This study looks at the peculiar absence of romance in the modern Hebrew novel for the first one hundred years since its emergence in the mid-nineteenth century.
The development of modern European literature, especially the English novel, is strongly linked to the secularization of Christian ideals of love from the devotion to God to the devotion between men and women. As demonstrated by many nineteenth century novels, love, especially erotically focused love, was often portrayed as bearing meaning, value, hope, and even transcendence in an increasingly secular, bourgeois, and capitalist age.
But not so for Jews. Modern Jewish literature from the same period was curiously different in that erotic faith played marginal role in it. This despite the fact that Hebrew and Yiddish were as European as their Slavic, Germanic, and Romance sister literatures, and were shaped by similar forces. The absence of love as a redemptive force in Hebrew literature becomes even more peculiar if we consider the instrumental role literature played in the Hebrew enlightenment and the pivotal role it had in acculturating Jews to modernity. The study examines this paradox and tries to suggest some ways to understand why Hebrew writers under-used a fundamental literary device that was not only artistically viable and commercially successful, but also ideologically central to European modernism.