Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
14
more than at any other time, the strength that comes from self-
recognition.
Such self-recognition and such strength will come, as they have
always come, only from the books. From them we shall learn that
the crises are not so critical and the forces making capital of them
not so unusual. We have outlived many hopes and survived many
disappointments. We have learned by experience the sad wisdom
of the Latin saying that there were kings before Agamemnon.
I have urged you to read Josephus. You may remember that
he tells us that in the last siege the defenders built a second wall
behind the first so that the Romans, having effected a breach in
the first, were amazed to find a second wall waiting in its place.
I suggest that the present generation of Jews relies too much on
one wall; and that if we were wise we should busy ourselves
while there is yet time with the erection of a second wall to act
as a substitute in case the first does not hold. The last word on
this too is to be found in Josephus, and in the mouths of the
Zealots themselves: for he tells us that, recognizing that their real
strength was not in the Temple wall or indeed in any wall or any
physical or geographical consideration, they cried out to Titus:
“The world is a better Temple for God than this one.” We are
sometimes told today that our generation is so busy building the
future that it need not worry to read about the past. To which it is
a fair retort that greater attention to the past might suggest better
methods of construction.
I come to my last point.
The most tentative list of Great Jewish Books brings a reader
in contact with a dozen literatures and languages and civilizations.
He is caught up in the life of Alexandria and Rome, of Cairo and
Baghdad, of Troyes and Narbonne and Montpellier; of Toledo
and Cordova, Naples and Palermo, Padua, Venice, Amsterdam.
He treads the streets of Prague and Wilna and Odessa as well as
of London and Paris and New York. The finds at Elephantine and
Ras Shamra, Lachish and the Roman Catacombs; Demotic Greek,
Norman-French, Hoch Deutsch, Old Castilian; Roman Law;
Gnostic heresies; Scholastic philosophy; medieval geographers —
he meets all these and much more as he is drawn to follow out
leading threads in Jewish literature. There is much truth in the
Rabbinic saying that the Torah was given in the desert — that is,
everywhere and anywhere — and in every language. If to be an
educated man is to have the chords of one’s mind attuned to the
greatest number of human sounds, Jewish literature is one of the
great instruments of education.