2: Text excerpt, Benjamin Harshav’s "The Meaning of Yiddish," 2000.
“The Secret Miracle” abounds with intertextual references and associative thinking.
Suggested Activity: Have students read scholar Benjamin Harshav's charactarization of Yiddish storytelling and consider the ways in which Borges's style echoes Harshav's ideas about Yiddish storytelling. Using this framework, have students conduct a scavenger hunt for intertextual references in "The Secret Miracle." When do they confuse or sidetrack the reader? Which ones are secular/sacred, literary/historical, fictional/nonfictional? What does the use of these references imply about the story’s readership—and particularly about its homogeneity or heterogeneity? Have students discuss how the same reference may both slow down and belabor the plot and enrich and deepen the philosophical meaning of the story. Have students consider in what ways “The Secret Miracle” is—using Harshav’s language—situated both in the “messy Jewish reality” of its day and the “library of texts” that have come before it.
If there isn’t time for students to look up the references themselves, you can give them a list with definitions, for example:
- “Anschluss,” the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany (1938)
- “Ibn Ezra” (1089–1164), Spanish Jewish medieval biblical commentator
- “Jakob Boehme,” Lutheran theologian
- “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once,” paraphrase from William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii
- Epigraph from the Qur’an 2:261
- Robert Fludd, sixteenth century scientist and kabbalist
- Sefer Yetzirah, Book of Creation in kabbalah
Source: Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2000), 100–101.