Reuven Snir

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Reuven Snir, 2009

Reuven Snir (Hebrew: ראובן שניר‎; born 1953) is an Israeli Jewish academic, Professor of Arabic language and Arabic literature at the University of Haifa, Dean of Humanities, and a translator of poetry between Arabic, Hebrew, and English. He is the winner of the Tchernichovsky Prize for translation (2014).


Reuven Snir was born in Haifa to a family which had immigrated from Baghdad in 1951. The language spoken at home between his parents was the Iraqi spoken Arabic, but as a Sabra – a native-born Israeli Jew – Hebrew was his mother tongue, while Arabic was for him, as dictated by the Israeli-Zionist educational system, the language of the enemy, furthermore, Arabness and Jewishness were considered as mutually exclusive. [1]

He was educated at the Nirim School in Mahne David, a transit camp (ma‘barah) established near Haifa for the immigrating Arab Jews. Then he moved to the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa. He obtained his M.A. from the Hebrew University (1982) for a thesis which included edition of an ascetic manuscript entitled Kitāb al-Zuhd by al-Mu‘afa ibn ‘Imran from the 8th century. [2]

In 1987, he was granted Ph.D. for a dissertation written at the same university about the mystical dimensions in modern Arabic poetry. [3]

While studying at the Hebrew University, he served as a senior news editor, at the Voice of Israel, Arabic Section (1977–1988). Between 2000-2004, he served as the Chair of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Haifa. Since 1996, he has been serving as an Associate Editor of the Arabic-language journal Al-Karmil – Studies in Arabic Language and Literature. He participated in the international exhibition in honor of the Syrian poet and literary scholar Adunis held at the Institut du monde arabe in Paris, which resulted in the publication of Adonis: un poète dans le monde d’aujourd’hui 1950-2000 (Paris: Institut du monde arabe, 2000). [4]

He served as a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2004–2005), Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (2000 and 2008), and taught at Heidelberg University (2002) and Freie Universität Berlin (2005). Following a course he gave in Berlin, his students published the first collection of short stories by Iraqi Jews translated into German. [5]

Research interests[edit]

Since the start of his academic career, Snir has concentrated on several subjects stemming from one comprehensive research plan in an attempt to investigate the internal dynamics of the Arabic literary system, the interrelations and interactions between its various sectors, such as the canonical and non-canonical sub-systems, and the external relationships with other non-literary systems (e.g. religious, social, national, and political) and with foreign cultural systems. Another central theoretical axis of Snir’s studies, especially during the last decade, is the issue of identity based on what has been argued in the theoretical discourse of cultural studies that identities are subject to a radical historicization, and are constantly in the process of change and transformation and they are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being: not “who we are” or “where we came from”, so much as what we might become, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourself.


Snir has been publishing in English, Arabic and Hebrew. The following are the topics about which he published his major studies: [6]

The Modern Arabic Literary System[edit]

An Operative Functional Dynamic Historical Model for the Study of Arabic Literature Based on the assumption that no literary critic can deal systematically with literary phenomena without relating them, either implicitly or explicitly, to some framework of facts or ideas, Snir published studies outlining a theoretical framework that would make possible the comprehensive analysis of all the diverse texts that make up modern Arabic literature. [7] These studies led to a book length study on the topic. [8]

Among the chapters of the book: “The Modern Arabic Literary System,” which refers to the topic of popular literature and its legitimation; “The Literary Dynamics in the Synchronic Crosssection,” which presents both the canonical and the noncanonical literature on three levels texts for adult, for children and the translated texts, with a summary of the internal and external interrelationships; and “Outlines of the Diachronic Intersystemic Development,” examines the issue of the diachronic interactions that obtain between the literary system and various other literary as well as extra-literary systems.

His last book is Modern Arabic Literature: A Theoretical Framework, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017

The Iraqi Poet ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati (1926-1999)[edit]

Poetry was once the principal channel of literary creativity among the Arabs and served as their chronicle and public register, recording their very appearance on the stage of history. During the second half of the 20th century however the novel became the leading genre. This change in the status of literary genres is not exclusive to Arabic literature and has much to do with the hermetic nature of modernist poetry, which has become self-regarding and employs obscure imagery and very subjective language. In an attempt to present the great change that occurs in Arabic poetry during the 20th century, Snir published a study of the poetry of the Iraqi poet ‘Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati, one of the standard bearers of modern Arabic poetry. [9]

The meaning of the title of the book is based on an utterance by the Persian mystic and forerunner of Sufism, al-Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj who was executed in 922. following his preaching which was considered as blasphemy. Al-Azhar University in Cairo banned the circulation of the book for what was described as defaming Islam by titling the study with a reference to an utterance which might be interpreted as heresy. [10] [11]

Arab-Jewish Identity and Culture[edit]

Since the late 1980s, Snir has been investigating Arab-Jewish identity against the backdrop of the gradual demise of Arab-Jewish culture. Until the 20th century, the great majority of the Jews under the rule of Islam adopted Arabic as their language; now Arabic is gradually disappearing as a language mastered by Jews. In his studies on the topic he has referred to a kind of unspoken agreement between the two national movements, Zionism and Arab nationalism – each with the mutually exclusive support of a divine authority – to perform a total cleansing of Arab-Jewish culture. Both of them have excluded the hybrid Arab-Jewish identity and highlighted instead a “pure” Jewish-Zionist identity against a “pure” Muslim-Arab one. In the modern period, Jews were nowhere as open to participation in the wider modern Arab culture as in Iraq, where the Jewish community had lived without interruption for two and a half millennia. In his major study in the field, Snir has provided a documented history of the modern Arab culture of Iraqi Jews.[12]

Apart from the Hebrew book, Snir has published in recent years articles about various aspects of Arab Jewish culture, chronicling the demise of that culture. The following are the major areas of his research in this field: Arab-Jewish culture and journalism,[13] the cultural Arabic activities of Iraqi Jews,[14] and the Egyptian Jews and their conflicting cultural tendencies.[15][16]

The Emergence and Development of Palestinian Theatre[edit]

One of Snir’s major research projects has been the investigation of the development of Palestinian theatre. His first contribution in the field was included in a special volume of Contemporary Theatre Review on “Palestinians and Israelis in the Theatre.” [17]

In 2005 he published a book which summarized his findings. The study endeavors to outline the historical development of Palestinian dramatic literature and theatre from its hesitant rise before 1948 and the first theatrical attempts, to the heavy blow which these attempts suffered as a result of the establishment of the State of Israel, to regeneration of the professional theatre out of the ashes of the 1967 defeat, through to the activities of the 1970s and the role they played in Palestinian nation-building.

Religion, Mysticism and Modern Arabic Literature[edit]

The connections between Arabic literature and Islamic mysticism were in the centre of some of Snir’s investigations and publications. In 2005 he summarized his findings in a book which deals with the synchronic status of traditional literature in the literary system and the diachronic relationship between Arabic literature and Islam in modern times. Also, within the generic cross-section, it deals with the mystical theme in Arabic poetry, its literary and extra-literary concretization in the writings of one author, and its materialization in one text. [18]

Arabic Science Fiction[edit]

As the study of non-canonical texts (i.e. those literary works that have been rejected by the dominant circles as illegitimate) and their relationship with canonical texts is essential if we wish to arrive at an adequate understanding of the historical development of Arabic literature, he has undertaken to explore the genre of science fiction and the process of its canonization in Arabic literature. [19]

The Poetry of Mahmud Darwish[edit]

Concentrating broadly on how Palestinian poetry has been chronicling the nakba (the catastrophe of 1948) and its unending agonies, Snir has studied a specific chronicle of the Palestinian people in the mid-1980s against the backdrop of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and prior to the outbreak of the first intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, it is a chronicle undertaken by a single poet, Mahmud Darwish (1941–2008) mainly in one collection, Ward Aqall [Fewer Roses] (1986), and more specifically in one poem, “Other Barbarians Will Come”. [20] [21]

Entries in Encyclopedias[edit]

Snir served as a Contributing Editor for Encyclopedia of Modern Jewish Culture (London & New York: Routledge, 2005) for which he has contributed the entries on Arab-Jewish culture. He also contributed to several other international encyclopedia. [22]


Translations into Arabic

Snir’s translations of Hebrew poetry into Arabic were published in Mifgash-Liqa’ (Israel), Farādīs (Paris), and on the Internet, such as in An anthology of Hebrew poetry translated into Arabic was published on the Internet. [23]

He also published a collection of translated poems by two Hebrew poets, Ronny Someck and Amir Or. [24]

Translations into Hebrew

Adonis, Maftah Pe‘ulut ha-Ruah (Index of the Acts of the Wind (Tel Aviv: Keshev, 2012)

Mahmud Darwish ― 50 Shenot Shira (Mahmud Darwish ― 50 Years of Poetry) (Tel Aviv: Keshev, 2015)

Translations of Arabic literature, especially poetry, into Hebrew were published in literary supplements, magazines and books (Helikon, Moznaim, ‘Iton 77, Mifgash-Liqa’, Ha’aretz, Ma‘ariv, Al HaMishmar).

Translations into English

Reuven Snir, Baghdad ― The City in Verse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013)

External links[edit]



  1. ^ “‘Arabs of the Mosaic Faith’: Chronicle of a Cultural Extinction Foretold,” Die Welt des Islam 46.1 (2006), pp. 43-60.
  2. ^ Ibn ‘Imran, al-Mu‘afa. MS. 359. Kitab al-Zuhd (Damascus: al-Zahiriyya). The thesis is still unpublished.
  3. ^ Mystical Dimensions in Modern Arabic Poetry 1940-1980 [Hebrew], Hebrew University, 1997, 559+31. The dissertation has not been published yet.
  4. ^ The Arabic version: al-Daw’ al-Mashriqi: Adunis ka-ma Yarahu Mufakkirun wa-Shu‘ara’ ‘Alamiyyun [The Eastern Light: Adunis in the Eye of International Intellectuals and Poets] (Damascus: Dar al-Tali‘a, 2004).
  5. ^ Angelika Neuwirth and Nesrin Jamoud (eds.), Zieh fort aus deiner Heimat, dem Land deiner Väter; Arabische Prosa irakisch-jüdischer Autoren in Israel: Kurzgeschichten von Shloma Darwisch und Samir Naqqash (Berlin: Schiler Hans Verlag, 2007)
  6. ^ [For his list of publications see]
  7. ^ For example, “Synchronic and Diachronic Dynamics in Modern Arabic Literature,” in: S. Ballas and R. Snir (eds.), Studies in Canonical and Popular Arabic Literature (Toronto: York Press, 1998), pp. 87-121.
  8. ^ Modern Arabic Literature: A Functional Dynamic Historical Model (Toronto: York Press, 2001).
  9. ^ In the original: رؤوبين سنير، ركعتان في العشق: دراسة في شعر عبد الوهاب البياتي (بيروت: دار الساقي، ٢٠٠٢). Rak‘atan fi al-‘Ishq: Dirasa fī Shi‘r ‘Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati [Two Rak‘as in Love: A Study of ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati’s Poetry] (Beirut: Dar al-Saqi, 2002).
  10. ^ al-Azhar Banns Three Books in Poetry, History, and Politics[permanent dead link], Religious Censorship: Violence by Proxy [1] al-Azhar Banns Three Books in Poetry, History, and Politics {How the Writers have Treated the Sacred: The Lawful and the Prohibited in Arabic Literature}
  11. ^ Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati on the Operating Table of an Israeli-Iraqi Scholar
  12. ^ ‘Arviyut, Yahadut, Tsiyonut: Ma’avak Zehuyot ba-Yetsira shel Yehude ‘Iraq [Arabness, Jewishness, Zionism: A Struggle of Identities in the Literature of Iraqi Jews] (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2005). See also his last book Who Needs Arab-Jewish Identity? Interpellation, Exclusion, and Inessential Solidarities (Leiden: Brill, 2015).
  13. ^ For example: “‘Ana min al-Yahud’: The Demise of Arab-Jewish Culture in the 20th century,” Archiv Orientální 74 (2006), pp. 387-424.)
  14. ^ For example:“‘Religion is for God, the Fatherland is for Everyone’: Arab-Jewish Writers in Modern Iraq and the Clash of Narratives after their Immigration to Israel,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.3 (2006), pp. 379-399)
  15. ^ For example: “Arabness, Egyptianess, Zionism, and Cosmopolitanism: The Arabic Cultural and Journalistic Activities of Egyptian Jews in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Orientalia Suecana 55 (2006), pp. 133-164; and the clash of narratives in Israel
  16. ^ For example: “‘Till Spring Comes’: Arabic and Hebrew Literary Debates among Iraqi-Jews in Israel (1950-2000), Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 24.2 (2006), pp. 92-123]
  17. ^ “Palestinian Theatre: Historical Development and Contemporary Distinctive Identity,” Contemporary Theatre Review 3.2 (1995), pp. 29-73.
  18. ^ "Religion, Mysticism and Modern Arabic Literature (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
  19. ^ “The Emergence of Science Fiction in Arabic literature,” Der Islam 77.2 (2000), pp. 263-285.
  20. ^ “Other Barbarians Will Come”: Intertextuality, Meta-Poetry, and Meta-Myth in Mahmud Darwish’s Poetry,” in: Hala Khamis Nassar and Najat Rahman (eds.), Mahmoud Darwish, Exile’s Poet : Critical Essays (Northampton, MA : Interlink Books, 2008), pp. 123-166.
  21. ^ Review: LYNNE ROGERS,A Critical Tribute to the Poet of Exile[permanent dead link], Al Jadid, Vol. 15, no. 60 (2009)
  22. ^ The Encyclopedias are: Encyclopedia of Modern Middle East (New York: Simon & Schuster MacMillan, 1996); Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (London: Routledge, 1998); Jewish Writers of the 20th century (New York & London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003); Encyclopedia of Modern Jewish Culture (London & New York: Routledge, 2005); “Secular Jewish-Arab Culture and Literature” [Hebrew], in: Yirmiyahu Yovel (ed.), Zman Yehudi Ḥadash: Tarbut Yehudit be-‘Idan Ḥiloni – Mabbat Intsklopedi [New Jewish Time: Jewish Culture in a Secular Age – An Encyclopedic View] (Jerusalem: Keter, 2007), pp. 198-206.; Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World (in press)
  23. ^ Antulujya al-Shi‘r al-Isra’ili al-Mu‘asir [Anthology of Modern Israeli Poetry] (translation and Introduction), (first published on the Internet 28.8.04). Part I, Part II
  24. ^ Ronny Someck and Amir Or, Poésie israélienne contemporaine (traduction et introduction par Reuven Snir) (Paris: Farādīs, 1996), 67 pp.