Page 89 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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S t e in b e r g
— Two
S o u r c e s o f D u b n ow ’ s T h o u g h t
accepted general biological principles. Life, “bios,” is to him
first and foremost the conspicuous characteristic of the historical
existence of the Jewish people as an “organic collective individu­
ality,” ever growing in stature in its endless struggle for autonomy
and independence, always impelled by its innate will to survive
as a separate “nation.” This singular notion of a collective will
may partly be traced back to the “volonte generale” of the ro­
mantic Jean Jacques Rousseau, but never to the sober teachings
of modern biology. The real source of this whole idea, so relevant
to Dubnow’s thinking, lies obviously elsewhere; it is hidden and
revealed once again in the very facts of Jewish history and in
the spirit which holds them all together.
The Enigma of Jewish Survival
In consonance with the “secularization of the Jewish national
idea” Simon Dubnow endeavored to revise Jewish history in
the light of modern rationalistic secularism; instead, Jewish
history brought about a revision of his original endeavor. Despite
the fact that he meticulously avoided in his ten-volume narrative
reference to any factor of a supernatural character, the sum
total of all the related events, of their natural causes and effects,
i.e. the survival of the Jewish people, remained to the narrator
an enigma, and for this we have his own authority.
In 1912, when Simon Dubnow was well beyond the midway
of his life and was making final preparations for his crowning
feat, he published an essay in Hebrew entitled, “The Mystery of
Survival and the Law of Survival” (the English version now
available in Pinson, pp. 325-335). While Russian was the lan­
guage of Dubnow’s brain and Yiddish that of his heart, Hebrew
came to him
“out of the depths” of his soul. How
significant then are the opening sentences of his authentic tes­
timony: “We are confronted with a great and hidden mystery.
We try to penetrate the depths of this mystery, the secret of the
survival of the Jewish people, and to fathom the forces acting
within the soul of the people, forces whose results lie often before
us but whose inner workings are shrouded in darkness, like all
basic forces operating in the souls of both individual and com­
munity.” He goes on to say that “miraculous and unique” as the
historical destinies of old Israel may be, in order to penetrate
the veil of this mystery we have to approach it under the aspect
of reason in applying to it the rationally conceived general laws
of social science. This essay is a confession and a manifesto.
Until the very end Dubnow’s thought was incessantly active on
both planes, on that of “sweet reasonableness” and of a mysticism
only rarely avowed. How else could he have erected his magnifi­
cent edifice with its clearly and symmetrically articulated facade,