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Jacob Frank in His Time and Ours: Prof. Pawel Maciejko on the Historical Contexts of Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob

April 10 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Free
Online, N/A, Portland, OR 97207

The 2022 Lorry I. Lokey Program at Portland State University Presents:

Jacob Frank in His Time and Ours: Prof. Pawel Maciejko on the Historical Contexts of Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob 

In 2014, the Polish Nobel-prizewinning author Olga Tokarczuk published her epic novel The Books of Jacob about Jacob Frank, a real-life messianic leader in eighteenth-century Poland. Pawel Maciejko is an internationally recognized authority on the history of Jacob Frank. Join us for Prof. Maciejko’s scholarly response to the question: How does history inform Tokarczuk’s novel and our reading of it? There will be a question and answer period following Prof. Maciejko’s talk.

Jacob Frank was a religious charismatic who claimed to be the messiah. In 1759 he led his Jewish followers into Catholic baptism. For historian Gershom Scholem, Frank was “a truly corrupt and degenerate individual….a man who was not afraid to push on to the very end, to take the final step into the abyss.” Tokarczuk’s novelistic imagination of Frank and his followers brings us into the landscapes of eighteenth-century Poland, Ukraine, and Turkey, and the fears and hopes of dozens of characters that resonate unsettlingly today.

Register free on our Zoom registration page

Pawel Maciejko, DPhil, Associate Professor, Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Chair in Classical Jewish Religion, Thought, and Culture, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University.

Prof. Maciejko is an internationally recognized authority on the history of Jacob Frank. His academic career began in the early 1990s at the University of Warsaw, followed by advanced degrees at Oxford and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago. Prof. Maciejko taught on the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem until 2016, and currently holds the Stulman Chair in Classical Judaism at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816, which won the Polonsky Prize from Hebrew University, the Salo Baron Prize from the American Academy of Jewish Research, and the Jordan Schnitzer Prize from the Association of Jewish Studies. He is currently working on a project concerning heresy and conversion to Christianity in modern Jewish history.

About the book, “The Books of Jacob” by Olga Tokarczuk:

The latest novel by the Polish Nobel Prize winner to appear in English is a behemoth, both in size and subject matter: At nearly 1,000 pages, the book tackles the mysteries of heresy and faith, organized religion and splinter sects, 18th-century Polish and Lithuanian history, and some of the finer points of cabalist and Hasidic theology. At its center is the historical figure Jacob Frank, who, in the mid-1750s, was believed to be the Messiah by a segment of Jews in what is now Ukraine. Jacob preached that the end times had come and that morality, as embodied by the Ten Commandments, had been turned on its head. He led his followers to convert first to Islam and then, later, to Christianity. He himself was accused of heresy by all three major groups.

Tokarczuk’s account is made up of short sections that alternate among various points of view. These include some of Jacob’s followers, a bishop with a gambling problem, a noblewoman who self-interestedly supports the “Contra-Talmudists’ ” attempt to convert to Christianity, and Jacob’s grandmother Yente, who is neither dead nor entirely alive, a state that allows her consciousness to roam widely, observing the novel’s action. Gritty details about the realities of daily life at the time alternate with dense passages in which Jacob’s followers argue about theology. “The struggle is about leaving behind that point where we divide everything into evil and good,” one says, “light and darkness, getting rid of all those foolish divisions and from there starting a new order all over again.” The book (which has been beautifully translated into English by Croft) has been widely hailed as Tokarczuk’s magnum opus, and it will likely take years, if not decades, to begin to unravel its rich complexities.

– Kirkus

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/olga-tokarczuk/the-books-of-jacob/

Moderator:

Michael Weingrad, Professor of Judaic Studies, Portland State University, is the author of American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in the United States and the editor and translator of Letters to America: Selected Poems of Reuven Ben-Yosef. He is a regular contributor to the Jewish Review of Books and Mosaic magazine. He is currently working on a book about Jews and fantasy literature. A selection of his recent writing can be found at www.investigationsandfantasies.com.

[More Information Here]