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The Outcast & Other Tales Hardcover – January 15, 2018
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The Toby Press, part of the prestigious Koren Press, has published fifteen of his books in excellent English translations. This fifteenth and last volume of the series contains the first-time English translation of the 52-page novella “The Outcast” that focuses in an almost poetic manner on the clash between the mystically minded, pleasure seeking Hassidim and their opponents who insisted that God does not want joy but learning, that is spending the day sitting and reading Talmudic and Midrashic texts of ancient rabbis.
The book also includes ten relatively short stories - most under 10 pages, only three between 11 and 15 pages - that focus on the traditional Jewish life in Europe and in Israel, and nine nightmarish and surrealistic selections from Agnon’s classic “Book of Deeds,” each precise gems of only a few pages. The editor of the fifteen books, Jeffrey Saks, included 36 pages of annotations in this volume that give explanations and information about the 22 stories. He also included a 4-page afterword about the 15-book project.
The Outcast is a story that transpires in 1814 during a time when there were extremely strong feelings of dislike between the Hassidim who belittled study, which the average Jew was unable to pursue and who felt that one could approach God by enjoying the life God made available to humans, and their opponents. The opponents, like many ultra-Orthodox still today, feel that although the Talmud was not recorded until around 600 CE and is filled with debates by rabbis who lived long after Moses, mostly in the first half of the first millennium, that God wanted them to spend the day reading and trying to memorize the Talmud text. They call this activity “learning the Talmud,” although after years of reading the Talmudic disputes concerning mostly irrelevant laws, they have not gained a new insight into life.
The hatred between the two groups is so intense that the non-Hasidic rabbi of the town did not allow the Hassidic rabbi who happened to come to his town just before the Sabbath to remain in the town. The Hasidic rabbi in anger cursed the town rabbi that his progeny would be an outcast, and when the town rabbi’s daughter was dying and her husband, his son-in-law went to ask the Hasidic rabbi for a blessing to save her life, this rabbi prayed that his daughter would die rather than live and have people say she survived because of the prayer of a Hasidic rabbi. The story narrates how the Hasidic rabbi’s curse was fulfilled.