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Forsaken Language And Widows

August 20, 1995

It was an interesting review (Life an Style, July 12,) of selected short stories under the title "A Book That was Lost and Other Short Stories" by S. Y. Agnon, Israel's only Nobel Laureate in Literature( 1966). This reader felt the need to address a gross error of omission and to provide another opinion on Agnon's first and most profound short story.

Kirsch compares Agnon and I. B. Singer by noting that the former wrote in Hebrew while Singer " . . . persisted in using Yiddish, the mother tongue of European Diaspora."

Don't you mean \o7 East\f7 European Diaspora, or are you trying to rewrite history as is currently the fashion all over America? By neglecting that little word \o7 east\f7 you deny the existence of the voluminous literary and other artistic output from German, Austrian and other non-East European Jews, such as Moses Mendelssohn, Theodore Herzl, Stefan Zweig, LionFeuchtwanger, Sigmund Freud and Nelly Sachs (Swedish, but of German-Jewish birth, who shared the 1966 Nobel Prize with Agnon.) They, among many others, all wrote "Jewish Letters" in German, not in Yiddish.

The book's lead story "Agunot" is a symbolic tale involving people with souls anchored in their fate by the prison of their mind. Literally, \o7 agunot\f7 means undocumented widows in Jewish orthodoxy, or women in chains. A forsaken wife cannot remarry, is often doomed for life, in spite of much Jewish Legal Commentary over time in the Rabbinic Courts of Orthodoxy. The injustice cast upon these \o7 agunot\f7 prompted Agnon to adopt their name on entering his new homeland. The suggestion by the book's editors that the meaning of \o7 aguna\f7 , the singular of \o7 agunot\f7 , is "a woman of indeterminate community status" is grossly euphemistic and represents an exercise in specious hypocrisy. The reviewer might have addressed this issue to tip off the unsuspecting reader.

ROLF D. WEGLEIN, LOS ANGELES

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