Page 8 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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2
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
live for. In his
From Death Camp to Existentialism,
Victor Frankl
tells that his manuscript for a book about to be published was
confiscated the day he was sentenced to a concentration camp.
“My wish to write this manuscript anew helped me to survive
the camp life period.” Fortified with an objective for living, his
will to live sustained him.
From time to time the Jewish people found themselves in a
comparable situation. The persecution of books was included
in the implacable pattern of persecution of Jews. There were
times when the possession of a Jewish book or of phylacteries
was proscribed on penalty of death. Jewish communities were
sometimes raided for the express purpose of carrying away Jewish
books. The bandits knew the communities would not stop at
paying huge ransoms demanded of them. Here was another
obligation to energize the will to live.
The status of learning assumed significance for yet another
reason. I t served as a prime criterion for differentiating between
so-called
sheyne yidden
and
proste yidden.
Animadversions were
not made on individuals on the basis of low economic standards.
He who possessed learning enjoyed a degree of prestige and
respect accorded the
sheyne yidden
in the community. The true
hallmark of aristocracy was education. But the
am haaretz,
the
ignoramus, was scorned as a
proster yid.
He belonged to the lower
social stratum. In the synagogue he was relegated to a seat at the
west wall, a section usually reserved for workmen, beggars and
strangers.
II
If we accept the hypothesis that there can be no culture without
reading, we must also accept the converse corollary that there
can
conceivably be reading without culture. This seeming paradox
is quickly resolved when we keep in mind the existence of two
types of reading. One is what Emerson referred to as “creative
reading.” This type permits the reader to hold converse with
incisive minds which filter something spermatic and vital into
his own mind, thereby leaving him more than he was.
The second type is a search for diversion and amusement. It
possesses recreational value but contributes little, if anything,
to the cultivation of the mind. Although there is undeniably
a modicum of profit in this type of reading, it does not aid us
in thinking, in weighing and considering, in making sophisticated
judgments. It is comparable to an hourglass from which the sand
runs in and out without leaving a vestige behind. Such reading
can hardly conduce to cultural enlargement. It does not stretch
the reader’s mind.