S. Y. Agnon, born in August 1887, was an Israeli author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. His writings are infused with deep love of the Bible, Talmud, Israel...the Jewish People and the Jewish historical experience. In this short essay, Rabbi Marc Angel explores some of Agnon's major themes.
The Jewish Press newspaper has a bi-weekly column in which a panel of rabbis is asked to comment on relevant questions. Rabbi Marc D. Angel is one of the respondents and here are his replies to some of the recent questions.
While we modern Jews cannot hope to achieve the unity and self-control of the ancient Persian Jewish community, we can focus on the really big issues which confront the Jewish people, and think how each of us can be constructive members of our community. We can know when action is necessary and helpful, and when action is counter-productive and misguided.
(This article is excerpted from Marc D. Angel, Remnant of Israel: A Portrait of America’s First Jewish Congregation—Shearith Israel, Riverside Books, New York, 2004.)
Jewish tradition has two roads to God: the natural world, which reveals God as Creator; and the Torah, which records the words of God to the people of Israel. But the Torah itself leads us back to the first road, the road of experiencing God as Creator. The Torah and nature are bound together.
Genuine modesty avoids the extremes of prudery or promiscuity. It fosters self-respect and respect for others. In a real sense, tseniut is not “old fashioned;” it is the avant garde of those who wish to live as dignified human beings.
Although she was fully and personally aware of human viciousness and cruelty, Simone Veil wanted very much to believe in the ultimate victory of a righteous, compassionate and humane society. She stressed the role of righteous French non-Jews who acted nobly during the war years. “I am convinced that there will always be men and women, of all origins and in all countries, capable of doing what is right and just."
Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh of 19th century Livorno was a traditional rabbi…with a mind open to the untraditional. He was a rational, modern thinker…who fully embraced the truths of Kabbala. He was devoted to Jewish particularism…while fostering a remarkably universalistic worldview. He would not be constrained or confined by artificial intellectual categories. The ultimate unity could only be sought through all the available avenues of human thought.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Prague-born Jew, one of the outstanding figures of modern world literature. His name has become an adjective: Kafkaesque. His writings feature eerie situations, disconnected characters, labyrinthine story lines.
Rabbi Dr. David de Sola Pool (May 16, 1885-December 1, 1970) was the foremost Sephardic rabbi in the United States during the middle decades of the 20th century. While scholars can list his many accomplishments and publications, the distinctive religious worldview that animated Dr. Pool’s life has remained relatively unexplored. This article will examine basic themes in Dr. Pool’s thinking, so that his unique contributions—and failures—might be better understood.