Brinker, Hebrew scholar, honored with literary award, Israel Prize
By Seth Sanders
Menachem Brinker, the Henry Crown Professor of Modern Hebrew Language and Literature in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the College, has been awarded this year’s Israel Prize for Hebrew and General Literary Research. Brinker received the prize along with the folklorist Dov Noy, Brinker’s former teacher at Hebrew University.
“Menachem Brinker brought distinction to the University when he began teaching here in 1995 as the first Henry Crown Professor of Modern Hebrew Studies, and he brings us distinction again with his reception of the Israel Prize,” said President Randel. “His pioneering work in bringing together philosophy and literature, and his deep humanity as a scholar and citizen, make him a greatly respected and admired colleague. We are all most pleased by his latest honor.”
The judges stated that Brinker’s studies apply a deep philosophical and literary background to the aesthetic problems of Hebrew literature from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. The most highly regarded award in Israel, the Israel Prize was first given in 1953, and has been awarded every year since then on the eve of the Israeli Independence Day.
Recipients of the prize are Israeli citizens who have demonstrated excellence or broken new ground in a field. The prize for research in literature is awarded every five years.
“Menachem Brinker has had the greatest impact in Israel, where his work in philosophy and literature has been most influential,” said Provost Richard Saller. “But his work has now been translated from Hebrew into English, French, German and Japanese, and his insights are becoming more widely known. But what is known by his colleagues and students is that he is also a person of great integrity, humanity and modesty. He is for all of these reasons a treasured colleague, and we share his pleasure in this high honor.”
Brinker was born in Jerusalem in 1935, and attended the Hebrew University high school in Jerusalem. Upon graduating in 1952, he was drafted and served in the army, training at Kibbutz Maoz Haim. In 1954, he joined Kibbutz Misgav Am in the Upper Galilee, where he lived and worked for seven years and served as the kibbutz secretary general. During this time, he published articles on literary criticism, books of poetry and translations of poetry.
In 1956, Brinker completed his undergraduate degree in Hebrew literature and philosophy and then earned his doctorate in philosophy at Tel Aviv University in 1974. In 1966, he studied literature, linguistic theory and philosophy at Edinburgh and Oxford universities.
Brinker fought as part of the Jerusalem Brigade during the Six-Day War and also fought in the Yom Kippur War. He subsequently became one of the founders of the peace movement in Israel and editor of its monthly ENDA (Hebrew for “Stand”). In 1968, he was appointed a lecturer in the Tel Aviv University philosophy department, and a year later he was appointed to the department of poetics and comparative literature, which he also helped found. In addition, Brinker was among the founders of the Israel Philosophical Association in 1967. Since 1983, he has taught philosophy and Hebrew literature at Hebrew University. At the same time, he served as a literary editor at the Keter publishing house.
Brinker wrote his doctoral dissertation on the topic “Imagination and Art in the Philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre.” He edited and translated two volumes of selected letters of Sartre. His first book, Meaning and Representation in the Fictional Work, included 10 articles about the connection between reality and fictional representation in literature, art and film. In addition, Brinker edited collections of articles on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Berditchevski, Brenner and others. He has also published articles on Spinoza, Nietzsche, Sartre and others.
In 1995, Brinker established the program in Modern Hebrew Studies at Chicago and held the first chair in the program. Since then, Brinker has divided his time between Chicago and Hebrew University.