Page 116 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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This may explain his disabling avoidance of Jewish themes
in his novels. Where his other writings translate Jewish experi­
ence and his own encounter with it into universal terms, his
fiction masks the authentic Jewish experience in the language
and attitudes of the majority cultures. Even
The Second Cruci­
is not really an exception, for the real cobbler from Macin
in Manchester who was Maurice Samuel’s father becomes the
rabbi-cobbler of Rome in a setting created out of the materials
of the past, inherited and less real.
What is this thesis to which he has devoted the special genius
of his art? It is the affirmation that we Jews have in our par­
ticular national identity a special aptitude for the universal
ideal. It is “the conviction that an understanding of the Jewish
episode in civilization is the key to the western world’s intel­
lectual and spiritual difficulties.” Returning from his brief
flirtation with Marxism and naturalism, and disillusioned about
the pretended all-inclusive competence of scientific method, he
fell in love with the exalted seriousness of his own people. The
Gentile world was
“Christian,” he discovered. It rejected
the Jew as it rejected the God the Jew had foisted on it. T o the
Gentile, life “is a game and a gallant adventure,” to the Jew
it is a “sober duty.” We Jews, he said in 1924, “fight and suffer
and die, even as we labor and create, not in sport and not under
the rules of sport, but in the feeling and belief that we are part
of an eternal process . .
Or again, “Your ideal is Plato’s Repub­
lic; ours is God’s Kingdom.” When he discovered that Christian
divines sounded more like his
than like his Union Jack
ha’-penny and penny-book heroes, he concluded that there are
only two conceivable ideals as civilizations, the Jewish and the
non-Jewish; “for the word ‘Jewish’ in its widest sense includes
Christianity,” and he made “the faltering start of a search”
which as he later said “was to occupy me most of my life and
provide the substance of many of my books.”
Throughout his writing career he has rung the changes on
this thesis in his “long advocacy of an obscure . . . unpopular
point of view.” His message to his fellow Jews has been per­
sistent and unchanging from the moment of his return. He has
tried to persuade as many of us as possible to hold on to
bissel yiddishkeit.
He has badgered us to learn about ourselves
and to take pride in our special and obstinate role, not only
because “a knowledge of Jewish history in the widest sense—
that is, the experience and thoughts of the Jewish people from
antiquity to the present—is indispensable to the Jew who wants
to remain Jewish without becoming warped by anti-Semitism”
but also because that role is essential to the redemption of