Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Being "Between"

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. ‎