetic device in Yiddish literature; though not a study of Hebrew literature, it engages with the foremost space associated with the Jewish experience in Europe. Seidman 2007 offers a critical feminist reading of the shtetl in Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Beyond Europe lie manifold, arguably global, regions of Jewish histories. A number of these regions have elicited scholarly interest for their contributions to the multidimensional spatiality undergirding Hebrew literature. Aberbach 1997 and Bar-Yosef 1996 both examine Hebrew literary culture and production in the Russian context, while Katz 2009 and Weingrad 2011 consider their American dimension. Alcalay 1993 advocates for the conceptualization of a Levantine cultural paradigm in analyzing works of Arab authors of Hebrew. Similarly working to reconfigure Hebrew literary discourse by calling attention to its neglected but rich historical geography, Levy 2009 calls for a reorientation of Hebrew literary historiography that accounts for the contributions of Arab Hebrew authors. Starr 2009 emphasizes the significance of Egypt’s historic cosmopolitanism for both Arabic and Hebrew authors.

  • Aberbach, David. “Hebrew Literature and Jewish Nationalism in the Tsarist Empire 1881–1917.” Nations and Nationalism 3.1 (1997): 25–44.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1354-5078.1997.00025.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    This essay examines Hebrew literature in the tsarist empire after 1881 to argue that it conveyed Jewish national sentiment and autonomy from the empire at the same time that it reflected the influence of Russian literature. Like its Russian counterpart, Hebrew literature expressed the desire for social change, in the Hebrew context eventually envisioned as migration to Palestine.

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  • Alcalay, Ammiel. After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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    Engaging with a wide range of texts in Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages from across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, this study calls for a reconceptualization of Jewish studies as historically multivocal and transnational.

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  • Bar-Yosef, Hamutal. “Reflections on Hebrew Literature in the Russian Context.” Prooftexts 16.2 (1996): 127–149.

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    This essay emphasizes the significant influence of Russian literature on pre-state Hebrew and Zionist culture, and traces affinities between the two literatures as a consequence of Russian Hebrew authors’ engagement with Russian literary concepts and conventions, such as the figure of the author-prophet prevalent in modern Hebrew culture.

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  • Katz, Stephen. Red, Black, and Jew: New Frontiers in Hebrew Literature. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

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    This study considers the production of Hebrew literature by American Jewish authors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It argues that these authors incorporated Native American and African American cultures in their own literary production, reflecting a vision of a unified and integrated American identity.

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  • Levy, Lital. “Reorienting Hebrew Literary History: The View from the East.” Prooftexts 29.2 (2009): 127–172.

    DOI: 10.2979/pft.2009.29.2.127Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This essay calls for a reassessment of the Eurocentric conceptualization of modern Hebrew literature and literary historiography. It proposes a global paradigm of Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, stretching beyond Europe and encompassing Africa and Asia to account for Arabic and Hebrew interculturality.

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  • Miron, Dan. The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

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    This seminal study argues that the shtetl in Yiddish literature was an aesthetic construct rather than a historical, mimetic representation of a space conventionally associated with Eastern European Jewry.

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  • Seidman, Naomi. “Gender and the Disintegration of the Shtetl in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature.” In The Shtetl: New Evaluations. Edited by Steven Katz, 193–210. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

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    This essay is included in a collection of new critical considerations of the shtetl. Proceeding from an analysis of Dan Miron’s ideas about the shtetl in Yiddish literature, it adds new dimensions by arguing for the complex role of women in literature about the shtetl, as demonstrated in stories by Dvora Baron and other Hebrew and Yiddish authors.

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  • Starr, Deborah. Remembering Cosmopolitan Egypt: Literature, Culture, and Empire. London: Routledge, 2009.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203881361Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study considers the relation between cosmopolitanism and colonialism through the lens of Egypt from the 19th- to the mid-20th century. Through an analysis of Hebrew and Arabic literary texts that, from the vantage point of the second half of the 20th century, narrate the rich diversity of Egypt over a century, Starr argues that cosmopolitanism was inextricable from empire.

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  • Weingrad, Michael. American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in the United States. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011.

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    This study argues that Jewish American authors of Hebrew sought to express Jewish cultural nationalism in their literary works. Resisting conventional efforts at assimilation in America, these authors suggest a radically different American Jewish experience in which the Hebrew language provides access to a cultural homeland.

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The City

The city has been extensively theorized in the context of Hebrew literary studies, both in the cultural contributions of specific cities to Hebrew literature writ large and in the representation of certain cities in Hebrew literary texts. The majority of Hebrew literary studies on cities deals with Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, or in some cases both. Ezrahi 2007 is a seminal study of Jerusalem’s centrality in Hebrew literature and its competing interpretive possibilities: fluid and metaphorical, on one hand, and petrified and allegorical, on the other. Wirth-Nesher 1996, a comparative study, theorizes the city in Hebrew and other literatures as the site of difference articulated at the intersection of public and private space. Sokoloff 1983 considers the Hebrew literary representation of Jerusalem as a psychological or spiritual site rather than a geographic locale. Govrin 1989 outlines key contrasts in Hebrew literary depictions of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Govrin 2006 discusses transformations in Jerusalem in a political context vis-a-vis the author’s own novel set in the city. Elad-Bouskila 2001 examines Jerusalem in Palestinian-Israeli literature produced during the first intifada; while this study focuses on Arabic-language works, the light it sheds on the symbolic role of the city is relevant to Hebrew culture. Ben-Ezer 1989 considers early-20th-century Hebrew literary representations of Tel Aviv. A study of Tel Aviv in Hebrew culture, Azaryahu 2006 offers a “mythography” of the city, forging a link between the myths of Tel Aviv and its physical, geographic, and architectural realities. Another cultural study on Tel Aviv, Mann 2006, proposes memory as a key to understanding the city’s role, with a focus on the relations between identity and representation. LeVine 2005, while primarily a historical study, contains a chapter on representations of Jaffa and Tel Aviv in Hebrew and Arabic literature, illustrating the centrality of these cities in the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Gold 2017, a study of Haifa, uses literary criticism, autobiography, urban planning concepts, and architectural analysis to claim a place for Haifa in spatial considerations of Hebrew culture, which privilege Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Levy 2006 establishes Baghdad as a key Jewish space depicted in Hebrew and other literatures. Other studies consider the role of European cities in the formation of modern Hebrew culture; examples can be found under Modernism and Place.

  • Azaryahu, Maoz. Tel Aviv: Mythography of a City. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006.

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    This cultural-historical study of Tel Aviv considers the urban landscape of Tel Aviv in relation to various myths that characterize the official and popular perception of the city. Three parts consider different stages in Tel Aviv’s mythology: the early Zionist vision; the globalized post-Zionist image; and the internationally recognized architectural paradigm.

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  • Ben-Ezer, Ehud. “Early Tel Aviv as Mirrored in Literature.” Modern Hebrew Literature 2 (1989): 43–47.

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    This essay traces representations of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, specifically the Jewish neighborhoods of Neve Tsedek and Neve Shalom, in the early 20th century in the Hebrew works of authors such as Yosef Haim Brenner, S. Y. Agnon, Asher Barash, and Nahum Gutman. These literary depictions of the city, it argues, are intertwined with the city’s myths.

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  • Elad-Bouskila, Ami. “Symbol of Confrontation: Jerusalem in Israel-Arab Literature During the Intifada.” In Linguistic and Cultural Studies on Arabic and Hebrew. Edited by Judith Rosenhouse and Ami Elad-Bouskila, 255–275. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2001.

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    This article analyzes Jerusalem in Palestinian-Israeli Arabic literature of the first intifada. It argues that, although Jerusalem is seldom the main focus of these works, the city nevertheless elicits from these authors political and religious ardor. It demonstrates that despite the diversity in the background of the authors considered, their depictions of Jerusalem all emphasize a collective religious and national vision at the expense of personal experiences of the city.

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  • Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. “‘To What Shall I Compare You?’: Jerusalem as Ground Zero of the Hebrew Imagination.” PMLA 122.1 (2007): 220–234.

    DOI: 10.1632/pmla.2007.122.1.220Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Proceeding from the acknowledgment of Jerusalem’s centrality in Hebrew culture, this essay examines Hebrew poetic texts to identify contrasting conventions and approaches to the representation of Jerusalem: metaphorical, open, and unfixed on the one hand and allegorical, literal, and bound on the other.

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  • Gold, Nili. Haifa: City of Steps. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2017.

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    This study blends memoir, history of urban planning and architecture, and literary analysis to map the city of Haifa in the Hebrew imagination and experience. It makes a case for the significance of Haifa in Hebrew culture, which has focused primarily on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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  • Govrin, Michal. “Layers of Changing Space in Jerusalem: View from a Hilltop.” Hebrew Studies 47 (2006): 385–388.

    DOI: 10.1353/hbr.2006.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »

    In this brief essay, the Israeli author Michal Govrin considers her relationship to Jerusalem and her use of the city as the setting of her highly regarded novel Snapshots to address the city’s ever-changing nature, focusing on the separation wall and spatial challenges and accommodations to otherness.

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  • Govrin, Nurit. “Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Metaphors in Hebrew Literature.” Modern Hebrew Literature 2 (1989): 23–27.

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    This essay considers the historical contextualization of the inscription of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as metaphors carrying specific associations in modern Hebrew culture. It outlines the contrasts ascribed to these cities and analyzes the representation of these contrasts as well as challenges to them in modern Hebrew literary texts.

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  • LeVine, Mark. Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880–1948. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

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    This study of the history and geography of Jaffa and Tel Aviv from the Ottoman period until the establishment of the State of Israel examines the relations among Arab and Jewish communities living there to revise nationalist historiographies of the cities. Levine’s analysis is primarily historical, but it also draws from popular and canonical literary culture in Hebrew and Arabic.

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  • Levy, Lital. “Self and the City: Literary Representations of Jewish Baghdad.” Prooftexts 26.1–2 (2006): 163–211.

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    This essay analyzes the relationship between Baghdad and literary works by Iraqi-Jewish authors writing in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and French. This literature, Levy argues, hosts a complex dialectical dynamic between Baghdad and its authors, whose identity is inextricably bound with their memories of the city and the impossibility of return.

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  • Mann, Barbara E. A Place in History: Modernism, Tel Aviv, and the Creation of Jewish Urban Space. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

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    This cultural study of Tel Aviv examines the role of memory and diaspora in the creation of a new Hebrew national culture. It analyzes specific places to show how the city both molded and mirrored collective identity, arguing that Tel Aviv signified a complex attempt to counter the notion of a rootless, wandering Jewish collective and to emplace it in history and geography.

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  • Sokoloff, Naomi B. “Longing and Belonging: Jerusalem in Fiction as Setting and Mindset.” Hebrew Studies 24 (1983): 137–149.

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    This essay considers the representation of Jerusalem in several modern Hebrew texts, arguing that they depict the city primarily as a spiritual, immaterial mindset rather than a mimetic, realistic setting.

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  • Wirth-Nesher, Hana. City Codes: Reading the Modern Urban Novel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    This classic study of the representation of the city in modern literature in Hebrew and other languages argues that positionality and perspective are chief criteria in reading literary cities. The intersection of public and private space, key in modern urban novels, differs according to the identity of the urban character and relevant historical and political contexts.

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Modernism and Place

Recent scholarship in Hebrew literary studies demonstrates increasing interest in the field regarding the role of space and place in the creation of modern Hebrew culture. Some studies consider the milieu of particular urban environments; others examine specific types of place within cities; still others highlight processes of place-making as reciprocally engaged with the production of Hebrew modernism. Notably, many of the spatially inclined studies on Hebrew modernism examine it together with Yiddish modernism; the plurality of European places that hosted the creation of these modernisms accommodated and encouraged their intertwinement and the diverse experiences of Jewishness it signified. Pinsker 2011 devotes several chapters to the analysis of specific European cities as enclaves of Hebrew modernism, rejecting the notion of any one city as a modernist center; Pinsker 2018 focuses on the café in Europe as a cradle of multilingual Jewish modernism. Other studies have similarly emphasized the spatial multiplicity that hosted the production and shaping of Hebrew modernism. Schachter 2011 proposes diaspora and migration as strategic forces in the production and consumption of Hebrew and Yiddish modernist literature. Stahl 2014 proposes the train in Hebrew and Yiddish literatures as a key signifier of modernism and modernization. Finkin 2015 theorizes that Hebrew and Yiddish modernists conceptualized time as a spatial construct, thus making important contributions to modernism more broadly. While the majority of scholarship on Hebrew modernism and modernity are grounded in Europe, the field of Hebrew literary studies is increasingly attentive to other regions. One example is Evri and Behar 2017, which works to dislodge the perception of Hebrew modernism as solely the purview of European Hebrew authors by illuminating non-European sites of modernist Hebrew literary activity.

  • Evri, Yuval, and Almog Behar. “Between East and West: Controversies over the Modernization of Hebrew Culture in the Works of Shaul Abdallah Yosef and Ariel Bension.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 16.2 (2017): 295–311.

    DOI: 10.1080/14725886.2017.1280904Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study proceeds from the observation that Jewish modernization and the Hebrew renaissance are overwhelmingly associated with Europe and the West. To counter this tendency, it proposes other fertile sites of the creation of modern Jewish and Hebrew culture, and argues that movement in spaces both real and symbolic helped reflect and produce Jewish cultural transformation.

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  • Finkin, Jordan D. An Inch or Two of Time: Time and Space in Jewish Modernisms. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

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    This study posits that Jewish authors of Hebrew and Yiddish modernist literature engaged in a dramatic reconceptualization of space and time, undergirded by their deeply embedded sense of exile and deterritorialization. These authors, Finkin argues, imagined a space out of time and history; their literary works functioned as the medium for this spatialization of time.

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  • Pinsker, Shachar. Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.

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    This study of modernist Hebrew fiction in the early 20th century revises nationalist readings of these works and considers them in light of comparative modernisms. Proposing urbanity, gender, sexuality, and the encounter between tradition and modernity as chief factors in Hebrew modernism, it argues that Jewish authors’ engagement with European modernism as it emerged in different urban centers was key to the development of modernist Hebrew fiction.

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  • Pinsker, Shachar. A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2018.

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    This study proposes the coffeehouse, an urban site that nurtured the creative Jewish spirit, as a key space of modern Jewish culture. Pinsker traces a network of cafés across major urban centers of Jewish life as the historical and literary settings for the imagination, production, and dissemination of Jewish modernity.

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  • Schachter, Allison. Diasporic Modernisms: Hebrew and Yiddish Literature in the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812639.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This comparative study of Hebrew and Yiddish literary modernism employs diaspora as the lens for these literatures’ multilingual, transnational contexts. It proposes exile, migration, and urbanity as conditions undergirding the development of Hebrew and Yiddish modernism.

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  • Stahl, Neta. “Conceptions of Time and History in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Train Stories.” Comparative Literature 66.3 (2014): 322–339.

    DOI: 10.1215/00104124-2764078Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This essay asserts the centrality of the train in the secularization and modernization of European Jews in the 19th century, and identifies a “train genre” in Yiddish and Hebrew literature of the period reflecting the significance of this spatiality.

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