Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970) was born in Buczacz, Eastern Galicia (now part of Ukraine). Yiddish was the language of his home, and Hebrew the language of the Bible and the Talmud which he studied formally until the age of nine. His knowledge of German literature came from his mother, and his love of the teachings of Maimonides and the Hassidim came from his father. In 1908 he left for Palestine, where, except for an extended stay in Germany from 1912 to 1924, he lived until his death.
Agnon began writing stories when he was quite young. His first major publication, Hakhnasat Kalah (The Bridal Canopy), 1922, re-creates the golden age of Hassidism, and his apocalyptic novel, Oreach Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night), 1939, depicts the ruin of Galicia after WWI. Much of Agnon’s other writing is set in Palestine. Israel’s early pioneers are portrayed in his epic Temol Shilshom (Only Yesterday), 1945, considered his greatest work, and in the surreal stories of Sefer Hamaasim (The Book of Deeds), 1932. Agnon also published work on the Jewish holy days Yamin Noraim (Days of Awe), 1938, on the giving of the Torah, Atem Reitem (Present at Sinai), 1959, and on the gathering of Hassidic lore, Sifreihem Shel Tzadikim (Books of the Righteous) and Sippurei HaBesht (Stories of the Baal Shem Tov), 1960-1961. Considered one of the greatest Hebrew writers, in 1966, Agnon was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the Director of Research at the Agnon House in Jerusalem and served as the Series Editor of The S.Y. Agnon Library at The Toby Press, now complete in 15 volumes. He is the founding director of The Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education, in Jerusalem, and its WebYeshiva.org program. Rabbi Saks was recently appointed as Editor of Tradition, the premier journal of Orthodox Jewish thought published in English. After earning his BA, MA, and rabbinic degrees from Yeshiva University, Rabbi Saks moved to Israel and has served on the faculties of several high schools and yeshivot, edited several books, and published widely on Jewish thought, education, and literature. Rabbi Saks lives in Efrat with his wife Ilana Goldstein Saks and their four children.