Page 119 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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B
lum b erg
— S
im o n
B
e r n s t e in
been ostracized by the orthodox Jewish community of Holland.
Bernstein tries to portray them as misunderstood reformers who
aimed at bringing an end to Jewish suffering and martyrdom in
exile. In a similar vein, he deplores the fact tha t Leo Hebraeus
(Abravanel), the first Jewish humanist of the Ita lian Renaissance
period, was no t given fair treatment by modern Jewish historians.
In another spirited essay Bernstein describes the remarkable
transformation in the attitude of the Jewish Ita lian writer of the
Renaissance period, Joseph Delmedigo, towards Talmud ic Juda-
ism after he visited the Jewish communities of Poland and
experienced the pulsating and v ibrant Jewish life of the country.
In his second collection of Hebrew essays en titled
Shomre
Ha-Homot
(“Guardians of the Walls”), published in Te l Aviv
in 1937, Bernstein gives an account of the life, works and
martyrdom of several controversial figures who headed messianic
movements, and who were motivated by an overwhelming urge
to hasten the redemption of Israel. Solomon Molcho, mystic and
martyr of the sixteenth century, is the first personality described
in this collection. Bernstein delineates the three stages in the
life of this Marrano who attempted to usher in a Messianic era:
(1) his early life as a Marrano in Portugal amidst the Christian
environment; (2) his re tu rn to Judaism and his departure from
Portugal to seek inspiration in mystic, Kabbalistic circles in
Italy, Turkey and Palestine; (3) his Messianic revelation and
tragic death upon his re tu rn to Portugal, after his fruitless
attempt to persuade the rulers of the country of the tru th of
his message. T he dominating influence in Molcho’s re tu rn to
Judaism, according to Bernstein, was Isaac Abravanel, whose
work
Migdol Yeshuot
expounded the messianic ideal of redemp-
tion.
In another essay Bernstein describes Joseph Karo’s
Shulhan
‘Arukh
as the work of a man who was inspired by the dream of a
restoration of Israel in its ancient land. Mystic and Kabbalist
though he was, Karo set about preparing an authoritative con-
stitution for the future theocratic state, according to Bernstein’s
view. This was a necessary preliminary step for the u ltim ate
redemption of Israel. Of course, it could be argued, contrary to
Bernstein’s interpretation , tha t Karo’s definitive codification of
Jewish law had as its chief aim the preservation of Jewish
distinctiveness in the Diaspora. In any event, the
Shulhan *Arukh
is regarded by Bernstein as one of the great classics of the
Renaissance period in Europe.
Another essay is devoted to Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, a con-
troversial mystic and poet of the eighteenth century who lived
in Italy and in Holland. Bernstein tries to explain the unusual
silence of the famed mystic after he had fulfilled his ideal of
settling in the Holy Land towards the end of his life. He a ttri­