Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

Basic HTML Version

8
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
traditions of his Hassidic upbringing and his grandchildren
assimilate and intermarry.
Polish and Russian Jews started coming to England very early
after the Resettlement. In the British Museum there is a letter
written by Thomas Crumpton to a Christian clergyman, the
Rev. J. Greenhalgh. Describing his visit in 1662 to the first
London Synagogue, before our oldest existing Synagogue in
Bevis Marks was built, Crumpton tells of meeting a Rabbi named
Samuel Levi, a learned Jew with a bushy beard who had come
from Cracow, “the chief city of Poland.” There was a continuous
flow of Polish and Russian Tews to England, but until the
1880’s their numbers were small. There were contacts, however,
and legends arose in connection with them. Anglo-Jewry was
concerned about the ill-treatment of the Tews in Russia, and it
was decided that Sir Moses Montefiore should go to Russia to
intervene with the Czar. He was in Russia in 1846, and the
Jewish masses received him like a king and saviour. In the spirit
of the legend the Tews of Russia wove around Montefiore’s visit,
An-skv, the author of
T h e Dybbuk,
wrote a story which I in­
cluded in mv anthology,
Yisroel,
about Moses Montefiore bring­
ing- back to England a Rabbi whose exposition of Torah was
richer and greater than all of Moses Montefiore’s wealth. Tt is
noteworthy, since I am dealing with Hassidic influences in
imaginative
English Literature, that an Anglo-Tewish paper,
in an article entitled
Oueen Victoria and the Jews,
found it
necessary to point out “that An-sky’s story in
Yisroel
is a mere
fantasy.” The reference is to the story’s conclusion that the
Crimean War began because Moses Montefiore complained to
Oueen Victoria that the Czar of Russia had ill-treated his
Jews and had tried to poison Moses Montefiore himself. Of
course, no one had said it was history; it was the stuff of legend.
Zangwill on Hassidism
Zangwill was the first writer in English literature who brought
Hassidism into his work. In
Dreamers o f the Ghetto
he paints a
picture of the Baal Shem. A dying man tells of his encounters
with the Besht, “the ever-glorious and luminous Israel Baal
Shem.” The narrator had been a follower of Sabbatai Zevi,
“nourished by the study of the Cabbalah.” Then he heard of the
Besht, met him and became his follower. He relates the Besht’s life
and miracles. “It is now many years since I first saw the Baal
Shem, and as many years since I laid him in his grave, yet every
word he spoke to me is treasured in my heart.”
The subject remained in Zangwill’s mind. When he died he left
the unfinished manuscript of a “Cabbalistic Romance,” about the
pseudo-Messiah Frank whose degeneration had been one of the