Page 86 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

Basic HTML Version

THE TWO SOURCES OF SIMON DUBNOW’S
THOUGHT
On the 100th Anniversary of His Birth
By
A
aron
A . S
t e in b e r g
I
N the homage paid throughout the Jewish world to the memory
of Simon Dubnow on the occasion of the centenary of his birth,
much emphasis is laid on the fact that he is claimed by our
modern secularized historiography as its true progenitor. That
this claim is fully justified is a view expressed by such a thinker
as the late Simon Rawidowicz. Professor Koppel S. Pinson points
in the same direction in his most valuable introduction to the
volume of Dubnow’s writings edited under the title
Nationalism
and History
(Philadelphia, 1958). The underlying assumption
in all statements of this nature is the tacit identification of
Dubnow the historian with Dubnow the thinker. In other words,
it is being taken for granted that since Dubnow’s thinking was
informed by the general secular trends of his time, his writing
of history and, in particular, his
opus magnum,
the ten-volume
World History of the Jewish People,
must needs bear the same
imprint and testify to the spirit of nineteenth century secularism.
Is there no alternative to such an approach? Is it true that the
ideas imbibed by Simon Dubnow in the early period of his
worldly self-education were the only source of his general con­
ception of Jewish history? Could it not be that even then, when
he came under the spell of Auguste Comte’s Positivism and
Herbert Spencer’s Evolutionism, the fountain-head of his inspira­
tion remained, though hardly noticed by himself, the spiritual
storehouse of his ancestry, the eternal truths of Judaism?
Bold as this question may sound, a thorough examination of
Dubnow’s crowning work, of its inner structure and the central
idea which permeates the whole narrative, poses the amazing
puzzle: How was it possible for a worldly-minded skeptic and
agnostic, steeped in the methodological principles of modern
science, to present the Jewish people as a unique phenomenon
in universal history, with a “World History” all its own, with
a staying power outweighing any accumulation of physical
strength in the whole of humanity’s past? It appears that the
image of Dubnow the “free thinker” is strikingly inconsistent
with his historical and historic masterpiece; that the creation
8 0