The Third Pillar

9780812243161: Hardback
Release Date: 29th April 2011

5 illus.

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 248

Series Jewish Culture and Contexts

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

The Third Pillar

Essays in Judaic Studies

In The Third Pillar, Geoffrey Hartman, one of the most influential scholars and teachers of English and Comparative Literature of recent decades, has brought together some of the most important and eloquent essays he has written since the 1980s on the major texts of the Jewish tradition.

Hardback / £45.00

Why should we be excluded from the history and literature of Judaism because the world of our fathers and mothers became a secularized one, Geoffrey Hartman asks, or because religious literacy, whatever our faith or community affiliation, has gone into relative decline? And why, he asks, do those who have no trouble finding pleasure and intellectual profit in the Greek and Roman classics or in the literary and artistic productions of two millennia of Western Christianity not easily find equal resonance and reward in the major texts in the Jewish tradition? For if Christianity and the classical inheritance stand as two pillars of Western civilization, surely the third pillar is the Jewish tradition.

In The Third Pillar Hartman, one of the most influential scholars and teachers of English and comparative literature of recent decades, has brought together some of the most important and eloquent essays he has written since the 1980s on the major texts of the Jewish tradition. In three groupings, on Bible, Midrash, and education, Hartman clarifies the relevance of contemporary literary criticism to canonical texts in the tradition, while demonstrating what has been—and what still remains to be—learned from the Midrash to enrich the interpretation of commentary and art, sacred or secular. "The map of the discipline [of Jewish studies] is still being drawn," Hartman writes. "Barely known areas tempt the explorer, and major reinterpretations remain possible. This third pillar of our civilization . . . is only now being fully excavated: we have discovered something but not everything about its structure and upholding function."


Chapter 1. The Struggle for the Text
Chapter 2. The Blind Side of the Akedah
Chapter 3. Numbers: Realism and Magic
Chapter 4. Meaning and Music
Chapter 5. The Poetics of Prophecy

Chapter 6. Midrash as Law and Literature
Chapter 7. Jewish Tradition as/and the Other
Chapter 8. Angels in the Academy: The Drama of Commentary
Chapter 9. Text, Spirit, and the Bat Kol

Chapter 10. Who Is an Educated Jew?
Chapter 11. Religious Literacy
Chapter 12. On the Jewish Imagination
Chapter 13. The Artist between Sacred and Profane



This collection of essays has benefited from the riches of Jewish studies as they began to flourish in the 1960s, especially in the universities of North America and Israel. It is dated, then; yet I hope it is not entirely out of date. My contributions are, on the whole, neither erudite nor highly specialized, but rather essays; and my hope is that they still interest as snapshots of an exciting moment that has not completely faded. They are also, inevitably, part of a personal bildungsroman, about which I must add a few words.

I was born into a German Jewish family that had disintegrated by the time I was nine. David Hartmann, my grandfather on my mother's side, was a rabbi who received his doctorate in Oriental studies toward the end of the nineteenth century with a dissertation on midrashim to the Book of Ruth. It was clearly indebted to the Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism) movement. He did not serve a congregation but became a teacher of religion at the Frankfurt Philanthropin (the oldest secular Jewish school in Germany) and used the family's apartment to house a few boys studying at that school. He died when I was a year old, and I retain his image only through a couple of photos.

My mother divorced after eight years of marriage around the time (1930) of grandfather's death. I was, as already mentioned, a year old, and so have no living sense of my father either. He never got in touch with me, but from his relatives we know he emigrated to Argentina, married again, had a son, and at some point after the war returned to Germany, settling in Berlin.

As was not unusual at that time, my mother had only a passive knowledge of Jewish practices; and her father's death, her divorce, and the necessity to eke out a living in the difficult circumstances of the 1930s left her without a guide in that respect. Given the disappearance, because of forced emigration, of uncles I had rarely met, I received a bare minimum of Jewish education. I entered the Philanthropin at age six, and one or two years later I was placed in a Stiftung, originally for orphans, but—with what was happening to the Jews in Germany after 1933—also for boys whose parents were imprisoned or had left the country because of the Nazi persecution. I do not recall any regular synagogue visits or Jewish activities, although the increasingly menacing 1930s, including attacks on us on the way to school, made a sense of Jewishness unavoidable.

Looking back, I do have one dreamlike memory. It is of waking in the dark and being brought to a large, festively lighted and richly furnished room, full of books, where Shabbat or something like it was being celebrated. I associate that mental picture with grandfather and an absent Jewish presence.

I have a scarcity of memories of the time before my mother left in December 1938 (a month after the pogrom of Kristallnacht) for the United States. She had assured my safekeeping with the Stiftung and knew I would be evacuated to England with the other boys via a Kindertransport. She planned to bring me to the States as soon as she had the necessary funds and permissions. As expected, I went with the Stiftung to England in March 1939; but once the war broke out and the submarine menace became too dangerous, I was not allowed to join her in America till the war in Europe ended in 1945. My grandmother, ill with diabetes, could not leave Germany: in 1941 or 1942 she was deported to Theresienstadt, where she must have died.

The rescue of the Flersheim-Sichel Stiftung was arranged by James and Dorothy de Rothschild. They not only sponsored the transport to England of its twenty or more boys, but maintained all of us and a caregiver family. We were lodged in the Buckinghamshire countryside at The Cedars, a spacious house in the hamlet of Waddesdon, adjacent to the Rothschild estate with its extensive farms, wonderful park, and famous manor. The Stiftung in Frankfurt was eventually dissolved by the Nazi authorities, and its youngsters and guardians deported to eastern ghettos and concentration camps where they died or "disappeared." I still startle at the word verschollen.

In England we received a respectable minimum of Jewish observance: each Saturday a rabbi imported from London for a short service and a Bible talk, attention to the major holy days (Chanukah with its gifts was especially important), and a celebration of each youngster's bar mitzvah. The situation did not change after my arrival in the States. None of my relatives was particularly observant, and no guide, natural or supernatural, appeared, so I was nourished by the rhythms and locutions of the King James version of the Bible, marveling at its "stories" in the same way as those found in Homer or the large, exotically illustrated volume of Tausend und eine Nacht (that is, Arabian Nights) I had smuggled out of Germany. My mother worked all day and I was left to my own devices, holding down a part-time job at Gimbels, taking a course or two in literature at Hunter College evening school (recently opened to men, so as to absorb an overflow of demobilized GIs), and, finally, having been admitted to CUNY's Queens College, studying there from 1946 to 1949 for a B.A. in comparative literature.

During that period my Jewish education did not advance. The Hillel organization at the college, with Daniel Thursz as its most active member, was mainly a group of kids offering occasional social aid to urban New York, far from a still bucolic campus. Even during my time from 1949 to 1953 as a graduate student at Yale, the university's hole-in-the wall Hillel, with a learned but well-sequestered rabbi, frustrated me. But at the end of a Fulbright year in France (1951-52) I spent a month by myself in Israel and absorbed firsthand not only its ancient sites but its incredible mixture of Kibbutzniks, Haredim, Safed mystics, Arabs, and Sabras. Back at Yale I did start to read the Talmud—in German, for some reason—and I remember puzzling anthropologically over how closely, as recorded in the Tractate Berakhot, the heavens were watched to determine the exact times for saying the Shema, and how the priests' every ceremonial action while the Temple remained standing was detailed. What motivated this ritual precision, and such prayer punctuality in general? Was it a way of keeping the memory of the Temple alive (and so creating a Memory Temple) in every detail? I became a star gazer, too, but the "stars" were the central, mysterious Jewish practices themselves, including Shabbat. Several years later, as an instructor at Yale, I gave my first public talk, or sermon, rather, on the Shabbat, exalting it as a liberation from unceasing labor.

In A Scholar's Tale, I outline a further gradual emancipation from ignorance. During my first years as a teacher at Yale, I conceived an impossible project, eventually abandoned: a History of Interpretation. My turn to Judaism, then, was not that of a ba'al teshuvah but motivated by a quiet if persistent intellectual nostalgia. I wanted to include in my "History" a Jewish corpus of texts and interpretive methods missing from the academic program of most secular universities. Studying the Book of Job with a Holocaust survivor's help during my army service in Germany (1953-55), a class in Midrash with Nehama Leibowitz (though I barely knew Hebrew or Aramaic) while teaching the Romantic poets at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (fall of 1958), a summer course in Talmud at New York's Jewish Theological Seminary, lucky to audit a seminar with Judah Goldin at Yale circa 1960, and intense discussions of the Psalms with Marcel Mendelson, my oldest friend from days at Queens College (like myself a German refugee who also graduated with a doctorate from Yale but settled in Israel teaching art history), these were modest yet confirmatory steps in my exodus from ignorance.

A second, parallel path, never quite abandoned, came from poetry. I started a poetic drama on the story of Saul and David, and also wrote lyric experiments to revive interest in the midrashic mode of interpretation through a hyperbolic kind of imagistic pastiche. Although I failed to finish the drama, I did publish a book of poetry, Akiba's Children, in 1978; and still occasionally write in an allusive mode so effective in Yehuda Halevy—whatever became of it in my hands.

Baby steps turned into a leap forward when Bartlett Giamatti, a colleague in the English Department, was appointed president of Yale. In 1980 he asked me to head a major fund-raising drive to develop a significant program of Judaic studies. Yale's single professorship (or two nontenured positions) within religious studies quite obviously did not provide true coverage of a most important and still evolving culture. Encouraged by many colleagues, including William Hallo in Babylonian studies (also the translator of Franz Rosenzweig's Star of Redemption), I accepted the challenge and even added to it by finding support for what was to become the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. Over the next six years most of my time was spent in these tasks, which included formulating academic policy and recruiting as well as fund raising—but which also informed me about the extent and depth of the Jewish learning tradition. During that time, indeed for the many years he stayed at Yale, David Ruderman, the first professor to be newly appointed, proved to be an essential and eloquent presence.

I cannot forbear mentioning some of the scholars outside of Yale who helped me to find my way (and sometimes to risk losing it): Harold Fisch, Michael Fishbane, Moshe Greenberg, Daniel Boyarin, Moshe Idel, Uri Simon, David Stern, Arthur Cohen. Many of them said they wanted to know more about literary methods of study, and we did have good conversations on that basis. Yet it was I, the 'am ha'aretz, who gained; and the example of Akiva's belated entry into a life of learning, immodestly applied to my own situation, often kept me going. Not all my initiatives were successful. A light-hearted proposal to institute an annual Midrash day on Mayday lasted all of two years. A new magazine, Orim, launched in 1984 with the help of David Ruderman and Rabbi James Ponet, also did not survive.

My reason for mentioning these details is that they disclose one significant role of Judaic studies as a new field in the university. Why should we be excluded from the history and literature of Judaism because the world of our fathers and mothers had become secularized? Or because religious literacy, whatever our faith or community affiliation, was neglected? Surely even a belated knowledge of a religious tradition, acquired in the critical, nonsectarian, and nonconfessional atmosphere of the university, is a good thing?

Students may not be able to enter the Pardes or Sacred Jungle of biblical interpretation, given its formidable requirements and ecstatic lures. But scholarship is scholarship, and those who would have no trouble finding pleasure and intellectual profit in Western Pagan studies (I mean the Classics) should have the possibility of learning, by way of Judaic studies, a subject whose history reaches into the contemporary world, and whose text legacy is, in many ways, different from the Hellenic.

There is still room for a field of study with internally so ancient a canon, and externally so varied a people scattered among a multitude of nations in the diaspora and now also building the nation-state of Israel. Most of the legitimation problems Judaic studies faces, the other humanities have also faced. Consider the example of history.

There used to be those who went so far as to think, wittily enough, like the educator and literary thinker I. A. Richards, that "history oughtn't to have happened." He spurned it as an academic subject and in 1910 entered the "Moral Sciences" (that rubric translated "Geisteswissenschaften"). Richards's youthful position might be compared to someone saying today that "the Holocaust shouldn't have happened," hence shouldn't be made into a separate disciplinary field. Indeed, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi has emphasized in his book Zakhor how in Jewish communities to this day the liturgical memory is far more important than historiographical knowledge. History is always close to senseless catastrophe; yet the liturgical and collective memory, sustained by the Jewish prayer book, the siddur, can have a restitutive and even a healing function.

Often, no doubt, ideological motives help to legitimate a subject matter. In England, immediately after the Great War, the aroused national spirit turned against the German system of graduate education whose cult of expertise had fashioned an elite of professors and bureaucrats while neglecting the mundane skill of independent judgment. What Richards would have liked most, a course of studies and a degree in English, was not obtainable at either Oxford or Cambridge until after World War 1. The argument finally prevailed that great works of vernacular literature existed, and that these were as useful as the Greek and Roman classics in forming the minds of the younger generation. "Reading" became a charged word and began to mean more than grammar, rhetoric, and quasi-scriptural exegesis. F. R. Leavis invested the new Cambridge program of study with ethical purpose and talked it up as the "English School."

The entry, then, of Judaic studies into the curriculum, though belated, was predictable. With a lessening of antisemitism in higher education circles, the falling away of numerus clausus restrictions in American private universities, a growing number of Jewish students and professors, and a sense, more acute with the passing of time, of the devastation caused by the Holocaust—given all these conditions an audience eager for a vast field of learning appeared.

I realize that the existence of an audience does not by itself legitimate an academic field. Nor was there, for a time, more demand than for a supplementary course or two in social studies, history (including the Holocaust), and literature. Yet scholarship had burgeoned, especially in Israel. An Institute of Jewish Studies was inaugurated in Jerusalem in 1924, a year before the Hebrew University itself. Great scholars, pedagogues, and personalities, like Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber, Hugo Bergmann, and Ernst Simon, explored Jewish life and its mentalities in the diaspora, from medieval times to the Yishuv, and Israel as a modern state. A river was rising, a reservoir was being filled to overflowing; and it was the most natural thing in the world to provide students access to this intellectual energy.

The rebirth of Hebrew created for the first time a freestanding literature seeking to escape the commentary tradition, though sometimes, as in the Nobel laureate S. Y. Agnon also raiding it to fashion an intricate, intertextual idiom. Hebraism became a recovery movement of tremendous scope, equivalent to the Hellenism that had traversed other nations in the Renaissance. Scholarship's retrieval and recycling of ancient texts was not antiquarian but vividly contemporary in its affect. The Hebrew revival movement competed with a flourishing Yiddish "jargon"; but Yiddish speakers were soon to be decimated by the Shoah, and the language, confined to Orthodox circles, lost some of its secular appeal. It would be foolish, however, to write off the linguistic as well as sentimental energies of this ancestral mother tongue.

In the light of all this it is shortsighted to assert that identity politics brought about the interest in Judaic studies. The pattern Todd Gitlin has succinctly described, "the recognition of a collective hurt, followed by the mistaking of a group position for a 'culture,' followed by the mistaking of a 'culture' for a politics," does not apply. There was a collective hurt, but that had transformed itself into a creative response to catastrophe long before, stretching over the centuries from ḥurban to ḥurban (see the major books by Alan Mintz and David Roskies). Group affirmation, in terms of religious or ethnic difference, may motivate some who enter Jewish studies; yet anyone serious about the field learns very soon how expansive it is, and that hybridity (as Saul Lieberman showed) was not absent from ancient rabbinical culture. The history and literature of Judaism are as multifarious as those of other cultures or religions. The complex fate of being Jewish is better thought about under the term continuity than identity.

Only in the area of women's lives does the identity issue today play a major role. This is clearly because of the preponderance of written and eminently patriarchal artifacts, and an uncertainty as to whether Jewish law can offer women equal standing in the Orthodox community's future. But this same difficulty is fostering innovation and reinterpretation. "We can find ways within Halakhah," Blu Greenberg writes, "to allow for growth and greater equality in the ritual and spiritual realms, despite the fact that there are no guarantees where this will lead us." The equality of women in university programs of Jewish studies may help toward that end.

When I was asked, then, in 1980, to develop Judaic studies at Yale, I accepted in the name of a feast, not a famine. The famine was an artificial product of the university culture of that time. Required was, quite simply, intellectual equity. The Judaic studies major would serve the college and graduate school as a whole, not Jewish students alone; and it would acknowledge what I called, needing a slogan, the third pillar of Western civilization. The entire Diaspora was a Geniza waiting to be explored in full.

There was an esoteric tradition that Scholem, Moshe Idel, and others were recovering. There was the Hebrew Bible, to be studied in the light of many methods, including contemporary literary theory; there was the large commonwealth of midrashic hermeneutics, still active and productive: it played no small part in the work of the most famous Jewish philosopher of the late twentieth century, Emmanuel Levinas. Philo and Maimonides found new expositors. There was medieval poetry and philosophy in its relation to Islamic practice; there was the Jewish contribution to early modern scientific thought, which David Ruderman is fully uncovering. A twentieth-century tradition of both Yiddish and Hebrew poetry could be read in the context of European literature (as Benjamin Harshav, soon appointed at Yale, continued to urge). Indeed, the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah led to the flourishing of German Jewish thought, scholarship, and cultural production until brutally cut off by the Nazi regime. Middle Eastern writings were being illuminated by archeological discoveries: a strong interest in that was already a specialty of Yale's Near Eastern department. And within Jewish history the distinctiveness of Sephardic culture was beginning to be researched.

The history of waves of immigration led scholars to a "romance" with the Jewish working class in America, while an interest in refugee intellectuals and family history was soon added. I scarcely need to mention the great popularity, also in academia, of the American Jewish novel. Then, sadly, there is the still partly impenetrable shadow of the Holocaust, a darkness visible challenging the combined resources of historians, political scientists, philosophers; and producing also an enormous creative and analytic literature as well as multimedia forms of artistry. Elie Wiesel, in his novels, essays, and speeches, recalls Jewish wisdom literature, as if not only a survivor of the Shoah but a haunted messenger from that tradition. (Considering amid this plenty, however, the recent upsurge of a new antisemitism, it is salutary to remind oneself of Stephen Dedalus's famous remark in Joyce's Ulysses, made in response to an Irishman's antisemitic rant: "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.")

Why should there be, I asked, five tenured professors of Greek and Latin at Yale, and only one in Judaic studies? The corpus kept alive by the Classics Department was exquisitely small. True, it had exerted since the Renaissance a tremendous influence on literary and political thought. True, the impact of the Jewish writings, apart from an expropriated and often misread Scripture, was much smaller and less continuous. Yet the major form of creativity and learning in Judaism, the commentaries on Bible and Talmud, vast as they were in scope, imagination, and complexity, had received, in the secular universities, but little of literary, law-study-inspiring, or sociological attention.

Intellectual equity meant that there was a lot of catching up to do. You cannot enter a Judaic studies major as a defense against modernity, or achieve self-certainty by ghettoizing yourself—demobilizing into the cloister of identity politics is how Gitlin puts it. The map of the discipline, moreover, is still being drawn. Barely known areas tempt the explorer, and major reinterpretations remain possible. This third pillar of our civilization, then, is only now being fully excavated: we have discovered something but not everything about its structure and upholding function. These are metaphors, I know; I use them because I feel deeply not only the novelty of the field but also its "old new" character.

I turn now to a more fundamental question affecting Jewish studies. It is the question of whether a culture can be maintained without its religious foundation. From an Orthodox or observant point of view, the more we adjust Judaism to a body of knowledge mainly confined to the college classroom and not formally practiced, the more we shrink a way of life into a course of study. In Orthodox Judaism study and life are meant to coincide; and it is often said that the one thing secular Jews retain is their appreciation of learning.

But the way this learning is transmitted by the Orthodox community is quite different from the way of the secular academy. As a lifelong pursuit rather than a temporary course of study, Orthodox Judaism is taught and transmitted by a pedagogy of its own that merges the house of prayer and the house of study. The Yiddish word "shul" evokes that merging. What is traditionally Jewish is not only the talmid ḥakham's concentration on a limited number of essential texts; equally crucial is a collective mode of learning that does not require the modern university as a reinforcement, although it coexists with it. The Sages knew study divorced from a way of life could weaken both. Kafka's frightening remark also comes to mind: that the little Jewishness his father had retained dribbled away in the very attempt to hand it on.

The bar mitzvah sermon of Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, discussed in Chapter 10, "Who Is an Educated Jew?" is the product of a remarkable curriculum that seeks to unify learning and life. We glimpse a puer senex, an Old Boy who has already, at age thirteen, embodied a tradition and become quite literally a son of the commandments. Precisely because Judaic studies is not an acculturation of this kind, and because, being part of a secular institution, it looks at religious cultures historically and comparatively, the program must recognize the challenge posed by Rashab's example.

This challenge meets us also in less startling ways. In the modern, expanding universe of authors, where all writings enter into competition with one another, even a work so classic or sacred as the Bible cannot retain its centrality without institutional support. That support is usually a stop-gap measure and not very effective. In the absence of the beit midrash kind of study, or family readings that bring Scripture home, "Sunday" schools may even have a chilling effect, and stories from the Bible, unlike tales devoured out of school, remain arrested in the mind at an infantile stage.

An emerging remedy against this is teaching "The Bible as Literature" and amalgamating it with other Great Books. This is better than nothing but glosses over a category difference. To import Scripture as literature into humanities or English is like pretending a tiger and a house cat belong together. I do not mean that the Bible should not be read in college or that we should leave it to departments of religion. We have little choice but to make it available via the humanities curriculum. Scripture, a book that is and is not literature (certainly not "belles lettres"), compels us to face the issue of what is singular about it—and to call it a book is already a simplification, since it is really an archipelago of texts.

This argument can be extended from the Bible to other overdomesticated works in the canon. When routinized, or accommodated to a liberal arts curriculum, they need defamiliarization. My point, then, has to do with cultural translatability in general. Judaic studies offers a particular and cogent instance of the problem because it was made possible by the Wissenschaft des Judentums, a secularizing nineteenth-century movement through which Talmud and Midrash, writings generally held in contempt at that time by the non-Jewish world, and even by some emancipated Jews, became available for historical study. "Rabbinic literature," as Leopold Zunz, one of the leaders of the movement called it, is no longer kept out of serious scholarly discussion but viewed as a cultural fact to be critically scrutinized like any other such fact.

Today there is no longer a problem with studying the Hebrew Bible in the light of satellite commentaries or a dehellinized poetics. And surely the study of ritual itself has benefited from comparative literary and anthropological investigation. Still, a question remains: can ritual practices, and especially the intriguing symbolism of Kabbalah and Hasidism, be understood without being put into effect, without being practiced? How much of their truth is available through a purely intellectual inquiry?

Scholem recognized the issue and complained that the Science of Judaism had excluded everything apparently irrational in Kabbalah from its scholarly project. He likened Jewish thought, after this repression, to "an overgrown field of ruins, where only very occasionally a learned traveler was surprised or shocked by some bizarre image of the sacred, repellent to reason."

A famous open letter of his addressed to Franz Rosenzweig goes further. Scholem, once in Palestine, fears that Biblical Hebrew's charged diction, adapted to daily speech, could never be neutered enough; its prophetic language, he claimed, was a volcanic abyss from which apocalyptic aspirations would erupt.

Since we all suffer from the increasing weightlessness of words, and since many of us are in the profession of trying to value figural modes of expression without enfeebling them, we can sympathize with Scholem. But do highly charged symbolic conceptions underwriting ritual practices necessarily elude our understanding? Can we bring them into a secular domain, "translate" them, as it were? What are our options as teachers?

The simplest option is to encourage full discussion and deem everyone equal before the enigma. It is what we should be doing anyway in class. If there is something sacred or as yet untranslatable there, it will get to us, if only as a richly negative finding. It is best not to become too distancing, hygienic, or even respectful: we do not need the academic equivalent of the high priest's armature to defend against our own tradition.

Another option has the advantage of traditional precedent. Rabbinic midrash, especially the nonbinding, aggadic kind, has significant mythic residues. It does not, however, actively recover or elaborate them into a system of symbols, a cosmological fantasy. It supports instead what David Weiss Halivni calls a predilection for justified (i.e., not simply apodictic) law. The freedom to find reasons for ritual and commandment was encouraged rather than constrained in the formative era of the Talmud; this freedom, in Judaism, has become an important transgenerational fact cognate with secular academic discussion. While there are obvious differences between the serio ludere that may accompany talmudic law-finding (in which the goal posts cannot be moved) and ideas handled freely in the secular classroom, midrashic interpretive qualities such as an intimate knowledge of the text, respect for cues that may inhere in precedential opinions, and the challenge of creating a commentary that preserves rather than displaces the original text—these are also vital for secular literary interpretation.

There is a third and more radical option, but it is clearly artistic. For when it comes to imaginative or apparently untranslatable rituals, there may be a bit of Kafka in all of us. Kafka, according to Walter Benjamin, "sacrificed truth for the sake of clinging to transmissibility." This is a strikingly difficult comment: what does Benjamin mean by "truth" in opposition to "transmissibility"? Is not tradition transmitted truth?

But the imaginative rituals in Kafka's stories transmit a truth we do not or cannot come to know. There is always a hidden point of infinite light or darkness. It is impossible to tell whether the enigma is all there is, with the unrevealed truth absent, not just hidden, or whether the artist is actually delimiting a sense of absolute exile. Outside the truth, then, yet refusing to be still further outside, Kafka creates a ritual process of his own: not just a secular and equivalent symbolism but a consistent mode of endless nondisclosure within the richly articulated limits of art's beginning, middle, and end.

Thus the message, the kerygma, in his "Imperial Messenger" parable does not reach its destination. We see only the messenger's improgressive progress that distracts from a communication we never get to hear, even if it was intended for us. Only an emblem of indefinite progress and frustrated delivery remains. The truth (the Emperor's message) is sacrificed, that is, not represented; what remains is only an image of virtual revelation together with a sheer—almost stupid—expectation of a transmission that would end the process.

The artistic solution too, however, is always a starter or grabber inciting further development. Unexpectedly, for instance, Kafka's work has recently allied itself with a new political interest in theology. A cluster of issues has formed involving Jewish and Pauline messianism, and entangling Kafka with, inter alia, Jacob Taubes, Walter Benjamin, Scholem, Derrida, Giorgio Agamben. As in the time, therefore, before Judaic studies entered the university, some of us may again have to do things on our own, and become part-time illegitimate.

Sociologists claim that in cultures with a strong oral tradition (choreographed or codified in Judaism centuries ago), "performance orientation is dominant over information orientation." It can be argued that Judaic studies continues that search for a performative kind of information. But it must be compelling enough to preserve the law's severe poetry together with a complex, historically stratified commentary that delights even the angels. "Just as humans debate the law [halakhah] on earth, so the angels debate it in heaven" (Midrash Tanḥuma on Exodus 18).

It has been impossible to update the essays that follow. Even as I write this, there lies before me a volume of over five hundred crowded pages, issued as number 6 in a series called "minima judaica." Its content, as the title of the book indicates, is (I translate from the German): "Dialogue of the Disciplines: Jewish Studies and Literary Studies." This formidable collection contains and elaborates the record of a symposium held in 2005 under the partial sponsorship of the University of Potsdam and can serve to exemplify the explosion of interest in Jewish studies abroad as well as in the United States. It fully bears out what Harold Bloom once remarked: "The wealth of tradition is great not only in its fused massiveness, but in its own subtleties of internalization."

The benevolent reader will understand, then, why except for occasionally modifying a phrase or adding a note I have not altered the essays collected here. Moreover, I have not included my writings on the subject of the Holocaust. These must be left for a further publication.

Geoffrey Hartman is Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature and Faculty Advisor to the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. Among his many books are Beyond Formalism and Criticism in the Wilderness. The Geoffrey Hartman Reader, which he coedited with Daniel T. O'Hara, was awarded the 2006 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism.

"This is Geoffrey Hartman's best and most insightful book."—Elie Wiesel

"In the form, substance, intellectual brio, and imaginative reach of these essays, Geoffrey Hartman has no peer. And to say it (almost) otherwise: in learning and in originality, two characteristics that are only very rarely found paired, Geoffrey Hartman is matchless. You may read him solely as a scholar if you wish, but once you stir in the 'creative,' you will have something or someone else: a poet. In these essays, Hartman as innate poet speaks to readers: to readers of poetry, to discerners of bottomless ideas, to you and to me."—Cynthia Ozick