||This volume is the German translation of Agnon's first book, Ve-Hayah he-Akov le-Mishor. Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Czaczkes, Samuel Josef; 1888–1970), Hebrew writer whose works deal with major contemporary spiritual concerns: the disintegration of traditional ways of life, the loss of faith, and the subsequent loss of identity. His many tales about pious Jews are an artistic attempt to recapture a waning tradition. He was born in Buczacz, Galicia, where his father, an erudite follower of the Hasidic rebbe of Chortkov, was a fur merchant. Rabbinic and Hasidic traditions as well as general European culture influenced the home. Agnon's education was mainly private and irregular. He learned aggadah from his father; read much of the literature of the Galician maskilim; and heard stories of German literature from his mother. He studied German and Talmud with tutors and Hasidic literature in the synagogue of the Chortkov Hasidim, and later read German and Scandinavian writers. He began writing at the age of eight in Hebrew and in Yiddish. In 1903 he published his first work, a Yiddish poem on Joseph Della Reina and a rhymed "haskamah" (preface) in Hebrew to Zevi Judah Gelbard's Minhat Yehudah. In 1904 he began to publish regularly in Cracow, first poetry and then prose, in Ha-Mizpeh. In 1906 and 1907, he also contributed several poems and stories in Yiddish, primarily to Der Juedische Wecker, which appeared in his own town. Up to his departure from Buczacz he published some 70 pieces in both languages - poems, stories, essays, addresses, etc. that were occasionally signed Czaczkes but more often appeared under a pseudonym. His most comprehensive Yiddish work of that period, Toytn-Tants (1911), attests to the development of his literary talent and to a definite affinity to German neo-romanticism. But once he left Buczacz he no longer wrote in Yiddish.
When Agnon left for Erez Israel, in 1907, he was already a well-known young author. His emigration removed him from shtetl life which no longer answered his spiritual needs and placed him in the midst of a new and evolving creative Hebrew literary center. However, he was atypical of the pioneers of the Second Aliyah; those who espoused the "conquest of labor" considered him bourgeois, while the Russian Jews scorned him as a Galician. He supported himself by tutoring and occasional literary efforts. He also worked intermittently in a number of clerical positions and resided in both Jaffa and in Jerusalem. While he abandoned his religious practices during these years, he was not completely identified with the modernism of the new settlers. On the contrary, he was charmed by the old yishuv and was drawn more and more to Jerusalem, where the Jewish historical milieu nurtured his creative imagination. In Agunot ("Forsaken Wives"), his first story published in Palestine during the Jaffa period (Ha-Omer, Fall, 1908), he first used the pseudonym "Agnon"; and in 1924 it became his official family name. Many other stories followed (appearing mostly in Ha-Poel ha-Za'ir). Although most of his works from this period are unknown, those few that were later republished, such as Agunot, were radically reedited by Agnon. One of his stories, Ve-Hayah he-Akov le-Mishor was republished separately by J. H. Brenner (1912) and became his first book.
Like many of his youthful contemporaries, Agnon was drawn to Germany. Arriving in midsummer of 1913 he remained there until the fall of 1924. His presence in Germany during those years was a major influence on Zionist youth, who found in him a change from the accepted circle of Hebrew writers in Germany, who were contemptuous of Agnon and his style. During his first years in Germany he supported himself by tutoring and by editing for the Juedischer Verlag with Aaron Eliasberg. Finally he met the wealthy businessman S. Schocken who became his admirer, supporter, and publisher. In Berlin and Leipzig he associated with Jewish scholars and Zionist officials. He read widely in German and French (in German translation) literature and expanded his knowledge of Judaica. He also began to acquire and collect valuable and rare Hebrew books. Some of his stories, in the German translation of M. Strauss, appeared in Martin Buber's journal, Der Jude, and spread his fame among German Jews. The most productive of Agnon's creative years in Germany were spent at Wiesbaden and Homburg near Frankfort. He was unburdened by the quest for livelihood: during the inflationary years he lived quite comfortably, as did other Hebrew writers of that day, due to the support of A. Stybel. In Homburg he was a member of a circle of Hebrew writers. He also began to prepare with M. Buber a collection of Hasidic stories and lore. However, this radiant period ended in 1924, when fire swept his home and destroyed most of his books and manuscripts, including Bi-Zeror ha-Hayyim ("In the Bond of Life," whose imminent publication by Stybel had already been announced), a long novel depicting the flow of modern Jewish history against an autobiographical background. The destruction by fire of his writings makes it difficult to assess the scope of his creativity in this crucial period. In 1924, Agnon returned to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. In the riots of 1929, his home in the Talpiyyot suburb was plundered and many books and rare manuscripts dealing with the history of the Jewish settlement in Palestine were destroyed.
The first edition of Agnon's collected works in four volumes (1931) included selected stories published until mid 1929, as well as the second version of Hakhnasat Kallah (The Bridal Canopy, 1937), which had been lengthened to a novel. This folk-epic was recognized as one of the cornerstones of modern Hebrew literature, and the entire collection established Agnon as one of its central figures.
Agnon collected some of his stories in two volumes Samukh ve-Nireh (1951) and Ad Hennah (1952); re-edited Hakhnasat Kallah, Ore'ah Natah Lalun and Temol Shilshom, and, in 1953, published the second edition of his collected works in seven volumes (an eighth volume, Ha-Esh ve-ha-Ezim was published in 1962). However many stories were omitted. With the publication of this last edition, the scope of his writings could be evaluated for the first time: novels, folktales and "existentialist" stories. Following the appearance of the 1953 edition, Agnon published about half a dozen new short works every year, mainly in the Israel newspaper Haaretz, the majority of them dealing with Buczacz. As separate books he published Attem Re'item, a collection of rabbinic dicta related to the revelation at Sinai (1959), and Sifreihem shel Zaddikim, tales about the books of the Ba'al Shem Tov and of his disciples (1961). The modern nightmarish theme is evidenced during these years, by the stories, Ad Olam (1954; Forevermore. 1961), Hadom ve-Kisse (1958), Ha-Neshikah ha-Rishonah (1963), and Le-Ahar ha-Se'udah (1963). Agnon received many awards including the Israel Prize (in 1954 and 1958). The crowning honor was the Nobel Prize for Literature (1966), the first granted to a Hebrew writer.