In the Heart of the Seas Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Bi-levav yamim: Sipur agadah, 1935 (English translation, 1947)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Folklore

Time of work: The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Locale: Eastern Galicia and Palestine

Characters DiscussedHananiah

Hananiah In the Heart of the Seas (hah-nah-NI-yah), a holy man who endures hardships and captivity as he drifts on whatever path the Lord sets his feet. He longs for nothing so much as to go to The Land of Israel. His hands are blessed; he can, without instruction or training, perform the skills of all trades. His opportunity to go to Israel arises when nine rabbis and their wives, who are about to embark, welcome him to join them, for he makes the quorum of ten men necessary for the group to pray as a congregation. True to the goodness of his heart, however, he misses the boat’s departure while helping a woman try to locate her lost husband. The Lord instructs him to lay his kerchief on the sea, and miraculously he sails to Israel sitting on it. He becomes the subject of legend, and it is said that at the age of one hundred he was like a youth of twenty.

Rabbi Shmuel Yosef

Rabbi Shmuel Yosef (shmew-EHL), the storyteller of the group. At times of danger and hardship during their journey, he cheers the group with tales of salvation and comfort.

Rabbi Yosef Meir

Rabbi Yosef Meir (mah-YEHR), whose longing for Israel causes him to divorce his wife because she does not want to accompany him. At the end of the story, she joins him, and they remarry in Israel. They are one of the two families who remain to make their home in The Land.

Rabbi Alter, the teacher

Rabbi Alter, the teacher, who spends his days studying and teaching the Torah until he realizes that a man is not whole if he resides outside of the holy land of Israel. The most fearful of the group, he is inclined to see evil omens in many events.

Rabbi Alter, the slaughterer

Rabbi Alter, the slaughterer, who relinquishes his business to his son-in-law so that he can live in The Land. Like all but two families of the original group, he does not find a way to make a living in Israel and returns to the Exile.

Rabbi Yehudal Mendel

Rabbi Yehudal Mendel, who grieves over the death of his spiritual teacher, the Rabbi Uriel, until God puts it into his heart to go to The Land of Israel.

Rabbi Pesah

Rabbi Pesah, the warden of the House of Study. Childless, he and his wife, Tzirel, hope that the soil of Israel will make them fertile. They are blessed with sons and daughters and are one of only two families of the original group who remain in The Land.


Leibush (LAY-behsh), the butcher. He is the only one who is dissatisfied with Israel. He returns to Buczaca, his hometown, at the earliest opportunity.

Rabbi Moshe

Rabbi Moshe (MOY-sheh), whose yearning to go to The Land of Israel is so great that he leaves behind his only two daughters.

Rabbi Shelomo

Rabbi Shelomo (SHLOH-moh), the eldest of the group, a wealthy merchant who gives up the goods of this world to better serve the Lord in The Land of Israel. His faith remains firm throughout the hardships of the first year and the death of his daughter. Unable to earn a living in Israel, he must return to the Exile.

BibliographyAlter, Robert. “S. Y. Agnon: The Alphabet of Holiness.” In After the Tradition: Essays on Modern Jewish Writing. New York: Dutton, 1969. Insightful evaluation of themes and motifs that have preoccupied Agnon. Traces much of the originality of Agnon’s art to his painstaking care with words.Band, Arnold J. Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. A detailed, chronological study of Agnon that illuminates the context and content of his work. Analysis of In the Heart of the Seas emphasizes its humor and fantastical qualities.Fisch, Harold. S. Y. Agnon. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. A brief introduction to Agnon. Argues that Agnon, an endlessly inventive storyteller, attempts to comprehend Jewish history.Hochman, Baruch. The Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970. Positing Agnon’s gift as more lyrical than novelistic, Hochman determines yearning to be the dominant mode of Agnon’s fiction. Describes the ambivalence in Agnon’s work.Ribalow, Menachem. “Samuel Joseph Agnon, Major Novelist of Yesterday and Today.” In The Flowering of Modern Hebrew Literature: A Volume of Literary Evaluation, edited and translated by Judah Nadich. New York: Twayne, 1959. A sympathetic look at Agnon’s achievement by a leader of the Hebrew movement in America. Identifies the influences in Agnon’s work.
Categories: Characters