Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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I SAAC BAER L E V I N SOHN
RIBaL,
t h e
“ R
u s s i a n
M
e n d e l s s o h n
1788- 1860
B y
M
e n a h e m
G . G
l e n n
T
HE LAST half of the nineteenth century was the most
fateful for eastern European Jews. According to Heinrich
Graetz, eminent German-Jewish historian, they were outside
the pale of history, cut off from the modern currents let loose
in central and western Europe by the French Revolution and
by the rise of industrial democratic nations. Cast adrift
economically, they withdrew socially within themselves in grow­
ing settlements from the Baltic on the north to the Crimea in
the south. While this situation made for greater homogeneity
and gave rise to the golden age of
Yiddishkeit,
it had no viable
basis for continued existence. The Jews resisted the incipient
nationalism of the eastern countries; they also repelled the
attempts to absorb them by compulsory Russification and by
other methods. But they were caught up in fierce cross currents
of national ideas and in the efforts of German Jews to intro­
duce notions of Enlightenment through secularization.
The rise of mysticism and of the Hasidic sect, threatening
ever greater retreat and withdrawal from the world, gave the
rationalists and the secularists their
point d’appui.
There were
numerous groups with many different approaches to secular­
ization. In 1863, three years after the demise of Isaac Baer
Levinsohn, the great mas&iZ-philosopher, Judah Leib Gordon,
the Hebrew poet (1831-1895), was dazzled by the light of the
Enlightenment and urged that it be welcomed with open arms.
In his poem
Hakitzah Ammi
(Awake, My People!), he
exhorted:
Awake, my people, it’s time for waking,
Lo, the night is over, day is breaking;
Behold, wherever you turn your face
How changed your times are and your place!1
x Tb e original Hebrew reads:
'no *ry ?
nmpn
,miKn trotwi ,Mn
u
in
hjni nan “p’y
,ns»pn
. . . nvan nsn *pipai “pmi
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