Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Give me those Old Time Days of Awe, it was good enough for me

S.Y. Agnon, the Israeli writer of fiction and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, compiled a book in 1948 called Days of Awe: A Treasure of Traditions, Legends, and Learned Commentaries Concerning Rosh Ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, and the Days Between. Agnon combed through numerous texts to provide an outline of the High Holidays from the perspective of religious observance, custom, and communal and individual intention.  

The book is interesting, but the overall feel and tone of it is very old, and very orthodox.  Of course, that is the point.  These are old sources that Agnon is accessing; he is just giving us them in a new format.  But the translation, made in the 60s, feels too Protestant Old Testament-like to have an authentic Jewish voice.  No doubt the Hebrew original, which Agnon says he reworked in certain places to make it easier to read, doesn’t suffer from this archaic touch.  

All and all an interesting book, but not particularly compelling to real; it is a compendium which suffers from the illness that many compendiums do: it is uneven and sometimes flat out boring.

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