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Rereading “Decadent” Palestinian Hebrew Literature: The Intersection of Zionism, Masculinity, and Sexuality in Aharon Reuveni's ‘Ad Yerushalayim

  • Philip Hollander (a1)


This article asserts that politics motivated Aharon Reuveni to employ representations of psychic fragmentation and dysfunctional social institutions to portray Palestinian Jewish life in his novelistic trilogy ‘Ad Yerushalayim. These purportedly decadent representations helped him foreground individual and collective flaws he saw limiting the early twentieth-century Palestinian Jewish community's development and promote norms he saw as conducive to growth. Thus, as examination of the trilogy's central male figures demonstrates, Reuveni advances a Zionist masculinity grounded in introspectiveness and ongoing commitment to the achievement of communally shared goals. To further support this Zionist masculine form, the trilogy categorizes men who pursue homosocial ties with others who don't maintain this masculinity as homosexuals. Thus gender and sexuality are used to coerce male readers into adopting specific behavioral norms. This attention to gender and sexuality's role in early twentieth-century Palestinian Hebrew fiction offers a way to grasp its long-overlooked political character.


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1. Yod Beyt [Natan Bistritzky], “Vegn der hebraisher literatur un teater in Palestine,” Literarishe Bleter, October 11, 1929, 3, quoted in Shvarẓ, Yigal, Mah she-ro'im mi-kan (Or Yehudah: Dvir, 2005), 156157.

2. Kabak, A. A., Masot ve-divrei bikkoret (Jerusalem: Shalem, 1978), 228.

3. For a positive review of Reuveni's work see Brenner, Yosef Ḥayim, Ktavim 4 (Tel Aviv: Ha-kibbutz Ha-me'uḥad, 1985), 13391343.

4. Zakh, Natan, “ʾOmanut ha-roman shel A. Re'uveni,” in Kol ma'amarei bikorret ‘al yeẓirato shel A. Re'uveni, ed. Shvarẓ, Yigal (Tel Aviv: Ha-kibbutz Ha-me'uḥad, 1992), 110; Miron, Dan, Kivun ’orot (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1979), 395430.

5. On Reuveni's work's literary reception see Shvarẓ, Mah she-ro'im mi-kan, 149–200.

6. On the trilogy as a roman à clef see Yeshurun Keshet “‘Al A. Reuveni,” in Kol ma'amarei bikorret al yeẓirato shel A. Reuveni, 86–104.

7. Showalter, Elaine, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture in the Fin de Siècle (New York: Viking, 1990), 3.

8. Miller, Karl, Doubles: Studies in Literary History (London: Oxford University Press, 1985), 209.

9. Bernheimer, Charles, Decadent Subjects (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 2627.

10. Pinsker, Shachar, Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 159, 147–164.

11. Shachar Pinsker, Literary Passports, 163.

12. Bar-Yosef, Hamutal, Maga‘im shel dekadens: Bialik, Berdichevski, Brenner (Be'er Sheva: Hoẓa'at Ha-sfarim shel Universitat Ben-Gurion Ba-Negev, 1997), 1341. On contemporary Jewish anxieties about individual and collective Jewish demise see Saposnik, Arieh Bruce, “Exorcising the ‘Angel of National Death’—Nation and Individual Death (and Rebirth) in Zionist Palestine,” Jewish Quarterly Review 95, no. 3 (2005): 557578.

13. Miron, Dan, From Continuity to Contiguity: Towards a New Jewish Literary Thinking (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 117.

14. Pinsker, Literary Passports, 158, 168, 162.

15. Bernheimer, Decadent Subjects, 26–27.

16. Zerubavel, Yael, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 3334; Almog, Oz, The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

17. For mention of some prominent exceptions see Gluzman, , Ha-guf ha-iyoni: le'umiyut, migdar ve-miniyut ba-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah (Tel Aviv: Ha-kibbutz Ha-me'uḥad, 2007), 26, 149, 185; For lengthier discussion of these works and their authors see Yaron Peleg, , “Heroic Conduct: Homoeroticism and the Creation of Modern, Jewish Masculinities,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society 13, no. 1 (Fall 2006), 3840; Shaked, Gershon, Ha-sipporet ha-‘ivrit 1880–1980, vol. 2 (Tel Aviv: Ha-kibbutz Ha-me'uḥad, 1978), 4455, 59–61.

18. For a contextual discussion of the presence of literary decadence in Palestinian Hebrew literature see Biale, David, Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America (Berkeley: California University Press, 1997), 176203. Reuveni composed ‘Ad Yerushalayim between 1917 and 1920, but its publication extended well into the twenties. The first novel was published in serial form, while the two subsequent novels were published as independent books: Reuveni, Aḥaron, “Be-raishit ha-mevukhah,” Ha-’adamah 1 (1919–20), 1130; 141–159; 338–343; 392–415; 501–523; Reuveni, Aḥaron, Ha-'oniyot ha-’aḥronot (Warsaw: Shtibel, 1923); Reuveni, Aḥaron, Shamot (Warsaw: Shtibel, 1925).

19. Ben-Ari, Nitsa, Suppression of the Erotic: Censorship and Self-Censorship in Hebrew Literature 1930–1980 (Ottawa: Ottawa University Press, 2006), 74109.

20. Ya‘akov Rabinowitz, “Bentayim,” Ha-po‘el ha-a‘ir, November 29, 1912.

21. Sh. Levitan, “Shamot,” Do'ar ha-yom, May 15, 1925.

22. “Old Yishuv” refers to prestate Palestine's non-Zionist Jewish religious community and “New Yishuv” refers to its Zionist community. For a broader discussion of these terms and their historicity see Bartal, Yisra'el, “‘Yishuv ḥadash’ ve-‘yishuv yashan’—ha-dimui ve-ha-meẓi'ut,” in Galut ba-’areẓ: yishuv ’ere -yisra'el be-terem iyonut (Jerusalem: Ha-sifriyah Ha-ẓiyonit, 1995), 7490.

23. Levitan, “Shamot.”

24. Nili Sadan-Lubenstein, “Magemot dekadentiot be-sifrut ha-mehagrim bi-shnot ha-‘esrim be-’ereẓ-yisra'el” (PhD diss., Bar-Ilan University, 1976); for more on Sadan's dissertation see Lipsker, Avidov, introduction to Aḥaron Reuveni: Monografiyah, by Sadan, Nili (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Po‘alim, 1994), 710.

25. Ẓemaḥ, Adi, “Min ve-’ofi le'umi: ẓemed nosi'im be-‘yeshimon’ shel L. A. Arielli,” Moznayim 53, nos. 5–6 (1982): 371383; for a similar argument see Shaked, Gershon, “Ha-te'om she-yarad—‘al yeẓirato shel L. A. Arieli-Orlof,” Siman kri'ah 5 (February 1976), 481491.

26. Dekel, Mikhal, The Universal Jew: Masculinity, Modernity, and the Zionist Movement (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2011), 195196.

27. Gilmore, David, Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 3.

28. Gilmore, Manhood in the Making, 3. Similarly, George Mosse points to the centrality of manhood ideals to the European nation-state's development. See Mosse, George, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 77.

29. Dan Miron, From Continuity to Contiguity, 52. Michael Gluzman noted this centrality early on. See Gluzman, Ha-guf ha-iyoni, 11.

30. Dekel, Universal Jew, 5–6.

31. Brod, Harry, “Of Mice and Supermen,” in Gender and Judaism, ed. Rudavsky, Tamar M. (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 283.

32. Gluzman, Ha-guf ha-ẓiyoni; Presner, Todd, Muscular Judaism: The Jewish Body and the Politics of Regeneration (New York: Routledge, 2007).

33. Dekel, Universal Jew, 108. For a fuller discussion of Boyarin's position see Boyarin, Daniel, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Modern Jewish Man (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 271312.

34. Dekel, Universal Jew, 34; Feldman, Yael, Glory and Agony: Isaac's Sacrifice and National Narrative (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).

35. Leading masculinity scholars have suggested such an analytical shift. See Connell, R. W. and Messerschmidt, James, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” Gender and Society 19, no. 6 (2005): 829859.

36. Polymorphously perverse sexuality refers here to openness to the pursuit of sexual gratification wherever it might be found. For more on this idea see Freud, Sigmund, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. Strachey, James (New York: Basic Books, 1975), 57, 97–109.

37. For recent scholarly discussions of ‘Ad Yerushalayim see Abramson, Glenda, Hebrew Writing of the First World War (London: Valentine Mitchell, 2008), 261297; Siegel, Andrea, “Rape and the ‘Arab Question’ in L. A. Arieli's Allah Karim! and Aharon Reuveni's Devastation,” Nashim 23, no. 1 (2012): 110128. For earlier readings see Shvarẓ, , Liḥyot kedei liḥyot: ʾAḥaron Reʾuveni—monographiyah (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1993), 155255; Sadan-Lubenstein, ʾAḥaron Re'uveni, 143–243; Shaked, Ha-sipporet ha-‘ivrit, 2:143–150; Shvarẓ, ed., Kol ma'amarei bikkoret.

38. Others disagree with my position; cf. Shaked, Ha-sipporet ha-‘ivrit, 2:144; Abramson, Hebrew Writing, 276–295.

39. For further discussion of this issue, see Miron, Kivun ’orot, 419; Shvarẓ, Liḥyot kedei liḥyot, 164–166.

40. Shaked, Gershon, 'Omanut ha-sippur shel ‘Agnon (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Ha-po‘alim, 1976), 47.

41. Almog, Sabra, 73–137; Holtzman, Avner, ’Ahavot iyon, (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2006), 320.

42. For further discussion see Miron, Kivun ’orot, 414–417; Shvarẓ, Liḥyot kedei liḥyot, 185–190. For more on the turn-of-the-century assertion of a new body-centered Jewish masculine form see Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct; Gluzman, Ha-guf ha-iyoni; Pressner, Muscular Judaism.

43. For further discussion of productivization and modern Jewish history see Penslar, Derek, Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Jewish Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 107123; 205–216.

44. Alexander Karmon, “‘Shamot’ le-ʾA. Reʾuveni,” Do’ar ha-yom, July 26, 1925.

45. For earlier discussion of this connection see Miron, Kivun ’orot, 407.

46. For a fuller description of Funk's mental limitations see Reuveni, Shamot, 22.

47. Reuveni, Shamot, 98.

48. See Reuveni, Shamot, 27–8, 108, and 113–4, for prominent examples of these fantasies.

49. Reuveni, Shamot, 105.

50. Reuveni, Shamot, 128.

51. Reuveni, Shamot, 136.

52. Reuveni, Shamot, 205.

53. For more on Youssef's role in this scene, see Siegel, “Rape and ‘The Arab Question,’” 120–124; On the idealization of Arabs in contemporary Hebrew fiction and their role in Jewish identity's reimagination see Peleg, Yaron, Orientalism and the Hebrew Imagination (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).

54. Reuveni, Shamot, 186.

55. Reuveni and his contemporaries parodied Hebrew literature's idealized Arab and worked to construct an Israeli identity in stark contrast to Arab primitivism. See Oppenheimer, Yoḥai, Me-‘ever la-gader: yiẓug ha-‘aravim ba-sipporet ha-‘ivrit ve-ha-yisra'elit (1906–1922) (Tel Aviv: ʿAm ‘Oved, 2008), 5281.

56. For this view's most sophisticated statement see Shvarẓ, Liḥyot kedei liḥyot, 185–190.

57. On the New Yishuv in the Late Ottoman Period see Saposnik, Arieh, Becoming Hebrew: The Creation of a Jewish National Culture in Ottoman Palestine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

58. Aharon Reuveni, Be-raishit ha-mevukhah, 24–25.

59. For a dispassionate study of early twentieth-century Palestinian Jewish immigrants see Alroey, Gur, Immigrantim: ha-hagirah ha-yehudit le-'ereẓ yisra'el be-raishit ha-me'ah ha-‘esrim (Jerusalem: Yad Ben Ẓvi, 2004).

60. The uprooted figure shares many characteristics with anti-Semitic caricatures of the modern Jewish male. For English language treatments of the talush see Govrin, NuritAlienation and Regeneration (Tel Aviv: MOD Books, 1989), 1130; Roskies, David, Against the Apocalypse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1984), 143149; Jelen, Shelia E., Intimations of Difference (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2007), 125. For more recent scholarship questioning this category's usefulness for understanding the complex ways turn-of-the century Hebrew literature employed gender and sexuality see Pinsker, Literary Passports, 169–184.

61. Miron, Kivun 'orot, 407.

62. Reuveni, Be-raishit ha-mevukhah, 25.

63. Reuveni, Be-raishit ha-mevukhah, 151.

64. Sedgwick, Eve, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 89.

65. Reuveni, Shamot, 155 and 160; for Leyzer's comparison to a female Arab prostitute see ibid., 29; for reference to Leyzer as a male prostitute see ibid., 42; for discussion of his survival in the army at others' expense see ibid., 59.

66. On racial anti-Semitism and its rhetoric see Gilman, Sander, Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Gilman, Sander, The Jew's Body (New York: Routledge, 1991); Efron, John, Defenders of the Race: Jewish Doctors and Race Science in Fin-De-Siècle Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); Hart, Mitchell, Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000). On “healthy” masculinity's connection to nationalism see Mosse, The Image of Man; Mosse, George, Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-Class Morality and Sexual Norms in Modern Europe (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

67. For an important statement of the need for Hebrew literature to assist its readers in the achievement of self-knowledge see Brenner, Yosef ḤayyimHa‘arakhat ‘aẓmeinu bi-shloshah krakhim,” in Ktavim, ed. Poznanski, Menaḥem, vol. 4 (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Ha-po‘alim, 1978–1986), 12231296.

68. Shaked, Ha-sipporet ha-‘ivrit 1880–1980, 1:144; Abramson, Hebrew Writing, 263.

69. Reuveni, Be-raishit ha-mevukhah, 152.

70. For reference to Brenchuk's art as a hard peel see Reuveni, Ha-’oniyot ha-’aḥronot, 19; for impotent feelings caused by interpersonal relations see ibid., 5.

71. Reuveni, Ha-’oniyot ha-’aḥronot, 31.

72. Reuveni, Ha-’oniyot ha-’aḥronot, 20.

73. Reuveni, Ha-'oniyot ha-’aḥronot, 99.

74. Reuveni, Ha-’oniyot ha-’aḥronot, 105.

75. For more on the two men's relationship see Shvarẓ, Liḥyot kedei liḥyot, 211.

76. Reuveni, Ha-’oniyot ha-’aḥronot, 22.

77. Gilmore, Manhood in the Making, 227.

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