Home > Free Essays > Religion > Religion, Culture & Society > Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors
10 min
Cite this

Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors Essay


Shmuel Yosef was a writer and a key figure in contemporary Jewish fiction. His writings tackle “conflicts in traditional living in Judaism, language, and contemporary world” (Balaban 420). As he said, religious books, viz. Talmud and Torah, mostly swayed the works of Agnon.

He acquired the name “Agnon” from one of his stories influenced by the Jewish term Agunah that represents a woman that is not capable of remarrying after being refused a divorce or being abandoned by her husband. Some argument has been raised as to what could have led to Agnon choosing this name with some claiming that it is metaphorical to the abandonment of Israel by deity (Balaban 419-420).

The metaphor as illustrated in Torah concerns the moment that Israel had turned away from God and God abandoned them for their disobedience. In many stories, ordinary themes of Jewish traditions are portrayed through journeys. This paper discusses the stories of Agnon and the manner in which they metaphorically signify and characterize the customs and traditions of Judaism.


At the start of the story “Agunot”, Agnon employs the styles of symbolism and metaphor that act as a foundation of the ensuing plot. In stating that “a thread of grace is spun and drawn out of the deeds” (Yefet 440) and that “Holy One, blessed be He, in His glory, sits and weaves” (Yefet 440), it is insinuated that God intertwines a shawl of prayers that is woven from substances consisting of deeds of the Jewish people.

Like the midrashic starting ends, the deeds of the Jewish people are structured in accordance with love. Out of the deeds of accomplished and pure love, God intertwines with the help of the threads (mercy and grace).

The aforementioned metaphor comes up at the opening of the story. From the “Agunot” story, the author acquired his name “Agnon”. In this story, the author has altered the term “Agunah” from a law in Judaism to psychological status of being. In Judaism, “Agunah” denotes a woman that is married but has lost his husband (perhaps in battle or indifferent settings where he could be believed to have passed on).

When the whereabouts of the husband s not identified, the wife turns out to be lawfully “attached”. The word “Agunah” is obtained from a Hebrew name “Ogen” that signifies “attached”. Therefore, the wife cannot be married again before being issued with a divorce by her husband. In this regard, the wife is in an indefinite state, caught up in two worlds.

In the “Agunot”, the author changes the lawful Agunah into a psychological Agunah, portraying multiple instances of personified souls destined to be terribly attached to their desire for things they cannot acquire. The real plot narrates the story of a rich person who arrives in Jerusalem to assist in the reconstruction of the city.

The rich man by the name Sire had a daughter, whom he wanted to get married to Ezekiel. Being an intellectual, Ezekiel was offered a teaching job by the rich man (Yefet 439). For the function of constructing an impressive ark in the temple, Sire employed a famous artisan whose name was Ben-Uri. Ben-Uri was a dedicated craftsman, and he dedicates his entire efforts towards his inventive function of constructing the ark.

During the construction of the ark, Ben-Uri starts to sing. At this point, Dina gets so much attracted to Ben-Uri. However, Ben-Uri pays no attention to Dina and dedicates all his concentration and zeal to his task of art until he is through with the construction of the ark, placing it near a window.

When Ben-Uri dozes off in a backyard when it is already dark, Dina gets interested in knowing why Ben-Uri has stopped singing. In her nightdress, Dina goes closer to where Ben-Uri had been working and finds the completed ark near a window. When she was admiring the complex and beautiful artistic work in which Ben-Uri had totally dedicated his time and efforts to, Dina is overcome by a swift satanic urge in the form of jealousy and she throws out the ark thru the window (Yefet 441).

Ben-Uri is blamed of the act and is forced to leave Jerusalem, and instead of the ark he had made, a simple one was prepared. Overpowered by guilt prior to get married to Ezekiel, Dina opens up to the rabbi and disclosed that she damaged the ark that Ben-Uri had made.

The rabbi termed it as an accident. Even if Dina got married to Ezekiel, their marriage was never consummated. Both Dina and Ezekiel sat in different corners in the bedroom reflecting on the different things that had earlier transpired. On the same night, Ezekiel decides to divorce Dina and flees from Jerusalem (Yefet 442). The story ends on a mystical instance with assumptions of where rabbi headed to after he also leaves Jerusalem.

Some of the metaphors that ensue are in some names of the characters. Ben-Uri symbolizes the Bezalzel in the bible who constructed God’s Tabernacle. Ezekiel symbolizes the Ezekiel in the bible who was a prophet and Dina symbolized the Dina in the bible who is represented as a raped woman. He says, “Our sages of blessed memory said that when a man puts his first wife away from him, the very altars weep, but here [with Ezekiel and Dina] the altars had dropped tears even as he took her to wife” (Agnon 7)

The Kerchief

In the story of “The Kerchief”, there comes up a boy as he moves through an entrance, when he starts to learn to join his childlike notions with the accountabilities of living in the world. While he lies in the bed of his dad, the boy gets a dream of the Christ, a “magical realism” (Agnon 8). He integrates his supernatural practicality of his juvenile and relates it to the function of mitzvot. As the boy grows up, his voice is augmented as the sounds of his parents diminish.

His parents are reprieved, shifting to the backdrop as his real individuality, his desires and thoughts shift to the forefront. During his father’s absence, the boy would spend the nights in his bed and think of the likelihood of the return of Messiah. The Messiah as the boy believed, having intermingled with beggars, was immediately set to be identified as the Redeemer and King.

In accordance with the boy, in the times that the Messiah would come back, his family could not have any distance separating them. Instead of journeys to work or to school, they would live together, matching together in the courts of deity (Balaban 424). The boy could keep a record of the times of the absence of his dad by attempting a fresh loop in his fringes, after waking up every morning.

The section outlined when the boy’s dad could come back from the fair is impressively gorgeous. This part carries the dream of the boy concerning his family, the value of closeness, and reverence, which are a radiance of light that grips the kids of a given family from cohort to cohort. The presents that the head of the family would bring home were valued, but temporary thus vanishing and lost after a moment (Balaban 425).

Past the contentment of his riches, the storyteller is somewhat taken by a kerchief that his dad gave to his mum. The boy’s mum wears the scarf on different occasions. Nevertheless, during the Bar Mitzvah (an initiation rite in Judaism indicating 13 years of age of a Jewish lad and representing the start of religious accountability) of the boy, the mother ties it perfectly around the neck of the boy as a symbol of reputation.

On the day of the ceremony, a beggar finds his way to the urban dwelling and he is avoided by everyone who gets near him. As the boy was on his way home, he meets the beggar and hands the exceptional kerchief to the beggar who uses it to cover his sores (Balaban 421-422).

When the boy gets home, his mum immediately assures him that instead of a punishment for handing the kerchief to the beggar, he is applauded in joy for his lovely deed. In this regard, the existence of his parents, his dream concerning splendor of loving and lasting affection of his family get strongly achieved.

The digit 13 is metaphoric of a custom in Judaism. It is a number that illustrates a given maturity, a signpost of the maturity of a child. This number also symbolizes the traits of God, as earlier comprehended from a biblical perspective. Additionally, in Judaism, there exist 13 standards of faith. In the story of “The kerchief” the boys appears to make his parents contented with his deeds, illustrating the lines delineated for him, which is just the same way as a person could complete a written Torah (Balaban 423).

The kerchief acquires a key and changing position in the attentiveness of the boy. The kerchief acts as the connection between the dad and mum and when the boy offers it to the beggar on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, the boy symbolizes Elijah, accomplishing a kind-hearted deed that could lead to redemption in the future.

In this regard, the boy embraces both the greatest ambitions of human lessons and every one of the Godly qualities, a principle that symbolizes the best of traditions in Judaism stranded by tight traditions and kind family. Torah satisfies the Talmud. Additionally, the Talmud satisfies the scientific investigation and finally, the whole story makes the traits of a well-built person.

From Lodging to Lodging

The importance of this story heightens with the remembrance that Agnon initially shifted to Palestine in 1908 at the time of the second occurrence of mass migration to Palestine that took place from around 1904 until the World War I started.

The aforementioned occurrence encompassed countless believers of Judaism that turned up not for the fact that they were idealists or Jewish backers of Zionism, but since riots and dire lack compelled them to (migration to Palestine was economical as compared to migration to America). The story commences with the narration of both winter and summer. The motives of sickness against those of well-being discussed at the beginning keep coming up throughout the story.

The lodgings rent out in Tel Aviv are very close to the main bus terminus (Vais 31). The noise at the terminus keeps the narrator awake during nighttime with the sleepiness making him weary throughout the day, in such a great way that he could not actually benefit from being near the sea. Escalating the sense of sickness, the reader learns that the landlord had a kid who after being abandoned by his mum, eats dirt and is in a very pitiful state.

The child cries through out the night. Even if flies could crawl over the wounds of the narrator, he was very tired to chase them away. The friends of the child’s father speak to him the way people speak to the ailing individuals.

Moreover, they persistently tell him to move from one lodging to another, especially because he seemed to hate being kept awake throughout the night in Tel Aviv (Hagbi 90-95). The narrator states that Talmud’s teachings point out that individuals must never keep moving from one quarter to another, but his pals ignored him and one of them searches new lodgings for him.

The lodgings are not just new, but as well ideal. In this regard, they symbolize the dreams of a restored, healthy Israel and healthy individuals. In this story, the small house is positioned on a grassy hill away from the rowdy residents of the city and in the vineyards grown by the landlord.

The portrayal of the house as well as nurturing of the land around it creates the metaphor of the resurgence of the land adored by the youthful Jewish innovators. The images of sickness and well-being keep occurring as the child’s father longs for the unique relaxation that he will experience when he gets into the house (Hoffman 147-148).

Meanwhile, prior to his doing so, he generates an illness of his eyes and he is cautioned against touching the eyes to prevent them from turning out to be worse. Nevertheless, when he goes back to the lodgings in Tel Aviv, the boy, who has sick eyes and unclean fingers, keep on touching the eyes of his father even after being stopped. The representation of the illness strongly differs with the speaker’s finding when walks to the roads:

I passed through the land and I saw that we had several more villages. Places that had produced only thistles and thorns had become like a garden of God. And like the land, so too the people were happy in their labors and rejoicing in building their land, their sons and daughters healthy and wholesome. Their hands were not soiled, and their eyes were not diseased (Agnon 18).

The fable of the goat

This story tells of an old man who falls sick and the sickness makes him get a severe and bad cough. As his treatment, the physicians prescribe the milk from a goat. The old man thus obtains a goat that demonstrates a queer pattern of conduct. Each day, the goat would disappear for a short time and come back with its udders filled with very sweet milk that calmed the cough.

Puzzled by this queer conduct, the son to the old man is determined to understand this occurrence (Hagbi 127). The son to the old man ties the goat with a very long rope and stealthily follows her. When he followed the goat by the rope, the goat directed him to a very lengthy cave. The journey through the cave landed them to the land of Israel. Turning his eyes about the land, the son saw an attractive land that looked like the Garden of Eden.

With the notice that he had reached the “promised land”, the son wrote a note to his dad directing him on the way to come after the goat on its way to this land. He attached this note at the ear of the goat as it started its journey back home. On seeing the goat without the company of his son, the old man assumed that the goat had led to the death of his son (Hagbi 129).

He thereby reacted with wrath and killed the goat, only to find the note when the goat is already dead. This story ends on a sad note of disconnection of the father from his son as the cave strangely vanished with the death of the goat. The father thus forever remains in exile.

The position of exile is represented as a sickness. A characteristic theme of exile from Israel in the bible as well as in the Jewish scriptures is a curse and reprimand. The affirmation of coughing from his heart rather than from his lungs symbolizes that the old man was not sick physically but psychologically (Hoffman 149-150). The reality that the milk carried by the goat originates from Israel and calms the coughing of the old man symbolizes Israel as a treatment to the psychological sickness of exile.

The journey to Israel through the cave is symbolic of a spiritual walk to the Promised Land. In Hebrew, the word cord used to represent the rope tied to the goat has a pronunciation of ‘Meshicha” that calculatedly is pronounced almost the same as the Hebrew term for Messiah. To accept to have a grip on the cord “then your journey will be secure, and you will enter the Land of Israel” (Agnon 23) represents a real messianic acceptance.


Shmuel Yosef was an author and a significant contributor in contemporary Jewish creative writing. As Yosef said, religious scriptures, Talmud and Torah, habitually influenced his writings. The stories of Agnon metaphorically signify and characterize the customs and traditions of Judaism. At the beginning of the story “Agunot”, Agnon utilizes metaphor that acts as a basis of the subsequent plot. It is from this story that the author gained his name “Agnon”.

The figure 13 in “Kerchief” is metaphoric of a tradition in Judaism. The lodgings in “From Lodging to Lodging” are not merely new, but as well perfect, symbolizing the dreams of a reinstated, healthy Israel and healthy persons. In “The fable of the goat”, the journey to Israel via the cave is symbolic of a divine walk to the Promised Land. As evident in this paper, the writings of Agnon embark upon conflicts in traditional living in Judaism, language and modern-day world.

Works Cited

Agnon, Shmuel Y. A book that was lost and other stories, California: Schoken, 1995. Print.

Balaban, Avraham. “A different reading of S. Y. Agnon’s story, “The kerchief.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 11.3 (2012): 419-425. Print.

Hagbi, Yaniv. Language, Absence, Play: Judaism and Superstructuralism in the Poetics of SY Agnon, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2009. Print.

Hoffman, Anne. “Language, Absence, Play: Judaism and Superstructuralism in the Poetics of SY Agnon.” European Journal of Jewish Studies 5.1 (2011): 147-150. Print.

Vais, Hilel. Agnon and Germany: The Presence of the German World in the Writings of SY Agnon, Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2010. Print.

Yefet, Karin. “Unchaining the Agunot: Enlisting the Israeli Constitutional in the Service of Women’s Marital Freedom.” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 20.1 (2008): 439-442. Print.

This essay on Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

certified writers online

Cite This paper

Select a citation style:


IvyPanda. (2019, September 14). Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/agnon-judaism-through-metaphors/

Work Cited

"Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors." IvyPanda, 14 Sept. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/agnon-judaism-through-metaphors/.

1. IvyPanda. "Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors." September 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/agnon-judaism-through-metaphors/.


IvyPanda. "Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors." September 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/agnon-judaism-through-metaphors/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors." September 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/agnon-judaism-through-metaphors/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Agnon: Judaism through Metaphors'. 14 September.

More related papers
Psst... Stuck with your
assignment? 😱
Psst... Stuck with your assignment? 😱
Do you need an essay to be done?
What type of assignment 📝 do you need?
How many pages (words) do you need? Let's see if we can help you!