The Arty Semite

Who is Itta Shedletzky, 'Kafka Specialist'?

By Benjamin Ivry

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A scrum of Israeli lawyers and Swiss bank clerks crowded a Zurich bank vault recently, after a Tel Aviv family court ordered the opening of four safe deposit boxes belonging to the heirs of Max Brod’s secretary containing manuscripts by Franz Kafka.

A similar crowd had already visited safe deposit boxes in a Tel Aviv bank vault with the same mission. Among the inspectors was a Swiss-born Israeli literary scholar, Itta Shedletzky, who has been reductively described in the world media as a “Kafka specialist.” Shedletzky, who moved to Israel as a teenager in 1962, is that and much more.

After earning a Ph.D. in German Jewish literature and history at Hebrew University, Shedletzky worked as research assistant for the eminent scholars Jacob Katz, author of the classic “Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages,” available from NYU Press, and Uriel Tal, author of “Religion, Politics and Ideology in the Third Reich: Selected Essays” from Routledge Books.

With such rigorous mentors, Shedletzky soon became a prolific and much-esteemed scholar, working with the Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem as editor of Gershom Scholem’s letters, as well as at Israel’s Franz Rosenzweig Research Centre.

Indeed, Shedletzky knows a lot about many writers in addition to Kafka, and has published on authors ranging from the ultra-renowned Heinrich Heine to the more obscure Wilhelm Wolfsohn.

Shedletzky is also the co-editor of the ongoing critical edition of the works of Else Lasker-Schüler from Suhrkamp Verlag, and the author of an afterword for Lasker- Schüler’s prose work “Land of the Hebrews” from Jerusalem’s Ibis Editions.

With her talent for rediscovering the obscure and explicating the celebrated, Shedletzky is an ideal person to evaluate the scattered, much-disputed Kafka manuscripts. As long as Itta Shedletzky is on the case, these documents, which have never been examined before by scholars, will be in good hands.


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