Agnon, S(hmuel) Y(osef)

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AGNON, S(hmuel) Y(osef)

Nationality: Israeli (originally Austro-Hungarian: immigrated to Palestine, 1924). Born: Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes, Buczacz, Galicia, 17 July 1888. Education: Studied at private schools and briefly at Baron Hirsch School. Family: Married Esther Marks in 1919; one son and one daughter. Career: Lived in Palestine, 1907-13; first secretary, Jewish Court, Jaffa, and secretary, National Jewish Council; lecturer and tutor in Germany, 1913-24; lived in Jerusalem, 1924-70. Editor, Jüdisher Verlag, Berlin, 1913-24. President, Mekitzei Nirdamim (society for the publication of ancient manuscripts), beginning 1950. Awards: Bialik prize, 1934, for Bi-levav yamin; Hakhnasat Kala, 1937; Ussishkin prize, 1950, for Tmol shilshom; Bialik prize, 1954; Israel prize in literature, 1954, 1958; Nobel prize for literature, 1966. Honorary doctorates: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1936; Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1959. Fellow, Bar Ilan University. Member: Hebrew Language Academy. Died: 17 February 1970.



Kol sipurav shel Sh. Y. Agnon (11 vols.). 1931-62.

Selected Stories of S.Y. Agnon, edited by Samuel Leiter (English translations). 1970.

Twenty-One Stories, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer (English translations). 1970.

Takhrikh shel sipurim, compiled by Emunah Yaron. 1984.

Yafo yefat yamim: Leket mi-tokh sipurav shel Sh. Y. Agnon/Jaffa, Belle of the Seas: Selections from the Works of S.Y. Agnon (Hebrew and English). 1998.


Ve-hayah he-akov le-mishor. 1912.

Giv 'at ha-hol [The Hill of Sand]. 1919.

Be-sod yesharim [Among the Pious]. 1921.

Me-hamat ha-metsik [From the Wrath of the Oppressor]. 1921.

'Al Kapot ha-Man'ul [Upon the Handles of the Lock]. 1922.

Polin: Sipure agadot [Poland]. 1924.

Ma'aseh rabi Gadiel ha-Tinok [The Tale of Little Reb Gadiel]. 1925.

Agadat ha-sofer. 1929.

Hakhnasat kalah. 1931; as The Bridal Canopy, 1937.

Sipur pashut. 1934; as A Simple Story, 1985.

Bi-levav yamim. 1935; as In the Heart of the Seas: A Story of a Journey to the Land of Israel, 1947.

Ore'ah nata lalun. 1939; as A Guest for the Night, 1968.

Tmol shilshom. 1945; as Only Yesterday, 2000.

Shirah. 1971; translated as Shira, 1989.

Pithe devarim. 1977.

Short Stories

Ma'aseh ha-meshulah me-erets ha-Kedosha. 1924.

Ma'aseh ha-ez sefer li-yeladim, with Ze'ev Raban, 1925.

Tsipori. 1926.

Sipur ha-shanim ha-tovot/Ma'aseh ha-rav veha-oreah. 1926; one story, "Tehilla," translated in Tehilla, and Other Israeli Tales, 1956.

Sipure ahavim. 1930.

Me'az u-me'atah [From Then and from Now]. 1931.

Be-shuvah ve-nahat: Sipure 'agadot. 1935.

Kovets sipurim. 1937.

Mi-dirah le-dirah: Sipur. 1939.

Elu ve-'elu [These and Those]. 1941; section translated as A Dwelling Place of My People: Sixteen Stories of the Chassidim, 1983.

Shevuat emunim. 1943; translated as Betrothed, in Two Tales: Betrothed and Edo and Enam, 1966.

Sipurim ve-agadot. 1944; Samukh ve-nir'eh: Sipurim 'im sefer ha-ma'asim [Never and Apparent]. 1950.

'Ad henah [Until Now]. 1952.

Al kapoth hamanul. 1953.

Ha-esh ve-ha'etsim. 1962.

A Book That Was Lost and Other Stories, edited by Alan Mintz and Anne Golomb Hoffman. 1995.


Sefer, sofer, ve-sipur: Sipurim 'al sofrim ve-'al sefarim. 1937.

'Al Berl Kazenelson. 1944.

Sifrehem shel Anshe Butshatsh. 1955.

Pen ishon ha-mavet, with Adah Amikhal Yeivin (theater scripts). 1960.

'Al Meshulam Tokhner zal: Devarim le-zikhro. 1966.

Kinot le-Tish'ah be-Av. 1969.

Me-'atsmi el 'atsmi [From Me to Me]. 1976.

Esterlain yekirati: Mikhtavim 684-691 (1924-1931) (correspondence). 1983.

Kurzweil (correspondence). 1987.

Agnon's Aleph Bet: Poems (for children, in Hebrew andEnglish). 1998.

Editor, with Ahron Eliasberg, Das Buch von den Polnischen Juden. 1916.

Editor, Moaus Zur: Ein Chanukkahbuch. 1918.

Editor, Yamin noraim. 1937; as Days of Awe: Being a Treasury of Traditions, Legends and Learned Commentaries …, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, 1948; revised as Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days, 1995.

Editor, Atem reitem [Ye Have Seen]. 1959; as Present at Sinai: The Giving of the Law: Commentaries Selected by S.Y. Agnon, 1994.

Editor, Sifreyhem shel Tsadikim. 1961.



Bibliographiah 'al Shmuel Yosef Agnon veYetsirto by Johanan Arnon, 1971; Samuel Joseph Agnon: A Bibliography of His Work in Translation Including Selected Publications about Agnon and His Writing by Isaac Goldberg, 1996.

Critical Studies:

Dr. Sh. Y. Agnon by Eliezer Raphael Malachi, 1935; S.Y. Agnon: The Writer and His Work, 1966; Agnon, 1966; Shmuel Yosef Agnon, 1967; Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon by Arnold J. Band, 1968; The Fiction of S.Y. Agnon by Baruch Hochman, 1970; S.Y. Agnon and the Revival of Modern Hebrew by Aaron Bar-Adon, 1972; S.Y. Agnon by Harold Fisch, 1975; Irony in the Works of S.Y. Agnon (dissertation) by Esther Fuchs, Brandeis University, 1980; The Dream As a Junction of Theme and Characterization in the Psychological Fiction of S.Y. Agnon (dissertation), University of California Berkeley, 1984, and Agnon's Art of Indirection: Uncovering Latent Content in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon, 1993, both by Nitza Ben-Dov; ShmuelYosef Agnon: A Revolutionary Traditionalist by Gershon Shaked, 1989; Between Exile and Return: S.Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing by Anne Golomb Hoffman, 1991; Relations between Jews and Poles in S.Y. Agnon's Work by Samuel Werses, 1994; Tradition and Trauma: Studies in the Fiction of S.J. Agnon by David Patterson, 1994; Ghetto, Shtetl, or Polis? The Jewish Community in the Writings of Karl Emil Franzos, Sholom Aleichem, and Shemuel Yosef Agnon by Miriam Roshwald, 1995; The Centrifugal Novel: S.Y. Agnon's Poetics of Composition by Stephen Katz, 1999.

* * *

The life of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Shmuel Yosef Agnon could itself be the subject of a grand novel. His biography had four phases: his life among the Galician Jewry in Buczacz, Poland, from his birth in 1888 until 1907; his life in Jaffa, Palestine, as a member of the Second Aliyah (second wave of modern Jewish immigration to Palestine) from 1907 to 1913; his life in Germany from 1913 to 1924; and his life in Jerusalem from 1924 until his death in 1970. These phases in his life were the raw materials for nearly seven decades of panoramic writing on Jewish life.

Agnon began to write at an early age. Between 1903 and 1908 sixty items in Hebrew and Yiddish were published in nine different journals. The promotion of Hebrew language and literature was an important part of the agenda of Zionist groups in Eastern Europe. Agnon published his first Hebraic poems in 1903 at the age of 14. It was already apparent during his adolescence that he would become a writer.

In 1907 Agnon went to Jaffa. Immigration to Jaffa was an important turning point for him. Whereas Buczacz was rural and provincial, Jaffa attracted Eastern European figures of considerable interest during the Second Aliyah, many of whom were spurred to immigration by the pogroms at Kishinev. Six years later, Agnon left Palestine for Germany, where he connected with several leading Jewish intellectuals including Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Franz Rosenzweig, and the Zionist thinkers Ahad Ha'am and Natan Birnbaum. He also met the publisher Salman Schocken, who agreed to set him up with a stipend in exchange for the right to publish Agnon's books. In 1924 Agnon returned to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem after his possessions, including his library of rare books and a number of manuscripts in progress, were destroyed in a fire.

Arnold J. Band views Agnon as a rare combination of an observant Jew and an uncompromising artist. His works contain ironies regarding man's relationship with God that are reminiscent of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Franz Kafka. He is read by some as a pious storyteller and by others as a modern ironist. Gershom Scholem calls this "the dialectics of simplicity."

According to Anne Golomb Hoffman, Agnon thematizes the cultural breakdown of Judaism among the Hasidim in small-town Galicia followed by a Jewish Renaissance motivated by immigration to Palestine/Israel. Agnon writes during the earliest renewal of Hebrew as an active language. His writing bears the impact of the cultural-political upheaval caused by the Holocaust, which manifests itself in a conflict between the sacred and the secular in his writing. The revival of Hebrew constituted the secularization of a language of religious ceremony. Agnon favored a mystical and rabbinic approach to language and writing. Torah is at the mythic center of Agnon's universe.

—Peter R. Erspamer

See the essay on "The Sign."