The Secular RabbiPhilip Rahv and Partisan Review

The Secular RabbiPhilip Rahv and Partisan Review

Doris Kadish

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9781800859661

Publisher: Liverpool University Press


The Secular Rabbi is an intellectual biography of Philip Rahv, co-founder of Partisan Review. It focuses on the ambivalent ties that Rahv, a Russian immigrant, retained to his Jewish cultural background. Drawing on letters Rahv wrote to her mother from 1928 to 1931, Doris Kadish delves into Rahv’s complex and enigmatic character, his experience teaching Hebrew in Savannah, GA and Portland, OR; his attitudes toward class, race, and gender. Kadish positions herself in relation to Rahv in attempting to understand her own Jewish identity and perspective as a 21st century woman. The book draws on historical accounts, genealogical records, memoirs by Rahv’s friends and associates, interviews, and secondary scholarship devoted to the New York intellectuals, the history of Partisan Review, and Jewish studies. Key components of Rahv’s Jewishness—appearance, voice, name, attitudes toward Yiddish and Zionism—are explored, as is his deep-seated faith in Marxism. Textual analyses of Rahv’s works are interwoven with analyses of writers whose works appeared in Partisan Review: Delmore Schwartz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow. Rahv’s relations with writers who figured prominently in his life—most notably T.S. Eliot, Mary McCarthy, and Irving Howe—are explored. Events relating to anti-Stalinism, responses to the Holocaust, and alleged ties with the CIA, are discussed. Kadish sheds light on modernism, proletarian literature, and Jewish writing as well as movements that defined American political history in the 20th century: immigration, socialism, Communism, fascism, the cold war, feminism, and the New Left.