Before the Beginning: Specters of Monolingualism in Opatoshu and Brenner

Yaakov Herskovitz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article presents a joint reading of two school novels, both written in the span of one year: the Yiddish novel Hibru by Yoysef Opatoshu and the Hebrew novel Mehatḥalah (From the Beginning) by Yosef Ḥayyim Brenner. These two novels, when read together, offer a consideration of language education and monolingual trajectories in both New York and Tel Aviv, and of both Hebrew and Yiddish. The article charts connections between the two works that have never been discussed before, showing how both authors foreground an anxiety with the vernacular future of Jewish communities around the world, and how both novels, although very different in narrative and style, reflect a shared uneasiness about the viability of monolingual Jewish existence. In doing so, this article offers a transnational reading of these two novels, showing how in 1919 the world of Jewish literature was embroiled in similar questions of immigration and origins, as well as both the power and the shortcomings of language education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-233
Number of pages26
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


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