Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (AHG-nahn), corecipient of the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature, is considered the leading modern writer in Hebrew. Taken as a whole, his works are sometimes called “the modern Jewish epic.” Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes on July 17, 1888, in Buczacz, a small town in eastern Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His middle-class Jewish parents came from a scholarly Orthodox tradition that Agnon seemed destined to continue. As a child, he was steeped in Jewish folklore and religious teachings, studying in Hebrew school, taking private Talmud lessons, and reading independently in Hasidic literature. His imagination embraced the cozy world of the eastern European shtetl that would become the main subject of his early fiction and a symbolic focus throughout his work.{$S[A]Czaczkes, Shmuel Yosef;Agnon, Shmuel Yosef}

In 1907, after making his start as a writer in Hebrew and Yiddish (the everyday language of the shtetl), Agnon emigrated to Palestine. He had been active in Zionist circles, and, in his fiction, to “go up to” the land of Israel is the ambition of every pious Jew. In Palestine, he continued to work for Zionist organizations and to write short fiction (henceforth only in Hebrew), first in Jaffa, then in Jerusalem. The idealistic young man from Buczacz apparently found Palestine inspiring, but it was also racked by turbulence, violence, and disorientation. Jewish homeland or not, Palestine was the scene of a confused present that contrasted with the orderly past represented by the shtetl. As such, Palestine formed the other symbolic focus of Agnon’s imagination.

Agnon’s change of surnames marks his suspension between these two places and all they symbolized. His pen surname is derived from his novella Agunot. Agunot is the plural of aguna, a Hebrew word for a woman whose husband has left her without granting a divorce; thus she exists in a marital limbo, neither taken nor available. Metaphorically, her state of suspension suggests any divided spiritual state which one can neither change nor escape. Like an aguna, Agnon was suspended between the two worlds—one dying and the other waiting to be born—represented by the shtetl culture and Palestine. Agnon’s literary mission was to depict, to contrast, and ultimately to bridge...

(The entire section is 957 words.)

Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Shmuel Yosef Agnon derived his pen name from the novella Agunot, which he published in 1909. He was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes, the eldest of the five children of Shalom Mordecai and Esther Czaczkes. From his father, an ordained rabbi and merchant with whom he studied Talmudic commentaries, he learned Hebrew scholarship; from his mother, he gained an appreciation of German literature. He had no formal education beyond six years in private hadarim and a short period at the Baron Hirsch School, although he was given honorary doctorates by the Jewish Theological Seminary (1936) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1959). In 1903, when only fifteen, he had his first poems published. At eighteen he moved to Lvov to work on a newspaper. In 1908, he became the first secretary of the Jewish court in Jaffa, Palestine, and Secretary of the National Jewish Council. After two years in Jerusalem, he moved to Berlin, where he taught, wrote, and met his future publisher. Salman Schocken tried from 1916 to 1928 to have his friend’s stories printed and gave him an annual stipend so he could continue writing. Finally, Schocken founded his own publishing firm, which he moved to Tel Aviv in 1938 because of the outbreak of World War II. He opened a New York branch in 1945. Agnon married Esther Marx on May 6, 1919. When his home in Germany burned down in 1924, he lost not only his library of some four thousand volumes but also his seven-hundred-page manuscript of an autobiographical novel called “Eternal Life.” Agnon returned to Jerusalem in 1924. From 1950 to 1970, he was president of the society for the publication of ancient manuscripts; he was also fellow of the Bar-Ilan University. Agnon died after suffering a heart attack on February 17, 1970. Some eighty-five of Agnon’s works have been published in translation in eighteen languages.

Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The oldest of five children, Shmuel Yosef Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in the small village of Buczacz in Eastern Galicia (a small East European province that has belonged alternately to Poland and to Austria). His father, Shalom Mordecai, an ordained rabbi, earned his livelihood as a fur merchant. Religiously, the family was traditionally observant; economically, it was strongly bourgeois; culturally, it was erudite in Jewish literature. Agnon received a traditional and liberal education, studying the Talmud, Midrash, Jewish medieval philosophers, and Hasidic and rabbinic lore as well as the early Galician enlightened writers, modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and German literature. His broad education developed in him two loves, which became his modus vivendi: his love for literature and for Zion.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Agnon claimed that he wrote his first poem at the age of five as a tribute to his father, who was away on a business trip, because he missed him. His early interest in writing was no doubt generated by a desire to emulate both his father, who wrote poetry and scholarly articles, and his cousin, Hayim Czaczkes, a writer whose works were often published in the Galician press. He was fortunate that his family was well-off and did not need his help in its support, and he was encouraged to pursue his own interests. At fifteen, he published his first poem in the Kraków Hebrew weekly. By the time he was eighteen, he was considered a promising young writer.

Agnon, a strong Zionist, left for Palestine in 1907, and although he returned to Buczacz twice, in 1913 and in 1930, he could stay only for short periods. His journey to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, was a difficult one, requiring a train trip to Trieste and then a sea voyage to Jaffa. Agnon’s short novel In the Heart of the Seas records this hazardous trip. Upon entering Palestine, he settled in Jaffa, the scene of a number of his stories, including his first published tale in 1908, titled “Agunot” (“Deserted Wives”). Following a trend adopted by earlier Hebrew writers, such as Mendele Mokher Sefarim (pseudonym for Shalom Jacob Abramovich) and Sholom Aleichem (pseudonym for Sholom Rabinowitz), young Shmuel Yoseph Czaczkes signed this tale with the name of “Agnon,” adopting it officially as his family name in 1924.

It is significant that he chose this particular name, for it would seem to indicate his own relationship to the world. In Jewish law, the agunah, or deserted woman, is not free to remarry, because she has not been divorced. She is anchored in a relationship...

(The entire section is 1070 words.)

Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes was born in Buczacz, Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the eldest of five children born to Shalom Mordecai Halevi Czaczkes and Esther Farb-Hacohen. His Jewish roots remained part of him; his lessons in the Talmud, Jewish folklore, and other Judaica inform the body of his works. He began writing at the age of eight, published his first poem in 1903, and then began regularly publishing both poetry and prose in Cracow, Poland. In 1906 and 1907, his works in both Hebrew and Yiddish appeared in Galician periodicals.

He moved to Jaffa, in Palestine, in 1907, became a Jewish court secretary, and served on the Land of Israel Council. Although he held Zionist ideals, his affinity was for the older, established Jewish population rather than for the newer arrivals. He describes the Jaffa of the early twentieth century in Shevu’at emunim (1943; Betrothed, 1966). He adopted the surname Agnon (AHG-nahn), became established as a writer, and began to write only in Hebrew. Like many of his colleagues, Agnon had one foot in the spiritual world of the shtetls of Europe and one in the modern life evolving in Israel.

In 1913, Agnon moved to Germany and read widely in German, French, and Russian literature and philosophy. He remained in Germany until 1924, working as a tutor and an editor. In Berlin, Leipzig, Wiesbaden, and Hamburg, he became acquainted with Jewish writers, scholars, and Zionists,...

(The entire section is 532 words.)