Ordinarily, the publication of an annotated edition of a modern novel, even one regarded as a classic by a formidable writer, attracts scant attention in the world of literary criticism, particularly in an age preoccupied with theory and cultural criticism. At best, only those scholars interested in the specific text annotated cite the publication or purchase the book. Fortunately, this has not been true in the case of Avraham Holtz's annotated edition of Agnon's novel Hakhnasat kallah; the book was granted a prepublication award by the Israeli Department of Education and Culture in 1994 and has been amply noted in the Israeli press. Unfortunately, the most ambitious study of this novel to date, Dan Miron's Histaklut beravnekher (Under a motley canopy, 1996), reviews the history of Agnon criticism, including Avraham Holtz's previous book on Agnon, Maʿaseh bereb Yudel Hasid (1986), but accords this commentary only one passing reference. Miron is interested in plot and episode rather than in narrative style, and thus his slight of this commentary might have led to its apparent neglect by the scholarly community over the past five years. Holtz's commentary, however, deserves our careful attention for several reasons. First, it is the only full commentary we have on a major work in modern Hebrew literature. Second, in that it is a commentary on Agnon, the quintessential master of traditional Jewish texts, it raises a host of significant questions about intertextuality, an area much alluded to, but rarely seriously explored in modern Hebrew literary criticism. Third, in that it is a commentary, we are prompted to ask questions about its place in the history of Hebrew commentaries, a venerable field of traditional Jewish intellectual endeavor.
The notion that this annotated edition may evoke associations with a traditional religious text is neither far-fetched nor insignificant. Holtz shies away from the term perush, and prefers the term "annotated edition," but both the object of his annotation, Agnon's very layered text larded with biblical and rabbinic terms, and the very format of the book suggest the term "commentary." Instead of [End Page 397] publishing Holtz's annotations separately, as was done in the case of Joyce's Ulysses (Holtz's model cited in his introduction), the notes were published together with the text. The resulting format: quarto with the notes running along the outer and bottom margins in a different typeface from the Agnonic text, which is printed here in the same typeface as in the canonical Schocken editions, must evoke associations with the standard text of the Babylonian Talmud. And since the text is written in Agnon's well-known creative amalgam of rabbinic/hasidic Hebrew and the notes repeatedly refer to biblical and rabbinic texts or aspects of the narrated world-eastern Galicia about 1820-the reading experience may well resemble what one experiences while reading a rabbinic text.
The erudition displayed in the preparation of this volume is formidable, even awe-inspiring. While it is true that with the availability of computer databases, one can retrieve passages and references from an extraordinary range of biblical and rabbinic texts, the scholarly range and the evident industry invested in the preparation of this commentary are impressive. The footnotes are copious; the bibliography is full; there are fascinating illustrations on almost every page; even the maps of Reb Yudel's journeys throughout Galicia are accurate. Obviously, if one is to prepare an edition of a complex novel written by a writer prodigiously learned in Jewish texts, which he deploys throughout his work, the pervasive resonance of the traditional texts with all they imply must be engaged. And this is Holtz's mission.
Yet it is precisely this resonance that raises the central question posed by this major effort of annotation: What type of annotation is Holtz generating here? Is it a modern scientific annotation? Or is it what one would expect in a commentary upon a traditional rabbinic or biblical text? Could it be both? What is the...