Congratulations to the Graduate of our Ph.D. in Comparative Literature Program

May 14, 2020

The Department of English is pleased to congratulate the most recent graduate of its Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature. 

Chen Mandel-Edrei

The study of modern Hebrew literature has always been guided by what seemed a fool proof truism: that European authors of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries who set aside their mother tongue to write in Hebrew did so fornationalist reasons, to invent the modern Jewish nation and promote the secular ideologies of the Jewish Enlightenment.

For decades, this attitude dominated the field so thoroughly that Hebrew writing not clearly adhering to these principles, especially the literature of religious communities, was written off as backward, stultified, and irrelevant. Chen Mandel-Edrei’s dissertation, “Hasidic Hagiography in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction—A Historical and Literary Perspective,” rejects these premises and, throwing the logic of Hebrew criticism on its head, asksus to understand a genre of religious writing, stories of saintly acts from the Hasidic community of Eastern Europe, as an engagement with modernity ratherthan a rejection of the modern world. By reading Hasidic writing as responding tothe changes of modernity, Mandel-Edrei’s work disrupts much of the received wisdom about both Hasidic literature itself and the nature of modern Hebrew writing more broadly.

Mandel-Edrei’s title references Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish critic of the early 20th century who revolutionized an understanding of literature as a complex reaction to changes in society wrought by industrialization and market capitalism. Mandel-Edrei’s dissertation applies a similar perspicacity to the study of texts that have been largely dismissed asnostalgic, sentimental folk tales.

—Professor Eric Zakim, Dissertation Director