Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

Basic HTML Version

JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
6
Borrow is unique, but the triumph of uniqueness is that it admits
the existence of other varieties of uniqueness; and now that we
see the sort of thing we may look out for in our Everyman list, we
can find plenty more. I shall not delay you with the names of
well-known compositions of Byron, Dickens, Marlowe, Scott, or
Shakespeare. But I think we can fairly call the Jewish reader’s
attention to, say, Matthew Arnold (the chapters on Hebraism and
Hellenism in
Culture and Anarchy
; Spinoza and the Bible and
other essays in his
Essays in Criticism
); and while we’re mentioning
critics, there is Quiller Couch’s
Cambridge Lectures
with the ad-
mirable essay on reading the Bible. Then there’s Browning —
Rabbi Ben Ezra, Cleon, even Bishop Blougram’s vindication of
the United Synagogue (though you won’t find it by that title in the
table of contents); George Eliot’s
Daniel Deronda
and Macaulay’s
Speeches;
and after Macaulay (I am still on the Index of Every-
man) I see Milman’s
History of the Jews
, a book not to be sneezed
at even now. Talking of history reminds me that all history has a
background, and the background of Jewish history is illumined
by such books as Ford’s
Gatherings from Spain
, De Joinville’s
Memoirs of the Crusades
, Irving’s
Conquest of Granada
and the
Life of Mahomet
, and of course Gibbon’s
Decline and Fall
, and
Mommsen’s
Rome.
But I see we’re going too far afield and I must
pull up. But I shall first, greatly venturing, point a moral.
I t is this. I doubt whether there is at all a book of
purely
Jewish reference, much less of purely Jewish
greatness.
A great
book, as we saw, is a book which deals worthily with a prominent
and pervasive human interest. I t may deal with it in its Jewish
aspect or in its Jewish connections, or purely in its Jewish manifes-
tations; but it is great only if, in the particular Jewishness, it
manifests the universally human. That is why the Bible is great.
As the rabbis say of the Book of Genesis, it is the “Book of the
Generations,” not of Priest or of Levite or of Israelite but “of man.”
I say this in view of a theory which is widely held and to which
in practice I have given some support myself. Those who hold it
will tell you that in my search for Great Jewish Books I have
started from the wrong end altogether. A Great Jewish Book, they
will say, is only in Hebrew; and if by inadvertence it allows itself
to be written in any other language, it becomes its real self, as it
were, only when translated (they say: translated
back
) into Hebrew.
The standard example is offered by Maimonides’
Guide fo r the
Perplexed.
The Arabic in which it was written (they say) moulders
in libraries. I t is the Hebrew version which is great and which
lives.