Shmuel Yosef Agnon: Wikis


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Shmuel Yosef Agnon

שמואל יוסף עגנון

Born July 17, 1888(1888-07-17)
Buczacz, Galicia
Died February 17, 1970 (aged 81)
Jerusalem, Israel
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Hebrew: שמואל יוסף עגנון, July 17, 1888 - February 17, 1970) was a Nobel Prize laureate writer and was one of the central figures of modern Hebrew fiction. In Hebrew, he is known by the acronym Shai Agnon, ש"י עגנון In English, his works are published under the name S. Y. Agnon.

Agnon was born in Galicia, later immigrated to the British mandate of Palestine, and died in Jerusalem. His works deal with the conflict between the traditional Jewish life and language and the modern world. They also attempt to recapture the fading traditions of the European shtetl (village). In a wider context, he also contributed to broadening the characteristic conception of the narrator's role in literature. Agnon shared the Nobel Prize with the poet Nelly Sachs in 1966.



Buczacz, Agnon's hometown

Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes in Buczacz, Galicia (then within the Austro-Hungarian Empire), now Ukraine. Officially, his date of birth on the Hebrew calendar was 18 Av 5648 (July 26), but he always said his birthday was on the Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of Av. His father, Shalom Mordechai Halevy, was ordained as a rabbi, but worked in the fur trade. He did not attend school and was schooled by his parents.[1] At the age of eight, he began to write in Hebrew and Yiddish. At the age of 15, he published his first poem - a Yiddish poem about the Kabbalist Joseph della Reina. He continued to write poems and stories in Hebrew and Yiddish, which were published in Galicia.

Literary career

In 1908, he immigrated to Jaffa. The first story he published there was "Agunot" ("Forsaken Wives"), which appeared that same year in the journal Ha`omer. He used the pen name "Agnon," derived from the title of the story, which he adopted as his official surname in 1924. In 1910, "Forsaken Wives" was translated into German. In 1912, at the urging of Yosef Haim Brenner, he published a novella, "Vehaya Ha'akov Lemishor" ("And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight").

Shmuel Yosef Agnon Memorial in Bad Homburg, Germany

In 1913, Agnon moved to Germany, where he met Esther Marx. They married in 1920 and had two children. In Germany he lived in Berlin and Bad Homburg vor der Höhe (1921-24). Salman Schocken, a businessman and later also publisher, became his literary patron and freed him from financial worries. From 1931 on, his work was published by Schocken Books, and his short stories appeared regularly in the newspaper Haaretz, also owned by the Schocken family. In Germany, he continued to write short stories and collaborated with Martin Buber on an anthology of Hasidic stories. Many of his early books appeared in Buber's Jüdischer Verlag (Berlin).

In 1924, a fire broke out in his home, destroying his manuscripts and rare book collection. This traumatic event crops up occasionally in his stories. Later that year, Agnon returned to Jerusalem and settled with his family in the neighborhood of Talpiot. In 1929, his library was destroyed again during anti-Jewish riots.[2]

When his novel Hachnasat Kalla ("The Bridal Canopy") appeared in 1931 to great critical acclaim, Agnon's place in Hebrew literature was assured.[3] In 1935, he published "Sippur Pashut" ("A Simple Story"), a novella set in Buczacz at the end of the 19th century. Another novel, "Tmol Shilshom" ("Yesteryear"), set in Eretz Yisrael of the early 20th century, appeared in 1945.

Literary themes and influences

First day cover for Ukrainian commemorative stamp

Agnon's writing has been the subject of extensive academic research. Many leading scholars of Hebrew literature have published books on his work, among them Baruch Kurzweil, Dov Sadan, Nitza Ben-Dov, and Dan Laor. Agnon writes about Jewish life, but with his own unique perspective and special touch. He was also influenced by German literature and culture, and European literature in general, which he read in German translation. The budding Hebrew literature also influenced his works.

The communities he passed through in his life are reflected in his works:

  • Galicia: in the books The Bridal Canopy, A City and the Fullness Thereof and A Guest for the Night.
  • Germany: in the stories "Fernheim", "Thus Far" and "Between Two Cities".
  • Jaffa: in the stories "Oath of Allegiance", "Tmol Shilshom" and "The Dune".
  • Jerusalem: "Tehilla", "Tmol Shilshom", "Ido ve-Inam" and "Shira".

Nitza Ben-Dov writes about Agnon's use of allusiveness, free-association and imaginative dream-sequences, and discusses how seemingly inconsequential events and thoughts determine the lives of his characters.[4]

Some of Agnon's works, such as The Bridal Canopy, And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight, and The Doctor and His Ex-Wife, have been adapted for theatre. A play based on Agnon's letters to his wife, "Esterlein Yakirati", was performed at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem.


Agnon's writing often used words and phrases that differed from what would become established modern Hebrew. His distinct language is based on traditional Jewish sources, such as the books of Moses and the Prophets, Midrashic literature, the Mishnah, and other Rabbinic literature. Some examples include:

  • bet kahava for modern bet kafe (coffee house / café)
  • batei yadayim (lit. "hand-houses") for modern kfafot (gloves)
  • yatzta (יצתה) rather than the modern conjugation yatz'a (יצאה) ("she went out")

Bar-Ilan University has made a computerized concordance of his works in order to study his language.

Awards and critical acclaim

  • Agnon was twice awarded the Bialik Prize for literature (1934[5] and 1950[5][6]);
  • He was also twice awarded the Israel Prize, for literature (1954[7] and 1958[8]);
  • In 1966, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people"[9]. The prize was shares with German Jewish author Nelly Sachs. In his speech at the award ceremony, Agnon introduced himself in Hebrew: "As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem." [10]

In later years, Agnon's fame was such that when he complained to the municipality that traffic noise near his home was disturbing his work, the city closed the street to cars and posted a sign that read: "No entry to all vehicles, writer at work!"

Death and commemoration

Agnon died in Jerusalem on February 17, 1970. His daughter, Emuna Yaron, has continued to publish his work posthumously. Agnon's archive was transferred by the family to the National Library in Jerusalem. His home in Talpiot, built in 1931 in the Bauhaus style, was turned into a museum, Beit Agnon. [11] The study where he wrote many of his works was preserved intact.[12] Agnon's image has appeared on the 50 shekel bill since 1985, along with an excerpt from his speech upon accepting the Nobel Prize. The main street in Jerusalem's Givat Oranim neighborhood is called Sderot Shai Agnon, and a synagogue in Talpiot, a few blocks from his home, is named for him.

Beit Agnon

After Agnon's death, the former mayor of Jerusalem Mordechai Ish-Shalom initiated the opening of his home to the public. In the early 1980s, the kitchen and family dining room were turned into a lecture and conference hall, and literary and cultural evenings were held there. In 2005, the Agnon House Association in Jerusalem renovated the building, which reopened in January 2009. The house was designed by the German-Jewish architect Fritz Korenberg, who was also his neighbor.[2]

Published works

Short stories and novels

  • The Bridal Canopy (1931), an epic describing Galician Judaism at the start of the 19th century.
  • Of Such and Of Such, a collection of stories, including "And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight", "Forsaken Wives", and "Belevav Yamim" ("In the Heart of the Seas").
  • At the Handles of the Lock (1923), a collection of love stories, including "Bidmay Yameha" ("In the Prime of Her Life"), "A Simple Story", and "The Dune".
  • Ore'ah Noteh Lalun ("A Guest for the Night") (1938), a novel about the decline of eastern European Jewery. The narrator visits his old hometown and discovers that great changes have occurred since World War I.
  • Only Yesterday (1945), a novel set in the Second Aliyah period.
  • Near and Apparent, a collection of stories, including "The Two Sages Who Were In Our City", "Between Two Cities", "The Lady and the Peddler", the collection "The Book of Deeds", the satire "Chapters of the National Manual", and "Introduction to the Kaddish: After the Funerals of Those Murdered in the Land of Israel".
  • Thus Far, a collection of stories, including "Thus Far", "Prayer", "Oath of Allegiance", "The Garment", "Fernheim", and "Ido ve-Inam".
  • The Fire and the Wood, a collection of stories including Hasidic tales, a semi-fictional account of Agnon's family history and other stories.


  • Days of Awe (1938), a book of customs, interpretations, and legends for the Jewish days of mercy and forgiveness: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days between.
  • Present at Sinai: The Giving of the Law (1959), an anthology for the festival of Shavuot.

Posthumous publications

  • Shira (1971), a novel set in Jerusalem in the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Ir Umeloah ("A City and the Fullness Thereof") (1973), a collection of stories and legends about Buczacz, Agnon's hometown.
  • In Mr. Lublin's Shop (1974), set in Germany of the First World War.
  • Within the Wall (1975), a collection of four stories.
  • From Myself to Myself (1976), a collection of essays and speeches.
  • Introductions (1977), stories.
  • Book, Writer and Story (1978), stories about writers and books from the Jewish sources.
  • The Beams of Our House (1979), two stories, the first about a Jewish family in Galicia, the second about the history of Agnon's family.
  • Esterlein Yakirati ("Dear Esther: Letters 1924-1931" (1983), letters from Agnon to his wife.
  • A Shroud of Stories (1985).
  • The Correspondence between S.Y. Agnon and S. Schocken (1991), letters between Agnon and his publisher.

In 1977 the Hebrew University published Yiddish Works, a collection of stories and poems that Agnon wrote in Yiddish during 1903-1906.

See also


  1. ^ Agnon bio.
  2. ^ a b Beit Agnon
  3. ^ Fisch, Harold (Autumn, 1970). "The Dreaming Narrator in S. Y. Agnon". Novel: A Forum on Fiction 4 (1): 49–68. doi:10.2307/1345251.  
  4. ^ Nitza Ben-Dov, Agnon's art of indirection: Uncovering latent content in the fiction of S.Y Agnon
  5. ^ a b "Biography of Shmuel Yosef Agnon".  
  6. ^ "List of Bialik Prize recipients 1933-2004 (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv Municipality website".   - which omits the award in 1934
  7. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1954 (in Hebrew)".  
  8. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1958 (in Hebrew)".  
  9. ^ "Nobel Prize in Literature 1966". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-10-17.  
  10. ^ Horst Frenz, ed. Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, 1969. Nobel Prize acceptance speech
  11. ^ Agnon Museum, Jerusalem
  12. ^ A little modesty goes a long way


  • Arnold J. Band, Nostalgia and nightmare : a study in the fiction of S.Y. Agnon, Berkeley and Los Angeles : University of California Press, 1968.
  • Nitza Ben-Dov, The Art of Indirection, Brill, (Leiden). 1993. ISBN 9004098631.
  • Anne Golomb Hoffman, Between exile and return: S.Y. Agnon and the drama of writing, New York: SUNY, 1991. ISBN 0-7914-0541-9.
  • Yaniv Hagbi, Language, Absence, Play: Judaism and Superstructuralism in the Poetics of S. Y. Agnon, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009.
  • Nitza Ben-Dov: Agnon's art of indirection: Uncovering latent content in the fiction of S.Y Agnon

External links


Simple English

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (July 17, 1888 - February 17, 1970[1]) was a Nobel Prize laureate writer and was one of the central figures of modern Hebrew fiction. In Hebrew, he is known by the acronym Shai Agnon. In English, his works are published under the name S. Y. Agnon. He was the first Hebrew who won the prize.


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