Kurzweil, Baruch

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KURZWEIL, BARUCH (Benedict ; 1907–1972), Israeli literary critic, author, and educator. Born to a family of rabbis in Moravia, Kurzweil received his higher education in Germany and was ordained a rabbi. Immigrating to Palestine in 1939, he taught at Hugim High School in Haifa. In 1955 he was appointed professor of Hebrew literature at Bar-Ilan University. Kurzweil represents the New Criticism in modern Hebrew literature with its stress on close reading of the literary text itself and its internal structural and conceptual authenticity. Yet he also formulated a unified ideological framework for modern Hebrew literature, based on the assumption that its secularism breaks with the religious tradition which underlay all previous Jewish literature. As a result, the meaning of Jewish history is ignored, and modern Hebrew literature is in danger of losing its roots and, aesthetically, its depth. Kurzweil's work also opposes the secular concepts of *Aḥad Ha-Am, as well as *Scholem's assumption that the Shabbatean movement marks the beginning of modern Jewish history and paves the way, in part, for modern Hebrew literature. He considered the Shabbatean movement as an unhealthy deviation from normative Judaism.

Kurzweil's studies of *Agnon's writings led to a new and deeper appraisal of this writer's work. He gave a close reading of Agnon's stories, analyzing the symbols and explaining them within the framework of his total achievement. In his view Agnon was a novelist of epic proportions whose work depicts all the problems of a Jewish world that has broken with normative Judaism. He explained *Bialik's achievement along similar lines, believing that Bialik ultimately despaired of the Ahad Ha-Amist attempt to give a secularist reading of the Jewish past, this despair being reflected in the death motif that dominates Bialik's later poems. In Uri Ẓevi *Greenberg, Kurzweil found a poet who by a leap of faith was able to reassert the mystique of Israel's unique connection with God and the complete "otherness" of the Jewish people.

First and foremost a cultural historian, Kurzweil also dealt with sociological phenomena. He thus analyzed the ideology of the movement and showed how it grew out of certain secular assumptions made by modern Hebrew authors. A contributor to *Haaretz and other Israel periodicals, his style, often polemical, was imbued with irony and wit. While his philosophical and historical views were controversial, Kurzweil was a significant commentator on the great artistic works of Hebrew literature. He also made a great contribution to the understanding in Israel of important European writers, such as Goethe, Kafka, and Thomas Mann.

His main works are Massekhet ha-Roman ("On the Novel," 1953), Sifrutenu ha-ḤadashahHemshekh o Mahpekhah? ("Our New Literature; Continuation or Revolution?" 19652), Bialik ve-Tchernichovsky (1961); Massot al Sippurei S.Y. Agnon (19662); and Bein Ḥazon le-Vein ha-Absurdi ("Between the Vision and the Absurd," 1966). The Hebrew works of B. Kurzweil were edited (with a bibliography) by J. Barzilay (1963–65). The correspondence between S.Y. Agnon and B. Kurzweil was edited by L. Dabi-Guri (1987); a collection of essays and satires, Miḥuẓ la-Teḥum, appeared in 1998. Essays by Kurzweil in English translations include "Is There Such Thing as Biblical Tragedy?" in: An Anthology of Hebrew Essays, ed. by I. Cohen and B. Michali, 1 (1966), 97–116; "Job and the Possibility of Biblical Tragedy," in: Arguments and Doctrines (1970), 325–344; and "Notes on Hebrew Literature," in: What is Jewish Literature? (1994), 78–87. For other works in English see Goell, p. 88.

add. bibliography:

Haaretz (July 28, 1967); H. Barzel, "Ahdut ve-Ribbui be-Mishnato shel B. Kurzweil," in: Moznayim 25 (1967), 266–72; A.B. Jaffe, in: Al ha-Mishmar (Elul 22, 1972); J.S. Diamond, The Literary Criticism of B. Kurzweil: A Study in Hebrew-European Literary Relationships (1978); idem, "B. Kurzweil and Modern Hebrew Literature," in: Hebrew Annual Review, 3 (1979), 41–89; A. Oz, in: Haaretz (May 23, 1980); J.S. Diamond, "B. Kurzweil: The Sensibility of Weimar Germany in Ramat Gan," in: Go and Study (1980), 251–56; J.S. Diamond, Barukh Kurzweil and Modern Hebrew Literature (1983); S.L. Nash, "Criticism as a Calling: The Case of B. Kurzweil," in: Prooftexts, 5:3 (1985), 281–87; D.N. Myers, "The Scholem-Kurzweil Debate and Modern Jewish Historiography," in: Modern Judaism, 6:3 (1986), 261–86; Y. Amir, Teguvot Ereẓ-Yisra'eliyyot le-Haguto shel Franz Rosenzweig: A.E. Simon, S.H. Bergman, B. Kurzweil, Y.J. Gutman (1993); Y. Yitzhaki, "Tarbut Ḥayyah ve-Noshemet: Kurzweil, Y. Dan ve-Dan Miron neged ha-Sifrut ha-Yisra'elit," in: Alei Siah, 9:3 (1997), 47–55; D. Laor, "Kurzweil ve-ha-Kena'anim," in: Keshet (1998), 32–45.

[Hillel Barzel]