The Third Pillar
Essays in Judaic Studies
"This is Geoffrey Hartman's best and most insightful book."—Elie Wiesel
"In the form, substance, intellectual brio, and imaginative reach of these essays, Geoffrey Hartman has no peer. And to say it (almost) otherwise: in learning and in originality, two characteristics that are only very rarely found paired, Geoffrey Hartman is matchless. You may read him solely as a scholar if you wish, but once you stir in the 'creative,' you will have something or someone else: a poet. In these essays, Hartman as innate poet speaks to readers: to readers of poetry, to discerners of bottomless ideas, to you and to me."—Cynthia Ozick
Why should we be excluded from the history and literature of Judaism because the world of our fathers and mothers became a secularized one, Geoffrey Hartman asks, or because religious literacy, whatever our faith or community affiliation, has gone into relative decline? And why, he asks, do those who have no trouble finding pleasure and intellectual profit in the Greek and Roman classics or in the literary and artistic productions of two millennia of Western Christianity not easily find equal resonance and reward in the major texts in the Jewish tradition? For if Christianity and the classical inheritance stand as two pillars of Western civilization, surely the third pillar is the Jewish tradition.
In The Third Pillar Hartman, one of the most influential scholars and teachers of English and comparative literature of recent decades, has brought together some of the most important and eloquent essays he has written since the 1980s on the major texts of the Jewish tradition. In three groupings, on Bible, Midrash, and education, Hartman clarifies the relevance of contemporary literary criticism to canonical texts in the tradition, while demonstrating what has been—and what still remains to be—learned from the Midrash to enrich the interpretation of commentary and art, sacred or secular. "The map of the discipline [of Jewish studies] is still being drawn," Hartman writes. "Barely known areas tempt the explorer, and major reinterpretations remain possible. This third pillar of our civilization . . . is only now being fully excavated: we have discovered something but not everything about its structure and upholding function."
Geoffrey Hartman is Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature and Faculty Advisor to the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. Among his many books are Beyond Formalism and Criticism in the Wilderness. The Geoffrey Hartman Reader, which he coedited with Daniel T. O'Hara, was awarded the 2006 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism.