Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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SlLBERSCHLAG — JOSEPH KLAUSNER
39
Klausner, on the other hand, would not deny that the Jews
were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus
19:6). But he stressed the political rather than the religious
components of the famous phrase: “kingdom” rather than
“priests,” “nation” rather than “holy.” He went so far as to
view the messianic trends in medieval times as political move­
ments which aimed at the restoration of a Jewish state. It is true
that ethical monotheism dominated the actions and aspirations
of the Jews for the past 2,500 years. But that idea was implicit
in the beginnings of Jewish nationhood. The Second Common­
wealth was not radically different from the First: Pharisaism
was a continuation and a realization of prophetic Judaism.
The Historian of Hebrew Literature
Klausner’s
History o f Modern Hebrew Literature
tells the
engrossing story of the
Haskalah:
a period of 100 years, begin­
ning with the Edict of Toleration in 1782 and ending with the
pogroms in Southern Russia in 1881 during the reign of
Alexander III.
Such an ambitious venture, published intermittently during
twenty years, cannot avoid sins of omission and commission;
the space allotted to major figures is disproportionate to the
meagre treatment of other writers. Since five writers—Ribal,
Mapu, Gordon, Smolenskin and Mendele—account for 35 per­
cent of the
History,
it deteriorates of necessity into a series of
monographs on the leaders of the
Haskalah
with prefatory pages
which serve as connecting links.
The
terminus a quo
and
terminus ad quern
seem to be the
arbitrary choices of a historian who is content to follow a popular
chronological formula rather than establish valid criteria. Thus
Klausner rejects Moses Hayyim Luzzatto as the father of modern
Hebrew literature in favor of Wessely, because the former is
allegedly the spokesman of the old values and the latter the
harbinger of the new outlook on life among Jews. Yet it is
obvious that a literature, like Hebrew literature, which developed
in many lands, would influence and would be influenced by
many literatures. No single date can ever satisfactorily mark the
beginning of modern Hebrew literature. It is difficult enough
to assign a proximate date for the rise of a homogeneous liter­
ature which develops in one country. It is impossible to estab­
lish such a date for a heterogeneous literature which developed
in many countries. The only law that can be formulated with
some certainty is this: modern Hebrew literature began at dif­
ferent times in different countries—in Italy in the 16th century,
in Russia and Poland in the 19th century.
Klausner’s
terminus ad quem
is equally untenable. Smolenskin
and Mendele sympathized with the ideals of Enlightenment at