A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
One hundred years after his birth, the late, great Yiddish novelist and poet Chaim Grade can still draw a crowd. This was evident at an October 4 commemorative evening at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which featured fascinating literary analyses of Grade’s work as well as personal memories of the enigmatic man himself.
“Grade was permanently torn between Dostoevsky and the Talmud,” said Ruth Wisse, Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard University. It was this psychological rupture between the alluringly sensual secular world and Grade’s upbringing in the austere moralistic Novardok mussar yeshiva that informs his work. The Vilna he depicts even resembles Dostoevsky’s Saint Petersburg, Wisse added, except that instead of writing about men plotting murder, he unsentimentally describes the attempts of rabbis to usurp each other’s power.