I call this blog “between tradition and modernity,” with a definite emphasis on the word “between”. As I see it, to be a Jew today is to be pulled in two directions—to the world of tradition where religion, language, and nationhood offer an all-embracing form of collective sustenance, versus the world of modernity which grants almost boundless freedom and tolerance to all individuals, including Jews. Both worlds have attractions and detractions, and it is nearly impossible to choose one over the other, if one wants to enjoy the benefits of modernity and remain Jewish. Indeed, it is this state of constantly being caught “between” that characterizes the modern Jewish experience.
I define Jewish literature along similar lines. If I were to add anything to the long-standing debate about “what is Jewish literature”, it is this: Jewish literature is the act of writing between tradition and modernity – between the ties that bind the writer to his Jewish heritage and the forces that (for better or for worse), offer to break those ties. In this sense, one can say that all modern Jewish literature is by nature “dialectical.” This is perhaps the reason why S.Y. Agnon (the Nobel prize-winning Hebrew author) is considered to be the quintessential modern Jewish writer. His heroes almost always find themselves vacillating between the worlds of tradition and modernity, unable to decide where they truly belong. Perhaps that is his point. Being a modern Jew is to live in the irresolvable tension “between” these two poles.