Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
fictitious name derived from the Hebrew words
Ploni Almoni,
the
thirty-five questions traditionally put to Hebrew scholars by
gentile scholars.) The answers in
Bet Yehudah
have been com­
pared to the answers Mendelssohn gave to Lavater in his
Je ru ­
salem,
but Levinsohn’s were more forceful and more meaningful.
Levinsohn’s next contribution was a refutation of the blood
accusations then mounting in volume and directed with intense
venom against Jews in the village of Zaslav in Volhynia. Here
he was following the tradition of his grand-uncle, Rabbi Elyakim
of Yampoly, Volhynia, who in 1757 was sent by the Council of
Rabbis to request the intercession of Pope Benedict X IV in the
blood accusations against Jews in many towns. Th is work, en­
titled
Efes Damim,
was published in 1837 and translated into
several European languages.
The Jewish youth were profoundly influenced by Levinsohn’s
insistence that secular learning and the study of literary Hebrew
and the sciences would supplement, not supplant, religious
knowledge. Indeed, he claimed rabbinical sanction for this
contention, citing many passages from the Talmud and other
rabbinic sources to prove that the study of Hebrew for secular
purposes was compulsory. He maintained that Hebrew was
more traditional and, therefore, to be used more than Yiddish,
then called “jargon” or “Yiddish-Deitch,” a medium in which
he himself published some materials. He proposed that the pre­
vailing curriculum in the
hadarim
be revised to include Russian
as the national language, and also other languages, in order
better to prepare the children for modern living. He also
advocated artisan training to facilitate transition into a stable
economic life. But what evoked vigorous resistance was his
argument that the Jews had to be integrated as Russian nationals
and should acquiesce in his belief that the “Czar has the welfare
of the Jewish people at heart.”
Another polemic-apologetic work was
Zerubbabel,
a refutation
of an English missionary’s book,
Paths of the World,
which was
translated by a convert as
Netivot Olam
and received wide­
spread notice.
R IB aL welcomed the appointment in 1848 of Dr. Max Lilien-
thal by Count Sergei Uvarov, in a move to educate Jews in
secular knowledge by founding government schools. He wrote
this quatrain in Hebrew:
A fearsome cloud obscured the sun of Wisdom;
By God decreed, a savior and a leader rose;
Hardly had he drawn his breath that there was light,
Then cried the people: the cloud is lifted,
Lifted is the cloud!