Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

Basic HTML Version

and pour out their spirit upon men . . . The understanding of the
the Bible must therefore occupy a dominant position among the
most important objectives in the task of modern [Hebrew] litera­
ture which is bound up with the national revival.”
Above all, we lack an encyclopedia of Jewish knowledge, which
would purpose to make Judaism as accessible to the masses as the
Mishneh Torah did in its day. The underlying principle of such a
work would depict Judaism as “everything that teaches us to
recognize the people of Israel and its national spirit.” The pro­
posed encyclopedia would therefore be a study of the ways in
which Israel’s national spirit has been manifested from ancient
times until today. Among the indices of the national spirit would
be language, literature, Torah, folk-ways, history, national per­
sonalities, Palestine, and relationship to ancient peoples and to
foreign cultures.
Ahad Ha'Am now anticipates the inevitable question — what
need is there for Palestine in our spiritual development? Are not
spirit and land in fact mutually contradictory? To this he replies,
“The two components in man, matter and spirit, can exist in a
complete inner unity through the penetration of the spiritual
principle into the very marrow of physical life, until it becomes a
part of the spiritual life. By means of this unity, the spirit does not
decline, but matter ascends . . .”
What applies to the individual applies also to the nation. Even
in our ancient history there existed a cleavage between a spiritual
and materialistic interpretation of Judaism. This cleavage re­
sulted in a conflict between the priesthood-aristocracy and the
prophets. But the latter did not deign to pit one set of values against
the other. They rejoiced in national salvation and grieved over
national defeat. They reconciled the divergence by insisting that
the spirit elevates our national life. They aimed at the unification
of both. Later in our history the Essenes created the dichotomy
again by making a cult of their indifference to Israel’s political
fortunes. The Pharisees, however, assumed the prophetic role of
unification, and fought both the national materialists and the
national ascetics. The former, to whom our physical survival was
paramount, held no hope for Israel in the event of political disaster.
They therefore permitted themselves to be killed in a last desperate
defense. But the Pharisees realized that the national body is
important only as a means of sustaining the national spirit. There­
fore, they sought a temporary means that might sustain the spirit
without the body until the advent of redemption. The material­
ists died on the walls of Jerusalem. The Pharisees went to Jabneh.
This was a temporary expedient, welding the people together in