Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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S
t e in b a c h
— H
eartbeats
o f
B
ooks
9
Rosenberg
(Task Force Rosenberg) were recovered by the vic­
torious Allies after Germany’s defeat. A considerable portion,
however, of the looted treasures did not survive the end of World
War 2. Therein lies an incalculable catastrophe: the needless
amputation of a valuable limb from the corpus of the future.
The Systole and Diastole of the Jewish Heart
The ancient Biblical injunction to Joshua, “This Book of
the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall medi­
tate on it day and night,” originally referred to the Eternal
Book. But its import extended to the written word in its broadest
sense. Books became the systole and diastole of the Jewish heart.
The Jew burned with an insatiable yearning to probe for the
creative spiritual and intellectual power lying coiled in their
pages. To what private heavens they uplifted him! They there­
fore came to be appreciated not only as cultural nutriment,
but also as mental embroidery to ornament the Jewish psyche.
They infused Jewish thinking with a volatility and intoxica­
tion which dwarfed the tribulations that crowded into the life
of the Jew.
To some people books were excess baggage; to others they
were little more than rubbish. But to the Jew they were an
infallible Baedecker for an expedition into a universe where
the human mind and the human spirit need never be an im­
poverished, naked nomad. In dawns and in starshine, in moun­
tain heights that must be climbed because they are there beckon­
ing to man’s hunger for “upwardness,” in every plight and in
all circumstances confronting man, the passion for books shows
us the analogues of our own thoughts reaching out for confirma­
tion and affirmation in literary testaments created through the
ages. Books for the Jew became a survival value, a qualitative
and inspiring efflux which was to Jewish life what blood is
to the veins and to the arteries. This dedication to literary
creativity so profoundly intrigued and fascinated Mohammed
that he could not refrain from denominating the Jewish people
Ahl’ ul kitab
—“The People of the Book.”
This Jewish “book consciousness” extends over the longest
continuous period in man’s chequered history. To an extent
unparalleled in the tortuous trek of civilization, the Jew has
been a patron of literature. He always owned books; he copied
manuscripts; he listened to their speech with a responsive “third
ear.” If perchance he inadvertently let a volume fall to the
ground, he picked it up and kissed it. If he handed someone
a book, he did so respectfully, and with his right hand. The
mitzvah
of
pidyon shevuim,
“ransoming human captives,” was