Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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and imperishable Jewish mold; and all this despite the fact that
he, like his contemporaries among the Hebrew writers, is steeped
in world culture. Few commentators have, however, arrived at
the logical conclusion which flows inevitably from their analysis,
namely, that he more effectively than all his contemporaries
wields the vital educative influence all great literature must exert
upon its readers—a sense of personal identification with a people’s
entire existence, past, present and future, each people in its own
distinctive language.
From this point of view, Agnon is frequently compared to
Mendele Mokher Sjarim.
Just as “the grandfather” summed up
in his work the culture of Russian-Lithuanian Jewry, so, it is
averred, Agnon sums up in his work the historic culture of
Galician Jewry. But the analogy is inept, not only because of
germane internal reasons we cannot discuss here, but also because
8—Jewish Book Annual-3998 10-10x24 bask (Merg.) 5-19 H.R.
of the difference in range and scope between the two writers.
Mendele’s work covers only a limited area in the life of Russian-
Lithuanian Jewry—mainly its miserable existence whose nature
he studiously observed through highly polished and perhaps
overly rationalistic lenses. Agnon, on the other hand, weaves
in his writings a tapestry of Galician Jewish life which is incom-
parably broader, more variegated and more colorful. Even a
superficial listing of the human types and characters presented
by Agnon reveals, in terms both of milieu and occupation, a
greater variety of spiritual forms, cultural currents and mores
of the Jewry he depicts. Not only are Agnon’s creative instru-
ments more refined, but they also contain many more grooves and
creases designed to fit their numberless shapes and forms. Ac-
cording to this criterion, it is universally agreed that Agnon is
our most intensely Jewish writer. The quality and quantity of
his work, the purity of its Jewish spirit, and the sheer weight of
its many tomes, combine to make it a veritable national museum,
richly staked, abounding in colors and highly redolent of Jewish
culture through the ages. It is a life-sustaining national source
for posterity and for the present, a fountain rejuvenating the
nation’s youth and ensuring the continuity of Jewish history.
II
Yet anyone who looks at the present age critically and impar-
tially must concede that Agnon’s current influence, however
great, is but an intimation of surpassing things to come and will
grow stronger in the future. Agnon’s generation, preoccupied in
forging its link in the nation’s chain of history with a devotion
unparalleled in modern annals, is at times prone to regard its
own link as superior and previous links, particularly those imme-
diately preceding it, in a disparaging light. And just as this age
apprehends only dimly its involvement in the Divine aspiration,
■so must its manifestation in artistic creation likewise be elusive.