S. Y. Agnon's novel of the Second Aliyah, Temol shilshom, has received steady critical attention since its initial 1945 publication. Yet little notice has been paid to the role of language in this novel, even though the narrative revolves around a dog, Balak, upon whom the words "mad dog" are written. This essay analyzes the thematization of language in Temol shilshom. I argue that Agnon questions the project of secularizing Hebrew through the enactment of a macabre return of a repressed sacred Hebrew. The sections of the novel that concern the dog are composed of two intertwined strands: the narrative repeatedly invokes excommunications as an example of sacred Hebrew at work in Jewish ritual; and, at the same time, various features of the Balak story echo the Creation story and the golem legend, in which the magical and mystical powers of Hebrew are employed to create, name, and give life to a new creature. In both cases, Agnon seems to ask what may be lost by secularizing Hebrew and what is at risk in treating a sacred, mystical language as a mundane vernacular. My reading of Temol shilshom does not suggest itself as a replacement for earlier treatments of the novel; rather, I suggest viewing Agnon's complex treatment of Hebrew as one more thread in the novel's intricate network of inner contradictions. But unlike earlier interpretations, my reading explains why such inner contradictions are an essential feature of this monumental work.


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pp. 167-198
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