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Shai Agnon - Rabbi Jeffrey Saks 

  • M.A. Bernard Revel Graduate School. Medieval Jewish History  

  • Rabbinic Ordination Yeshiva Yitzhak Elchanan (RIETS) 


  • Created ATID, Academy for Torah Initiatives & Directions 

  • Launched, first fully interactive online yeshiva  


  • Leading expert on the writings of Shai Agnon  

  • Director of Research at the Agnon House in Jerusalem.  

  • Previous, Series Editor of the S.Y. Agnon Library, Toby Press  


  • Editor in Chief, Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 

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Episode #1

Q: Shai Agnon – Rabbi Jeffrey Saks – Intro 


  • Encountered Agnon in youth 

  • Read English translated works 

  • Began to read in Hebrew 

  • Enchanted, goal to read all works 

  • 9 Volumes were published in Agnon’s lifetime 

  • Another 14 posthumously 

  • Head of Research Agnon House, Jerusalem 

Episode #2

Q: What Influences Shaped Agnon?


  • Bible, Rabbinic Literature 

  • Mishna, Talmud, Hassidic influence 

  • Modern literature within Jewish Canon 

  • Also read classical Western literature 

  • Some stories compared to Kafka 

Episode #3

Q: Shai Agnon: Europe vs. Israel 


  • Moves to Palestine 1908, 2nd Aliyah, age 20 

  • Rising literary star 

  • Leaves in 1912; World War 1 

  • Returns to Jerusalem in 1924 

  • Writes about different centers 

  • Home town Buchach (now western Ukraine)    

  • Writings moves back & forth in time 

  • Not chronological  

Episode #4

Q: Shai Agnon: Modern or Ancient Hebrew?


  • Not really contemporary 

  • Old fashioned feel 

  • Reawakening of Hebrew language 

  • Rabbinic, Mishnaic Hebrew 

  • Characters not speaking their real languages 

  • As if there was no destruction & dispersion 

Episode #5

Q:  Reading Agnon without a Jewish background?


  • Agnon can be read in translation; without Hebrew 

  • Agnon can be appreciated without solid Jewish background 

  • Can be read on different levels 

  • Outstanding, world class literature 

  • Nobel Prize committee did not get all of the references

Episode #6

Q: Rabbi Abraham Kook & Shai Agnon


  • Rabbi Kook, Chief rabbi of Jaffe in early 1900’s 

  • Importance of developing authentic Jewish literature 

  • Literature from wellspring of Jewish sources 

  • Agnon and his writings come to Rabbi Kook’s attention 

  • Rabbi Kook sees in Agnon fountain of Jewish literature 

  • Lifelong connection, friendship between Rabbi Kook and Agnon

Episode #7

Q:  Favorite Agnon Book/Story? 


  • Novella, longer shorter stories 

  • Format most Agnonian 

  • Inter textually engaged 

  • Excellent dialogue with classical sources 

  • Two Scholars, Tehila very popular 

  • Hebrew & English editions grouped differently 

  • Simple Story a great stating point 

Episode #8

Q:  What is Toby Press? 


  • Koren Publishing Imprint 

  • Focus on modern literature 

  • Released 15 volumes of translated Agnon 

  • Schocken Press in 1920’s already translated Agnon 

  • World class literature; needs to be translated  

  • Agnon in 1920’s made choice to write in Hebrew 

Full Interview - Rabbi Jeffrey Saks

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