Page 9 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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HAS S I D I C I N F L U E N C E S IN
I MAG I NA T I V E ENG L I SH
L I T E R A T U R E
B
y
J
o s e p h
L
e f t w ig h
I
F ONE is asked, as I was, about Hassidic influences in imagina­
tive English literature, one's first impulse is to say there is no
such influence, or there is very little, and it came recently through
the spread of Buber’s influence to the English-speaking world.
There is, for instance, one of my boyhood friends, the poet
Lazarus Aaronson, whose work prompted Edouard Roditi to
write a quarter century ago about “Aaronson’s spiritual waver­
ings between Judaism and Catholicism, the beliefs and doubts of
his tortured mind.” Not long ago Aaronson wrote me, “Judaism
in the religious sense meant less to me when I was sixteen than it
does now. As 1 grow older I stand nearer to the Rabbis. Buber
means a great deal to me.” This has gone into his poetry. “My
verse,” he added, “speaks for itself.”
Meyer Levin, who wrote a book of Hassidic tales,
Th e Golden
Mountain,
has confessed, “Godless though I may profess myself,
I have responded with more than warmth to the mystical ele­
ments of Hassidism. As a writer 1 have considered that I accept
this material as folklore. But in my soul I know that I take more
than this from these legends.” When Marek Szwarc, the artist,
spoke to him first of the Baal Shem, “these stories sang right
home to me. It seemed to me that my affinity for Hassidic
legendry was a mental heritage. Had my parents never come to
America, had I been born near Vilna, I might have become
a Hassid.”
“At this time,” he says, “Hassidic material was unknown in
English literature, though Buber had already published much of
his German material. In recent times,” he adds, “philosophers
and poets and literary men have discovered the legends for
their meaning and their beauty.” As recently as 1931, Lucy
Cohen, a member of one of the leading Anglo-Jewish families,
admitted that when someone gave her a copy of Buber’s Hassidic
tales in German, she found it new and so “striking to interest
the general reader” that with the help of her kinsman, the
scholar Claude Montefiore, she translated the book into English
under the title
Jewish Mysticism.
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