Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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T H E M E S F O R J E W I S H W R I T I N G *
PROFOUND REVERENCE for books runs like a gossamer
thread throughout the chequered pattern of Jewish history.
This reverence was first inculcated when the Jewish genius began
to weave its incomparable spiritual skeins into the tapestry that
shaped the Bible. In creating this masterwork of religion and
culture, the Jew assumed the responsibility of comporting himself
as the living incarnation of its divine inspiration. Books became
his talismans and manuscripts his brain children. In their pages
he saw the handwriting and signature of God. Jewish life and
history, Jewish yearning and aspiring from earliest times to our
contemporary era, bear testimony to the primacy and centrality
of study and cultural pursuits in the development and matura-
tion of the Jewish mind. Torah and Talmud, meaning
became appropriate names for the two monumental Jewish
creations which tower like spiritual and cultural Mount Everests
across mankind’s intellectual topography.
The Bible is, of course, essentially a Jewish creation. Its themes
burgeoned out of the desert-born soul that overleaped tribal
impulses and constructed high promontories of universalism.
There are, to be sure, numerous aspects of particularism in the
Bible, but the universalism espoused by our literary prophets is
the hallmark of its over all configuration. Our rabbis were
zealous in emphasizing this idea. They declared in the Midrash
that the Torah was revealed in seventy languages, so that all the
nations might hear it in their own vernacular. God’s voice
reverberated throughout the world, to the east and to the west,
to the north and to the south. Even a more striking affirmation
of God’s universalistic intention is contained in the rabbinic
teaching that He offered the Torah to the other nations before
finally presenting it to the Israelites.
It is, therefore, not altogether astonishing that the Bible tran-
scends the Semitic frontiers in which it was cradled. What it
achieved for the spirit of the Jew it later accomplished for the
spirit of the world. It became the blueprint for the future of the
human race, man’s first Magna Charta. It is the epitome of
human hungering and thirsting and upreaching; it is the epic
of man’s indomitable struggle first to discover his noblest self
*Address delivered at Conference on Jewish Writing and Jewish Writers in
America, sponsored by the Theodor Herzl Institute and the Jewish Book
Council of America, November 16-17, 1957.