Jewish Literature

Jewish literature was not created only in the Middle East but elsewhere as well, mostly in Europe and later America. Nevertheless, it is unique in comparison to both the Western and Eastern literatures and it did not only formed the basis for the modern Hebrew literature but it also contributed to the literatures of the countries in which the Jews created their literary works.

Ancient Jewish Literature

Ancient Jewish literature was dominated by religious themes. The most important ancient Jewish literary work is without a doubt the Torah or the Hebrew Bible. It is thought to be written down in the 6th century BCE although the latest evidence suggests that it could be compiled as early as the 10th century BCE. The first major rabbinic work is the Mishnah or redaction of the Oral Torah which was written by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi in 220 CE.

Medieval Jewish Literature

Rabbinic literature dominated the medieval period as well but both religious and secular works have been created including ethical (musar) and philosophical texts, mystical or Kabbalistic literature, poetry, fiction and history. During the Early Middle Ages also emerged the so-called piyyut or Jewish liturgical poem which flourished in the Middle East. The most prominent piyyut authors from this era include Yanai and Eleazar Ben Killir. Popular piyyutim such as Adon Olam and Yigdal were composed in the later Middle Ages.

Modern Jewish Literature

The modern era saw continuation of the standard rabbinic literature but it also saw the emergence of the modern Jewish literature in the real meaning of the word. A major influence on the modern Jewish literature had the Haskalah, a Jewish movement in Europe which promoted the Enlightenment ideas and put a greater emphasis on the study of the secular Jewish history as well as promoted the use of the Hebrew language. The tradition with the religious literature was finally broken in the 18th and 19th century and modern Jewish literature clearly distinguished itself from the rabbinic literature. Prominent authors from the early modern Jewish literature include Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Naphtali Hartwig Wessely, Solomon Judah Loeb Rapoport, Nachman Krochmal, Simon Bacher, Isaac Erter and Samuel David Luzzatto (not related to Moses Hayyim Luzzatto).

20th Century Jewish Literature

Until the outbreak of the First World War, the Eastern Europe was the centre of Jewish literature. After the war, many authors left Eastern Europe for the Land of Israel which soon emerged as the centre of Hebrew literature. The first modern Israeli writers continued the literary forms that were started in Europe but they also promoted the revival of the Hebrew language. The most prominent modern Israeli authors (from the First Aliyah) include Shaul Tchernichovsky, Hayim Nahman Bialik and Ahad Ha-Am, and later Yosef Haim Brenner, the Nobel laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Jacob Fichman and David Shimoni to mention only a few.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, a new generation of Jewish authors emerged, many of whom also gained the international recognition. Many Jewish writers, however, continue to write in both Hebrew and other languages outside Israel.