• March 3, 2024
  • 23 5784, Adar I
  • פרשת ויקהל

Agnon: Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town (Nov 2-23)

Agnon: Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town (Nov 2-23)

In this mini-series we will explore Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon’s story “Shnei Talmidei Hakahamim Shehayu Be’Irenu” (Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town), which is a nostalgic, elegiac, yet also ironic recounting of a time when “Torah was beloved by Israel and the entire glory of a man was Torah, when our town was privileged to be counted among the most notable towns in the land on account of its scholars.” And yet, as the plot unwinds and insults are traded in the Beit Midrash, the reader is led to the tragic denouement. And here we see Agnon’s power as a tragedian on an almost Greek scale. With his typical irony at work, the narrator pines for an earlier, more ideal time which turns out to have been rife with flaws and tragic personalities of its own. This draws the reader to question – was it always ever thus?

The story is now available for the first time in English in a new translation from the Toby Press.

The cost of this course is $40.

November 2, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Agnon: Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town (Nov 2-23): Lesson 1
Class description

Two Scholars – Session 1: Looking forward to renewing our study of Agnon with his monumental novella Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town(http://www.amazon.com/Scholars-Were-Town-other-Novellas/dp/1592643558) – available now for the first time in English translation. It is strongly recommended that you get a copy of the book to read in advance of our 4-part series or to follow along as the sessions unfold. It is available from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Scholars-Were-Town-other-Novellas/dp/1592643558) or directly from The Toby Press in Jerusalem. For those who will read in Hebrew (always recommended), it appears as the opening story in Agnon’s volume Samukh veNireh. Optional reading and preparation: Attached is a Hebrew essay by Prof. E.E. Urbach, who did pioneering work in uncovering some of the sources in the story, as well as the ArtScroll translation of Bava Metzia 84a – the story of R. Yohanan and Resh Lakish – which serves as canvas on which Agnon wrote this story. As always, I welcome your input, comments, questions, etc. jeffreysaks@gmail.com

November 9, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Agnon: Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town (Nov 2-23): Lesson 2
Class description

Two Scholars – Session 2: Thanks for joining us today – please be in touch with your thoughts, questions, comments, etc. Also, please try to read at least half the story for next week (at least up until chapter 23, on p. 33). For those who have not yet obtained a copy of the story it is available in paperback or for Kindle through Amazon.com(http://www.amazon.com/Scholars-Were-Town-other-Novellas-ebook/dp/B00ONVW8FC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414964204&sr=8-1&keywords=agnon+two+scholars) You may find it useful to review Bava Metzia 84a(http://halakhah.com/babamezia/babamezia_84.html) – linked are also some other sources(https://webyeshiva.org/class/?material=5804) on the backgrounds of Resh Lakish and R. Yochanan. Looking forward to your suggestions for alternative titles for the story or for other famous rivalries that capture something about the complexity of the Rav Moshe Pinchas – Rav Shlomo relationship.

November 16, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Agnon: Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town (Nov 2-23): Lesson 3
Class description

Two Scholars – Session 3: For the third session next Sunday try to finish reading the whole story – we left off at the top of p. 39. If you’ve never seen the Israeli film Footnote (He’arat Shulayim)(http://youtu.be/3DjUwSr0VFo) try to find it ​on disk or something – see how our story resonates there. The 3 clips in this YouTube video http://youtu.be/E46ZrFPwxho) were those that I thought had particular resonances with our story (unfortunately it is not subtitled). Also, as I mentioned, Agnon’s novel Shira (now in revised translation)(http://www.korenpub.com/EN/products/Agnon/93/9781592643530) also plays a role. Take a look at attached archival chapter(https://webyeshiva.org/class/?material=5807) and consider the differences between Talmudic and Academic rivalries, personalities, and politics. Finally, and lehavdil every possible havdala: Do the two rivals in this video clip(http://www.supercartoons.net/cartoon/734/bugs-bunny-show-biz-bugs.html) remind you in any way of our two Talmidei Hakhamim? Our friend Michael Carasik sent this video http://youtu.be/gsBC5C5ERho as another visual-musical demonstration of voices in conflict.

November 23, 2014 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Agnon: Two Scholars Who Were in Our Town (Nov 2-23): Lesson 4
Class description

Two Scholars – Session 4- For our final session we will explore how the story is treated in the interpretive criticism, and how it reverberates in some other writings and media – see the chapter from Shira (https://webyeshiva.org/class/?material=5807)and the movie Footnote (http://youtu.be/BXE47logFUk)(available with subtitles from iTunes). (https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/footnote/id533372909) We will also have a chance to hear from the story’s translators, Paul Pinchas Bashan and Rhonna W. Rogol, about the challenges of translating Agnon. In addition we’ll discuss our feelings about the two complex protagonists – Reb Shlomo and Reb Moshe Pinchas. Attached is an essay by Lea Goldberg on the role of the narrator (https://webyeshiva.org/class/?material=5854)in the story which I hope to discuss as well. The next course broadcast from the Agnon House on WebYeshiva will be a 5-week series staring January 25, 2015 – we will look at a different short story each week. Details at: webyeshiva.org/class/?cid=1136


Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding director of ATID – The Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education, in Jerusalem, and its WebYeshiva.org program. He is the Editor of the journal Tradition, Series Editor of The S.Y. Agnon Library at The Toby Press, and Director of Research at the Agnon House in Jerusalem. A three-time graduate of Yeshiva University (BA, MA, Semicha), Rabbi Saks has published widely on Jewish thought, education, and literature (see https://www.webyeshiva.org/rabbisaks/).