Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes Additional 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.)


(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.)