Page 13 - 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
7
William Blake. As Professor Denis Saurat tells us in his
Occult­
ism and Literature,
“Blake mentions the Cabbalah in his
‘Address to the Jews.’ He drew from the Cabbalah two of the
leading ideas of his mythology.” Milton, a hundred years before
Blake, had also drawn on Hebrew lore and on the Cabbalah.
“It cannot be maintained,” says Saurat, “that all our poets bor­
rowed straight from the Cabbalah. But even when they borrowed
elsewhere the traditions which reached them were either the off­
spring or the poor and sometimes despised relations of the
Cabbalah. In most cases the ideas must have reached our poets
through conversation rather than through reading. The intel­
lectual life of cultured Europeans was to some extent pervaded
by an enormous mass of occult traditions which derived from the
Cabbalah.” Among the poets in whom Saurat traces this influence
he includes, besides Milton and Blake, Shelley, Emerson and
Whitman. Dr. S. A. Hirsch, of Jews' College, asserted in a
lecture delivered there in 1901, that from some of the things
Dickens said about Fagin, he wondered “if that great novelist
had ever studied the Rambam.”
That is not, however, the Hassidic influence which came into
existence in Eastern Europe about the time William Blake was
writing. There was, of course, a connection; the Cabbalah and
Jewish mystic teaching linked them together. An article by
Ariel Bension, who belonged to a Sephardic Hassidic group in
Jerusalem, complains that “of the Sephardic Hassidim in Jeru­
salem the western world knows little. It has heard many intrigu­
ing tales of the Hassidim of Eastern Europe, how it flamed
through the ghettos of Russia. Baal Shem and other great
Hassidic names have become familiar, and the stories of their
wonder-working are told in many tongues. But few know of
its sister in Jerusalem—daughter of the same parents, the Zohar
and Cabbalah.” When I was in Israel and visited Safad, what
T thought about Luria and Vital who had lived and worked
there, was what I had remembered hearing from East European
Hassidim.
The Hassidism founded by the Baal Shem came to the West—
to England, Germany and France, and to America—with the
Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Some writers, not only
Jews but also anti-Semites like the French brothers Tharaud,
went to the homes of Hassidim to describe Hassidic life as they
saw and depicted it in their novel,
T h e Shadow o f the Cross.
They went to Belz and witnessed the Belzer Rabbi presiding at
a table of more than two thousand Hassidim. Today, forty years
after the brothers Tharaud published their book, French liter­
ature (and in translation, as the Tharaud book, English liter­
ature as well) has had added to it a novel,
The Sons o f Avrom,
by
Roger Ikor. There old Avrom, “a shrewd and energetic Hassid,”
emigrates from Russia to France, where his son shakes off the