Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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L
e f tw i ch
— H
assidic
I
n f luence s
in
L
i teratur e
5
Zalman, Schneor’s ancestor). Asch embodied Hassidism also in
some of his other books. In
Three Cities,
“Berl Krongold had
been brought up in the traditional Hassidic fashion,” and when
Mirkin left Lodz he went to “the Hassidic prayer house at his
door.” Schneor pictured in
Noah Pandxe
a saintly Hassidic
Rabbi, some of the life in a Jewish town where Hassidism
played a great part, and even a simple coach driver who went
every Saturday night to hear the Rabbi expound Hassidic lore.
There is Joseph Opatoshu’s novel,
In Polish Woods,
published in
English translation, about the Hassidim of the great Rabbi
Mendel of Kotzk.
Chagall’s rise to international fame as a painter revealed the
fact emphasized by almost everyone writing about him, both
non-Jews and Jews, that it is impossible to understand him
without some knowledge of his Hassidic background. That is
true, too, of another internationally famous Jewish artist, Yankel
Adler.
Interest in Franz Kafka’s writings has led to some extent to a
consideration not only of his Jewish thought, but also of his
attraction to the Hassidic outlook. “Writing is a form of prayer,”
said Kafka, entirely in the Hassidic tradition. It is a phrase that
might have been used by Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. Buber
had been in Kafka’s circle, and Max Brod mentions among
Kafka’s influences Dora Dymant who, he says, came from “a
good East European Hassidic family.” Speaking of Hassidic
influences of background and heredity reminds me of Dr.
Roback’s reference in his
Jewish Influence in Modern Thought
to “the Hassidic strain which probably runs in the families of
both Freud and Bergson.”
A Product of Time and Place
Why did Hassidic influence come into English literature so
late? Hassidism arose in the eighteenth century out of the special
conditions prevalent among the Jewish masses in Eastern
Europe. It was a product of the time and the place. The Frankist
heresy had made great inroads, and Rabbinism was above the
heads of the ordinary folk. The new doctrine of joy and
ecstasy spread from Podolia and Volhynia along the Rivers
Pruth and Dniester, through the Ukraine and Poland, Galicia,
Lithuania, Hungary and Roumania. It did not extend into
Germany, France and England, where conditions were different.
Those who came to Germany from the Hassidic environment,
like Solomon Maimon, sneered at it. He spoke of the Baal
Shem as a Cabbalist who effected “some lucky cures by means
of his medical knowledge and his jugglery.” That was the
Germany of the Mendelssohnian period, which Graetz calls