Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 2

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THE YIDDISH SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTE
By
I
s r a e l
K
n o x
I .
There is a tradition of learning in Jewish life — the tradition
of
Yavneh.
We have been called the People of the Book —
Am
ha-Sefer.
Without a land and without a political and economic
structure of our own, living in a scattered environment, it was
quite natural that learning and the self-knowledge that goes with
learning, that the acceptance of a scale of spiritual values and the
sense of personal and national worth accompanying it, should be-
come our mainstay and our light in a cold and hostile world.
The direction of Jewish learning has always been centripetal;
its purpose was to strengthen the Jew inwardly, to give him a
Sabbath vision that should sustain him in the poverty and degra-
dation and rightlessness of his life during the week when “ the
prince turned beggar.” The character of this learning was there-
fore religious, supra-mundane, non-empirical. In our own days,
Jewish learning must become — perhaps, has already become —
dual; it must add another dimension to itself; it must take on a
centrifugal character without ceasing to be centripetal. I t must
not engage in the fruitless game of apologetics, but it must build
up a storehouse of reliable knowledge to offset and perhaps to
destroy the vicious pseudo-knowledge about the Jew and Jewish-
. ness. Indeed, the purpose of such learning is dual, in a manner
of speaking only; it is, in truth, a single and unified purpose. For
otherwise that self-awareness and that sense of worth are hardly
obtainable. Despite the fact that we are now enduring the most
brutal persecution in our history, the walls of the Ghetto have
crumbled and we are no longer an “island by ourselves;” our
youth, in the democratic countries, is no longer marching by
itself on some lonely and dangerous detour; it walks arm-in-arm
with others on the broad highways. Jewish learning, yea-saying
and nay-saying, are indispensable for Jewish spiritual well-being
and integrity.
II.
For some eighteen years, YIVO — the Yiddish Scientific Insti-
tute — has been functioning in this spirit. As its very name
suggests, it sprang from Jewish folk-life and has dedicated itself
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