Mintz’s commitment to Hebrew literature came through powerfully in his writing.
Last week, the field of Jewish Studies lost an influential scholar whose work leaves a lasting impression on the study of Hebrew literature. Alan Mintz passed away on May 20, just a few weeks before the planned publication of his latest book, a major critical study of S.Y. Agnon’s A City in Its Fullness.
We at Stanford University Press were grateful for the opportunity to work with Alan Mintz, whose intellectual commitment to interpreting and advocating for the importance of Hebrew literature came through powerfully in his writing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the larger community of Alan’s colleagues, students, friends, and family who will keenly feel his loss.
Here, we share remembrances of Alan from current and former editors of the Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture series who worked with Alan throughout the years.
—STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
As editors and former editors of the Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture series, we are shocked and deeply saddened at the untimely death of Alan Mintz. Shortly before his death, he received the first copies of his latest—and, now, last—book, Ancestral Tales: Reading the Buczacz Stories of S.Y. Agnon, which we are honored to publish in our series. Israel’s Nobel-Prize winning author S.Y. Agnon had become Alan’s scholarly interest in recent years. In 2014, we published a translation of Agnon’s The Parable and its Lesson for which Alan wrote a critical introduction. He had planned to continue his work on Agnon by spending time this summer in Leipzig, Germany, where Agnon took up residence before he left Germany. Alan was deeply committed to making Agnon better known in the English-speaking world because he believed that this great Hebrew writer had profound relevance beyond the State of Israel.
SUP also published Alan’s Sanctuary in the Wilderness: A Critical Introduction to Hebrew Poetry (2011). The range of Alan’s publications going back nearly forty years is remarkable. He began his career in the field of English literature and published a book on George Eliot, but soon switched his focus to Hebrew literature. His publications are too numerous to mention, but they include Hurban: Responses to Catastrophe in Hebrew Literature, Banished From Their Father’s Table: Loss of Faith in Hebrew Biography, a study of Hebrew in America, and another on popular culture and Holocaust memory in America.
Alan founded several journals, most notably Prooftexts, which he edited for many years with David Roskies. He was one of the leaders of the Jewish student movement in the 1960s and was among the founders of the New York Havurah. He taught at Columbia, Brandeis and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Alan was a literary scholar of refined sensibility. He brought to the study of Hebrew literature the sophisticated tools he had acquired as a student of English literature. He was deeply humane, thoughtful and tolerant, even as he adhered to quiet principle. His loss will be felt throughout the field of Jewish Studies.
co-editor (with Sarah Abrevaya Stein)
of Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture
I first met Alan in his early 30s but he seemed far older, situated already with a gravitas that I found slightly off-putting. There was a certain stiffness with which he carried himself, a precocious maturity that clashed as I then saw it with the rough-and-tumble Upper West Side of the late ’70s where I had come from California to write my dissertation. He already taught at Columbia; I spent my days and nights translating Russian sources in a clammy flat on 89th and West End. I ran into him, from time to time on the street, or the library. We were acquaintances, scarcely from the same generation it seemed although just four or five years apart in age.
I managed to retain much the same impression for years and came to learn I was dead wrong. The tweediness I sensed was certainly there, but skin-deep. Just beneath was a deeply caring, intense man who threw himself into so many good things of mind and heart. His preoccupation with the intellectual timbre of Jewish life was life-long, it burned in him with a special devotion to the centrality of Hebrew that he mastered so well and promulgated with unrestrained passion in books, and lectures, and in educational projects in the States and abroad. He knew well how to disagree—we tended to disagree on the trajectory of Israeli politics—making his case always with a measure of subtlety and vigor that was as beguiling as it was humane.
There was, above all, a true sweetness to Alan. This helps explain the shock so many of us feel at his sudden passing. Knowing him better over years, I found myself drawn in by a profound human quality in him I failed to see when younger. Meeting him would now give me a certain, distinctive joy, the sense that the world was a somewhat better place with him in it. And as time went on, he would ever continue to ripen intellectually, deepening his already superb repertoire, this a reminder of what it means to build as an academic on foundational knowledge while moving beyond it. Alan Mintz was a truly wise man, and a very good man, and someone who leaves the world—and those who came to care about him—richer and better and also sadder.
co-founder and former co-editor (with Aron Rodrigue)
of Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture