The Infrahuman

Animality in Modern Jewish Literature

By Noam Pines

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Literary Criticism, Religion, Hebrew Language And Literature, Literature
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438470672, 202 pages, August 2018
Paperback : 9781438470665, 202 pages, July 2019

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Table of contents

Introduction: Between Figure and Creature

1. Life in The Valley: The Jewish Dog in Heinrich Heine’s “Prinzessin Sabbat”

2. A Radical Advocacy: Suffering Jews and Animals in S. Y. Abramovitsh’s Di Kliatshe

3. Into the Bowels of the Earth: Prophecy and Animality in the Poetry of Hayim Nachman Bialik
and Uri Zvi Greenberg

4. At Home in a Distorted Life: The Dog as a Constellation in the Work of Franz Kafka

5. After the Holocaust: Responses to the Infrahuman in the Works of S. Y. Agnon and Paul Celan


Argues that Jewish writers used depictions of Jews as animals to question prevalent notions of Jewish identity.


The Infrahuman explores a little-known aspect in major works of Jewish literature from the period preceding World War II, in which Jewish writers in German, Hebrew, and Yiddish employed figures of animals in pejorative depictions of Jews and Jewish identity. Such depictions are disturbing because they sometimes rival common anti-Semitic stereotypes, and have often been explained away as symptoms of Jewish self-hatred. In this book, Noam Pines shows how animality emerged in Jewish literature not as a biological or conceptual category, but as a theological figure of exclusion from a state of humanity and Christianity alike. By framing the human-animal question in theological terms rather than in racial-biological terms, writers such as Heinrich Heine, S. Y. Abramovitsh, Hayim Nachman Bialik, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Franz Kafka, S. Y. Agnon, and Paul Celan subjected the pejorative designations of Jewish identity to literary elaboration and to philosophical negotiation.

Noam Pines is Assistant Professor in the Department of Jewish Thought at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.


"A work of stunning originality. Noam Pines revisits texts across the expanse of European and modern Jewish culture, excavating a preoccupation with Jewish animality that is no less illuminating than it is unsettling." — Steven J. Zipperstein, author of Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History

"In this scrupulous and subtle book, Noam Pines shines new light on how animality, a well-worn theological figure of exclusion, can be seen afresh as a leitmotif of the intimate dialogue Jewish writers conducted with European literary traditions. With an exceptionally sure touch, Pines tracks this motif from Zionist literature through the postwar responses to Kafka's legacy. The Infrahuman is a profound and highly commendable achievement." — Vivian Liska, author of When Kafka Says We: Uncommon Communities in German-Jewish Literature and German-Jewish Thought and Its Afterlife: A Tenuous Legacy

"The Infrahuman starts readers on an important journey from a place where we construct identities out of the cultural material that we would invent if that material had not already been provided: dichotomies (animal/human, Christian/Jew), other forms, images, things. Pines's powerful readings of Heine, Abramovitsh, Bialik, Greenberg, Kafka, Agnon, and Celan may not teach us how to remember other alternatives, but they do call us to be attentive to the identificatory incapacities that have helped us forget how to live." — David Metzger, coeditor of Chasing Esther: Jewish Expressions of Cultural Difference