Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Singer vs. Grade

Isaac Bashevis Singer cannot seem to enjoy the limelight of his 100th birthday without the mention of Chaim Grade.

On the one hand we have Singer, who makes the Yiddish tradition into something mysterious, otherworldly, magical, & dark. A formula that first worked for Ansky's The Dybbuk & later used by Bernard Malamud.
(Magical realism is a much more popular & successful presentation of Judaism than rationalism, law, or logic. Look at the popularity of the Golem story, despite the fact that Eastern European non-Jewish society had many more monsters & demons than the Jews. Or of Kabbalah nowadays.)

Himself a coarse individual, Singer was more interested in sex & food than in the Jewish people or in God. Ironic then, how he is now being used to forge a Jewish Identity for Jewish people.

On the other hand, we have Chaim Grade. Once a Ben Bayis of the Chazon Ish, he later went off the Derech & wrote novels, poetry, short stories, etc. Describing, mourning, remembering, and (sometimes) mocking the elite Eastern European Yeshiva world. He struggled with the religious traditions which he rejected & accepted the burden of Jewish peoplehood.

However, much to some people's chagrin, Singer & not Grade received the Noble Prize. Singer for whom Judaism (or rather the destroyed Eastern European Jewish world) was presented as something otherworldly, mysterious, dark & crude. As opposed to Grade who described the poor but noble, scholarly, pious & struggling world of the elite.

What's my take on things? On the one hand I like the world that Grade creates more than Singer's literary creations. On the other hand, both went off the derech. Why is Singer's animal passions worse than Grade who chose to go off the derech? (Because Grade Stuggled with his religion; cf. My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner. And Singer's success teaches us that Judaism as dark & mysterious will succeed where Judaism as rational & elite will not.

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