Page 179 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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the gleanings of the field and threshing-floor and this daughter,
ever obedient and ever self-effacing, won the favor of the rich
lord Theman, who ultimately married her even as Boaz had
married Ruth.
Much has been made of the influence of Eugene Sue’s
of Paris
upon Mapu’s novel. Sue was indeed popular throughout
Europe at this time and his
Mysteries of Paris
was undoubtedly
known to Mapu in the Hebrew translation by Kalman Schulman,
published in 1847, and perhaps also in the French original. But
this influence did not extend beyond plot texture and it is
questionable whether Sue’s sensationalism and multiplication of
improbable coincidences improved or marred Mapu’s romance,
whose original concept can be traced back to 1830. The basic
atmosphere is biblical and not European, the characters are
eternally Jewish and not French or Russian, the ideology is that
of Utopian Zionism, so typical of the dreamers of a century ago.
Peretz once said that dreams are the forerunners of thoughts
and thoughts seek their embodiment in deeds. The history of
modern Zionism begins with the
Dreamers of Zion
, the generation
of Mapu. This generation encompasses the years from the pub-
lication of
Ahavas Zion
to the Russian pogroms of 1881. I t is
followed by the generation of the
Thinkers of Zion
, Pinsker,
Ahad-Haam, Herzl, Nordau, and the great debates at the early
Zionist Congresses which culminated in the Balfour Declaration
of 1917. The third generation is that of the
Builders of Zion
embraces the three decades between 1917 and 1947, decades
which laid the practical foundations for the State of Israel.
Projected against this background, Mapu’s novel assumes an
importance far beyond its literary value. I t was a beacon of
hope in an age of misery and despair. I t lifted Jewish morale
in the Eighteen-Fifties above the swamp of despondency and
lethargy into which it had sunk during the long and cruel reign
of Nicholas I. This Czar, who had inaugurated his reign with
the bloody suppression of the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, stig-
matized the Jews as unhealthy parasites, as Russia’s leeches. In
August 1827, he had promulgated the first of several infamous
decrees designed to decimate the Jewish population. These de-
crees authorized the drafting of Jewish boys for the army from
the age of twelve. Torn from the arms of their parents, these
children were to be leased to Russians in distant Siberian and
Arctic provinces, far from Jewish communities. They were to
work as farm-hands until the age of eighteen and were then to be
inducted into the army for a term of twenty-five years. Jewish
recruits were taken at a rate double that of the Christian popula-
tion and quotas were constantly on the increase. No matter what