Rabbis and Wives (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, the world of Eastern European Jewry between the wars rises from the ashes of the Holocaust in the writings of the Lithuanian-born Yiddish novelist Chaim Grade. This rebirth has been given greater vitality and a wider audience by the sensitive, resonant translation of Di Kloyz un di Gas: Dertseylungn (1974; Rabbis and Wives, 1982) by Harold Rabinowitz and Inna Hecker Grade, the author’s widow, a translation which reminds the reader that Grade was a well-known Yiddish poet before he turned his talents to fiction.
In his youth in Vilna, Lithuania, Grade was an avid Talmudic scholar and a member of the Mussar movement, an ascetic sect of Judaism which stressed ethical concerns. At the age of twenty-two, abandoning his religious studies, Grade began to write poetry. In his long narrative poem Mussarniks, written in the 1930’s, Grade describes his flight from the punitive zealousness of his religious teacher, Reb Aba, but Grade reveals his continued involvement in the moral and religious concerns which were central to the Mussar movement.
Although Grade managed to escape from Vilna in 1941, his first wife, his mother, and many of his friends perished in the Holocaust. Haunted by their memories, his despair unallayed by the poetry he continued to write, Grade turned to prose in the hope that a new artistic medium would help him to rebuild his life. After settling in America in...
(The entire section is 1999 words.)
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