From Schlemiel to Sabra: Zionist Masculinity and Palestinian Hebrew Literature

Publication Year



In From Schlemiel to Sabra Philip Hollander examines how masculine ideals and images of the New Hebrew man shaped the Israeli state. In this innovative book, Hollander uncovers the complex relationship that Jews had with masculinity, interrogating narratives depicting masculinity in the new state as a transition from weak, feminized schlemiels to robust, muscular, and rugged Israelis. Turning to key literary texts by S. Y. Agnon, Y. H. Brenner, L. A. Arieli, and Aharon Reuveni, Hollander reveals how gender and sexuality were intertwined to promote a specific Zionist political agenda. A Zionist masculinity grounded in military prowess could not only protect the new state but also ensure its procreative needs and future. Self-awareness, physical power, fierce loyalty to the state and devotion to the land, humility, and nurture of the young were essential qualities that needed to be cultivated in migrants to the state. By turning to the early literature of Zionist Palestine, Hollander shows how Jews strove to construct a better Jewish future.


Table of Contents


Note on Transliteration and Translation

General Introduction. A Rhetoric of Empowerment

Of Their Time and Their Places: A Biographical Introduction to the Self-Evaluative Writers

Chapter 1. Holding Out for a Hero: Crisis and the New Hebrew Man

Chapter 2. "He Needs a Stage": Masculinity, Homosociality and the Public Sphere

Chapter 3. Contested Masculinity and the Redemption of the Schlemiel

Chapter 4. Homosexual Panic and Masculinity's Advancement

Chapter 5. Self-Evaluative Masculinity's Interwar Apex and Eclipse

Afterword. The Lesson, Legacy, and Implications of Self-Evaluative Masculinity

Selected Bibliography


Reviews and endorsements

"While the macho New Jew was admired as an ideal and has been the focus of much scholarship, Philip Hollander shows how a number of important Hebrew writers of the early days of the Yishuv were pursing alternative ideals."

~Naomi Sokoloff, editor of Gender and Text in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature

"Philip Hollander traces the image of the Israeli as the New or Muscle Jew and the role that gender, sexuality, and stereotype had in the formation of a new society."

~Stephen Katz, author of Red, Black, and Jew

"Hollander tells an absolutely fascinating story about the formation of language and gendered identities in the revolutionary context of Zionist aesthetics and politics."

~Ranen Omer-Sherman, author of Imagining the Kibbutz: Visions of Utopia in Literature and Film

"Hollander convincingly demonstrates the role of gender and sexuality in forming the Israeli state and in doing so demonstrates the place of literature as a force in politics as much as in the formation of culture."


"Philip Hollander sheds light on developments in Hebrew literature at the turn of the twentieth century that complicate and enrich our understanding of this period. Eschewing any simple equation of literary representation with masculine role modeling, Hollander identifies a cluster of male writers as advocates for "Self-Evaluative" masculinity."

~Anne Golomb Hoffman - Fordham University, AJS Review

Indiana University Press
Bloomington, IN
Cloth: 9780253042057; paper: 9780253042064; ebooks: 9780253042071 and 9780253042095