The Polyphony of Jewish Culture

Stanford University Press  2007


Taken as a whole, this collection of essays opens a broad window onto a shimmering sea of literary and artistic production that is Jewish culture. It brings together previously published articles and introductions by Benjamin Harshav, a major figure in Jewish literary scholarship and criticism, on topics as diverse as Holocaust poetry; Israel’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, S.Y. Agnon; and the revolution in modern Jewish culture.

A shining example of the depth and breadth of context with which Harshav delights his readers is a chapter subtitled “On Texts and Subtexts in Chagall’s Paintings.” This essay is a tour-de-force, drawing upon Yiddish languge, Jewish religious practice, the pursuit of European culture by assimilating Eastern European Jews at the beginning of the last century, and the field of art history itself, in which Harshav corrects several misreadings of Chagall’s work. It should be required reading for anyone who seeks to understand the artist’s milieu.

Read individually, these polished gems of scholarship offer the reader a depth of understanding of the topic at hand which draws upon critical methodology, as well as the breadth of Jewish experience. Harshav calls “associative talking” “a national sport” in Yiddish and Jewish culture; The Polyphony of Jewish Culture challenges and delights sportsman and spectator alike.

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