Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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87
S
t e i n b a c h
— T
h em e s
for
W
r it ing
literary fragmentation may be compared to a flower from whose
petals all perfume has evaporated.
The Source of Jewish Themes
Jewish themes must blossom out of the deepest loam of the
Jewish spirit; Jewish writing must be the spontaneous and unin-
hibited expression of the Jewish consciousness. Contrast the arti-
ficiality and shallowness of Herman Wouk's
Marjorie Morning-
star
with the genuine and evocative chronicles of Jewish life in
Charles AngofFs novels, and the disparity becomes glaring. The
former leaves the reader cold, while AngofFs works emit a glow
that reveals what he himself calls the
“real Yiddishe ne shomo”
The reader can almost reach into the pages and touch AngofFs
characters. Their Jewish personality breaks through and evokes
the reader’s empathy. You feel their hungers and agonies, their
triumphs and frustrations, their hopes and surrenders. Wouk
portrays a fleeting, transitory phase of Jewish behavior; Angoff
limns an authentic picture of the permanent Jewish character.
There seems to be a diversity of opinion as to what constitutes
a Jewish book. But there is less diversity as to what criteria estab-
lish authentic Jewish writing. It must be the outgrowth of, or
identified with, the collective Jewish ego as it has developed and
matured over the centuries. It does not represent any particular
product of the Jewish mind, but combines all the spiritual, cul-
tural and intellectual potentialities imbedded in the Jewish
personality. The ethical fervor that impelled the prophets to
speak the language of social justice and the psalmists to master
the vocabulary of lyricism, is a far cry from the Aryan mind that
resorted to the speech of sculpture. There is a striking dissimilar-
ity between the Jewish ego and the Aryan ego; each has its own
definite insight, each produced its own unique wares. A book
dealing with Jews, even when written by a Jew, is not necessarily
denominated Jewish writing. If its emphasis is upon the biological
conception of man, it is nearer to the Aryan than to the Jewish
mind. If, however, its emphasis is upon a dynamic conception of
the spiritual nature of man, it qualifies as possessing Jewish con-
tent and comes, therefore, within the purview of Jewish writing.
Just as Beethoven’s music has a characteristic pattern and a
unique musical idiom that are recognizable even to the musical
non-professional, so Jewish writing reflects an ethical and spiritual
single-purposefulness that began in the long ago with Jewish
monotheism and attained its full realization in the espousal of
the doctrine of the brotherhood and unity of mankind.
This broad outlook of Judaism, which was hammered for
centuries on the anvil of struggle, sacrifice, homelessness and self-
searching, must permeate true Jewish writing. Such a require-
ment presents this logical corollary: A Jewish writer who is not
well versed in Judaism and in Jewish history is an incongruity.