Yizhar, S. 1916-2006 (Yizhar Smilansky)

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Yizhar, S. 1916-2006 (Yizhar Smilansky)


Born September 27, 1916, in Rehovot, Israel; died of heart failure, August 21, 2006; married; children: three. Education: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ph.D.; also attended Harvard University.


Writer and politician. Knesset member, 1949-1966; professor of Hebrew literature and education at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Military service: Served as intelligence officer during 1948 Israel war.


Israel Prize, 1959, for Days of Ziklag; Brenner Prize; Bialik Prize, 1991; Emet Prize for Art, Science and Culture.



Be-fa'ate Negev (title means "On the Edge of the Negev"; stories), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1945.

Ha-Horshah Ba-Giv'ah (title means "The Wood on the Hill"; stories), Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1947.

Sipur Hirbet Hiz'ah: Ve od Sheloshah Sipure Milhamah (title means "The Story of Hirbet Hiz'ah and the Prisoner"), Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1949, Zemorah-Bitan, (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1989.

Shayarah Sel Hatzot, Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Bnei Brak, Israel), 1950, translation published as Midnight Convoy and Other Stories, Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature (Jerusalem, Israel), 1969, Toby Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Yeme Tsiklag: Sipur (title means "Days of Ziklag"), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1958.

Four Stories, Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Bnei Brak, Israel), 1959.

Sipure Mishor, (title means "Stories of a Plain"), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Bnei Brak, Israel), 1963.

Shiv'ah Sipurim (title means "Seven Stories"), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1971.

Shiv'ah Mesaprim, Misrad ha-hinukh veha-tarbut beshituf Yahdav (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1973.

Efrayim Hozer Le-aspeset (title means "Ephraim Goes back to Alfalfa;" novella), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Bnei Brak, Israel), 1978.

Shishah Sipure Kayits, Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1990.

Be-terem Yetsi'ah; Havakuk; Ha-Shavui (title means "Before Departure"; stories), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1991.

Mikdamot (novel), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1992, published as Preliminaries, Toby Press (New Milford, CT), 2007

Tsalhavim, Zemora-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1993.

Zeh Ha-zeman Le-hathil Li-lemod Le-lamed, Misrad ha-hinukh vieha-tarbut (Jerusalem, Israel), 1993.

Etsel Ha-yam: Sheloshah Sipurim (title means "By the Sea"; novellas), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1996.

Tzalhavim (title means "Asides"; stories), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1996.

Malkomyah Yefehfiyah (title means "Lovely Malcolmia"; novel), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1998.


Harpatka Ba-Agam (title means "Adventure in the Lake"), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Bnei Brak, Israel), 1956.

Alilot Humit (title means "The Adventures of Humit";), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Bnei Brak, Israel), 1958.

Shisah Spiurei Kayitz (title means "Six Stories";), Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1959.

Be-Raglayim Yehefot: Shishah Sipurim Li-vene Hane'urim (title means "Barefoot"), Sifre Tarshish (Jerusalem, Israel), 1959.

Tapu ve-Puza (title means "Oran and Ange;"), Sifriat Poalim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1960.

Ha-Kirkarah Shel Dod Moshe (title means "Uncle Moshe's Chariot"), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1973.


Ha-Horshah Ba-giv'ah, Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1979.

Tefisot Halufot U-mashlimot Bi-keri'at Ha-sifrut Uvehora'atah, [Israel], 1979.

Li-kero Sipur (title means "To Read a Story"; Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1982.

Sipur Eno (title means "A Story Is Not"; essays), Hakibbutz Hameuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1983.

Keri'ah Le-hinukh (title means "A Call for Education"), Sifriyat Paolim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1984.

Peridah Min Ha-hinukh (title means "Farewell to Education"; essays), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1988.

Dape Riv (title means "Dispute"), Zemorah (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1988.

Shene Pulmusim: Pulmus Ha-hinukh U-fulmus Hasifrut (title means "Two Polemics"), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1990.

Collected Works, Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1996.

Gilui Eliyahu (title means "Discovering Elijah"; memoir), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel-Aviv, Israel), 1999.

Works have been translated into 21 languages.


S. Yizhar was a seminal figure in Israeli literature. His short stories and novels, which generated significant controversy, often exposed unpleasant truths about Israeli history and society. A member of Israel's legislature, the Knesset, from 1949 to 1966, Yizhar wrote numerous op-ed pieces and essays, as well as books for children. He was also a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Sometimes described as the James Joyce of Israel, and also likened to William Faulkner, Yizhar developed a prose style that incorporated earthy language and slang into standard Hebrew. He also dared to explore subjects that challenged accepted views of Israel's identity. Two short stories published soon after Israel's war of independence in 1948, for example, reveal ugly truths about the events that led to Israel's birth as a nation. In "Ha-Shavui" ("The Prisoner"), Israeli soldiers capture a Palestinian shepherd, stealing his flock and sending him to prison. When presented with the opportunity to release the innocent Arab, the protagonist fails to act. In "Hirbet Hiz'ah" ("Hiz'ah in Ruins"), characters speak matter-of-factly about the destruction of an Arab village to make room for Jewish immigrants. So inflammatory was the second story that Israeli military censors attempted to ban it; the effort failed, however, and the story reached unprecedented sales.

Yizhar is best known for his novel, Yeme Tsiklag: Sipur, also known as Days of Ziklag, for which he won the Israeli Prize in 1959 at age forty-three—thereby becoming one of the youngest writers to achieve this honor. The book, still considered his masterpiece, is an epic account of one week in the lives of a small group of Israeli soldiers in the Negev desert in 1948. As described by a writer for the Jewish Agency for Israel, Department for Jewish Zionist Education Web site, the novel shows the "personal anguish and individual desires [that] contradict the army mentality imposed upon them…. Protagonists are paralyzed to act as they feel they ought, and find themselves yielding to convention and expectation. In the clash between moral individualism and collective authority, it is always the latter that dominates." In a Guardian obituary of Yizhar, Lawrence Joffee wrote that the soldiers in Days of Ziklag "bemoan the failure of utopian expectations; Zionist rhetoric has become ‘a millstone around our neck.’ Deliberatly courting blasphemy, they liken themselves to Isaac bound on the sacrificial altar of a tired ideology." According to a Jerusalem Post obituary, Days of Ziklag "completely changed the outlook for Hebrew prose on the one hand, and ‘war literature’ on the other."

Though he stopped writing fiction for several years after the mid-1960s, Yizhar returned to the form later in life, producing several autobiographical stories and novels. Mikdamot, published in English as Preliminaries, was hailed as a major achievement. The book, constructed as a series of interior monologues, depicts a boy's sense of his life in early- twentieth-century Palestine, where his parents are Zionist pioneers. From his infancy in the Negev, the child moves to Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and finally to the agricultural community where he comes of age. Tsipi Keller, writing in Words without Borders, compared Yizhar's style in this novel to the cadences and rhythms of the Bible and to the "Talmudic minute and obsessive probing and codifying of every aspect of daily life." Yizhar's prose, Keller wrote, is "suffused with the need to express the inexpressible, the intangible, to tell the full story in a single outpouring—not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’: how to encompass all in the telling, the full spectrum of human experience, relying all the while on sensory memories and their emotional impact."

Reviewing Preliminaries in Forward, Joshua Cohen called the English translation of the novel nothing less than a work of genius, adding that "in Hebrew it's tenfold as stunning, almost otherworldly—not only in the immediate quality of its writing but also in the way in which such writing draws wells' water from the past in order to cool Israel's modern, and daily spoken, idiom." Summarizing Yizhar's achievement in this novel and his previous works, Keller called him "a giant who belongs in the international literary pantheon."



Booklist, February 15, 1999, review of Malkomyah Yefehfiyah, p. 1049; April 15, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Preliminaries, p. 24.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2007, review of Preliminaries.

Library Journal, April 15, 2007, Leora Bersohn, review of Preliminaries, p. 77; June 15, 2007, Michael Rogers, review of Midnight Convoy and Other Stories, p. 112.

New Republic, June 18, 2007, Robert Alter, "The Flow," p. 51.

World Literature Today, autumn 1993, Dov Vardi, review of Mikdamot, p. 885; summer 1999, review of Malkomyah Yefehfiya, p. 590.


Forward,http://www.forward.com/ (December 5, 2007), Joshua Cohen, "S. Yizhar's Birth of a Nation."

Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature Website,http://www.ithl.org.il/ (December 5, 2007), S. Yizhar profile.

Jewish Agency for Israel, Department for Jewish Zionist Education Web site,http://www.jafi.org.il/ (December 5, 2007), S. Yizhar profile.

Literary Kicks,http://www.litkicks.com/BeatPages/ (December 5, 2007), Levi Asher, review of Preliminaries and Midnight Convoy and Other Stories.

Words without Borders,http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/ (December 5, 2007), Tsipi Keller, review of Preliminaries.



Guardian (London, England), August 24, 2006, Lawrence Joffe, "Yizhar Smilansky."

Jerusalem Post, August 21, 2006.

New York Times, August 22, 2006.


Ynet News,http://www.ynetnews.com/ (December 5, 2007), "Writer S. Yizhar Dies."