Elie Wiesel: Jew­ish, Lit­er­ary, and Moral Perspectives

Steven T. Katz and Alan Rosen, eds.
  • Review
By – September 10, 2013

This com­pre­hen­sive crit­i­cal sur­vey of Elie Wiesels pro­found and var­ie­gat­ed achieve­ment goes beyond pre­vi­ous antholo­gies, as Wiesel has gone beyond the scope of his ear­ly body of work. One of the great mer­its of the col­lec­tion is the com­pact­ness of the essays. Not one goes on longer than it needs to. In grow­ing a book out of what must have been a pow­er­house con­fer­ence, the edi­tors have not allowed too much grow­ing by way of over-elaboration. 

The twen­ty-four essays are grouped into five parts: Bible and Tal­mud,” Hasidism,” Belle Let­tres,” Tes­ti­mo­ny,” and Lega­cies.” Though these group­ings are use­ful cour­te­sies for the read­er, they in fact under­score the inter­re­lat­ed­ness of Wiesel’s con­cerns and modes of expres­sion. Lega­cies” could just as well have been named Ped­a­gogy,” and an essay not now placed in that sec­tion would fit there just as well as the ones already there. 

Most of the essays take great pains to estab­lish a crit­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal, or the­o­ret­i­cal con­text – to cre­ate a lens through which to view Wiesel’s con­tri­bu­tion. In a few cas­es, the con­text dwarfs the com­men­tary that is direct­ly focused on Wiesel. Such is the aca­d­e­m­ic habit. Nonethe­less, we come out of this cho­rus of schol­ar­ly voic­es with a much-enriched under­stand­ing of Wiesel’s place in the cul­tur­al pan­theon of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. And not only the Jew­ish spectrum.

Wiesel the stu­dent and schol­ar (of Torah, Tal­mud, his­to­ry, phi­los­o­phy, and lit­er­a­ture); Wiesel the dream­er and fab­u­list; Wiesel the voice of con­science through and beyond the Holo­caust; Wiesel the men­tor; and Wiesel the pub­lic fig­ure all get respect­ful, reveal­ing, and pro­found atten­tion. There are oth­er Wiesel par­a­digms as well. Some essays put a par­tic­u­lar work under the micro­scope, while oth­ers trace an issue or stance through sev­er­al. Some mea­sure Wiesel against oth­er writ­ers. There is no get­ting our minds entire­ly around this immense fig­ure, but the edi­tors come pret­ty close.

This book is an absolute require­ment for all uni­ver­si­ty libraries and Jew­ish insti­tu­tions; a plea­sure for any edu­cat­ed reader. 

Chap­ter notes, intro­duc­tion, notes on contributors.

Relat­ed: Learn about the paint­ing on this book’s cover

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

Discussion Questions