Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

Basic HTML Version

6 0
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
One verse in his concluding stanza became the motto for the
maskilim
seeking a way out of the historical
cul-de-sac
of
eastern Jewry:
Heyeh adam be-tzetecha vi-yehudi be-ohelecha,
“Be a man outside and a Jew at home.” I t served as the leit­
motif for
Haskalah,
the more moderate movement for secular­
ization.
The
Haskalah
struck roots in two centers—in Lithuania and
in Volhynia. The
maskilim
in Volhynia deified
Haskalah Bat
Hashamayim
(Enlightenment, daughter of Heaven), invoking
the reputed interest in secular studies of Rabbi Elijah ben
Solomon, Gaon of Vilna. The orthodox religious group and the
maskilim
found common cause in seeking to stem the spread
of the fanatical Hasidim.
But in Volhynia in the Russian Ukraine and in Galicia, where
Hasidim predominated, the Russian
Haskalah
rose to contest
them with modern and more rational solutions for their worsen­
ing conditions. Isaac Baer Levinsohn, known as R IB aL and
sometimes compared to Moses Mendelssohn, became a leader in
the
Haskalah.
Levinsohn had the advantage, however, of being
not only of the people, but also a Hebrew writer of distinction
whose advocacy of the Enlightenment enriched its literature.
He introduced
Haskalah
ideas as coming from within, not as
a
neta zar
(foreign plant) which Lilienthal and other Germans
attempted. He made it indigenous to Russian soil, striving not
for secularization and total assimilation to western ideas, but
for the reinforcement of rational Judaism. He set out to prove
there was no clash between secular knowledge and participation
in the larger world on the one hand, and obedience to the
Torah and tradition on the other. Although harried by poverty
and illness, and alone much of the time, he pursued this objective
through his prolific writings. It was only late in life that he
received his “famous” government subsidy.
The Growth of RIBaL
Isaac Baer Levinsohn was born October 2, 1788, the son of
Jehudah Levin, a merchant and scholar of a learned family. As
a child R IB aL already proved himself a prodigy. He was educated
in the
hadarim
in his native town of Kremenetz, Volhynia, near
the border of Austrian Galicia. His father included instruction
in Russian in the boy’s education, a departure in the training
of a Talmudist. He married a girl from the neighboring town
of Radzivilov, but after a year the marriage failed and ended
in divorce. He never remarried.
Isaac Baer’s predilection for secularization first manifested
itself in a poem he wrote on the occasion of the Russian victory