Page 80 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

Basic HTML Version

THE LITERARY CONTRIBUTIONS OF WOLF
HEIDENHEIM (1757-1832)
By
S o l o m o n F e f f e r
I
W
HEN Wolf Heidenheim was thirty years old, the French
Revolution was getting into full swing in the streets of
Paris, Moses Mendelssohn’s
Jerusalem
had sounded the call for
civic emancipation and fidelity to Judaism, the Baal Shem Tob’s
heirs had formed their circles of fervent pietists, and the Gaon of
Vilna was firmly ensconced as the glory of eastern Jewry. At the
same time, the capital of Prussia was astir with the efforts of a
group of the younger “Enlightened” who, gathered around the
Hebrew periodical,
Ha-Me'assef
(The Gatherer) devoted them-
selves to the will-o’-the-wisp of rationalism and to scathing warfare
against all that was peculiarly Jewish, carried on in a spirit devoid
of reverence for tradition or for historical perspective. I t was
certainly a time when a man had to make up his mind one way or
another. One could not hold with the hare and run with the hound,
or he would bring the wrath of both down on his head.
Wolf Heidenheim, strangely enough, dared to beard the lions
in their irreverent den. Trained in the old tradition, but recoiling
from the crudity and carelessness of its scholarship, he found for a
time a haven in
Ha-Me'assef.
There, like the other
Maskilim
, he
at first tried his hand at imitating the popular eighteenth-century
genre of rhymed ethical fables. The closing lines of one of these
meshalim
, which sings the virtues of sanity and safety, offers this
bit of homely advice:
But ere ye know your earthly home,
Scan nor the stars nor heaven’s dome!
In another fable, equally Benjamin Franklin-like in its matter-
of-factness, his coda sounds the note of the sweetness of human
toil:
The honest tiller breathes content;
The idler lives but to lament.
But once having earned his spurs as a poetaster, Heidenheim
began to adumbrate his future activities through a series of notes
70