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Famed Yiddishist Ruth Wisse discusses soul-searching in seminal short story

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As Yom Kippur approaches, a Day of Awe meant to be used for soul-searching, famed Yiddishist Ruth Wisse will be discussing a well-known story that delves into that very subject for the Beit Avi Chai culture center in Jerusalem.

The online event on Sunday, September 12, at 8 p.m. Israel time (1 p.m. EDT), is a conversation between Wisse and Jewish historian Asael Abelman, and one that they’ve had more than once, said Wisse in a phone call from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It’s a discussion of writer Chaim Grade’s Yiddish short story, “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner,” written in the 1950s and now with a new and complete translation by Wisse.

The story describes a chance meeting of a Holocaust survivor with an old friend from his yeshiva. The narrator has lost his faith, while the friend has continued to lead a pious and devoted religious life. The former friends debate the place of religion in the postmodern world.

The story was later made into a film, “The Quarrel,” written by David Brandes and Joseph Telushkin, and a play.

Wisse — who created the Jewish Studies department at Montreal’s McGill University and then became the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University — recounted that she first met Grade when she began her studies in linguistics in Yiddish at Columbia........

© The Times of Israel

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