Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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A poorly informed Jew, or one who has lived a peripheral Jewish
life, cannot become its adequate spokesman. If he is not genuine-
ly involved with a sense of commitment to his people, nor is
implicated in its future, he is not competent to interpret its
psyche or to depict its inner life. The enduring personality of the
Jew and of the Jewish people is interfused not only with the
human relationships inscribed upon its history, but also with a
special human-divine relationship sculpted upon the individual
Jewish soul. One who has not felt the impact of this sculpting
would be wise to discard his claim as a Jewish writer. His attempt
at creativeness will produce the type of work that prompted Vol-
taire and Herder to categorize the Jews as cultural parasites. Only
the writer who has absorbed the profound insights of Judaism
learns how to reclaim and re-create the verities and imperatives
that stem from those insights. He is like an eavesdropper who
has listened to the Jewish mind and spirit whispering great secrets
through the ages, and therefore knows how to transmit them to
his own generation.
Pitfalls of Parochialism
While establishing a positive identification with their heritage
and their people, Jewish writers should zealously guard against
the pitfalls of parochialism and provincialism. Ahad Ha’am
warned against this danger. “If they write exclusively,” said he,
“on matters concerning the Jewish people and its national life,
they are building for themselves a ghetto in a foreign literature.
This ghetto, like any other, is regarded by the native population
as of no account, and by the Hebrew community as a merely tem-
porary product, which is not destined to endure as part of its
national life.” The rabbinic admonition to “make a fence around
the Torah” does not include the walling in of the mind.
A ghettoized literature is no less unworldly and stultified than
a ghettoized people. Jewish writers, in order to extend their
intellectual and cultural horizons, may dip with profit into
streams of thought and of ideas flowing out of contemporary cul-
tures. The Jew, living in the midst of many cultures and civiliza-
tions, never shrank from adopting helpful accretions from his en-
vironment. Jewish spirituality, which is based on an inseparable
inner nexus between religion and ethics, must predominate; there
can be no compromise with Jewish content. But the Jewish
writer’s national-ethnic background, while providing the prin-
cipal nourishment for his creativity, must not become a dead-end
street. Jewish culture cannot exist in a vacuum. It finds enrich-
ment and self-realization in symbiosis with cultures that environ
it.
Consider the influence of Aristotle upon the philosophical
works of Moses Maimonides. Leaning on Aristotle did not ren-
der his creativity less Jewish or his writings less vocative of the