Page 229 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

Basic HTML Version

1 9 6 4 - 1 9 6 5
h il ip
h e r e
ha s
be en
a great deal of talk about American Jewish
literary creativity. Is it fact or fancy? Is the creation of
American Jewish literature on the debit or credit side of the
ledger? Does the production of Jewish books in America compare
favorably with the literary output of Jewish communities in
other countries and in other times?
There are, of course, no easy answers to these questions.
There are those who claim that the acculturation of Jews
within the American scene makes any indigenous Jewish lit-
erature difficult to realize. Some contend that the American
milieu renders impossible the flowering of a distinctly Jewish
literature. On the other hand, there are those who see a Jewish
literary renaissance in America or at least signs that portend
a bright future. No scientific measurements are available to
gauge the quantity and quality of literature. It is all a matter
of judgment that may be objective but, more often than not,
is subjective.
It is necessary to keep in mind that, historically speaking,
the American Jewish community is quite young. Although the
first Jews came to these shores over 300 years ago, the Jewish
population was negligible for a long time. As late as 1825 there
were only about 16,000 Jews in the United States. It was not
until the 1880’s, with the mass Jewish immigration from Russia,
that a sizable Jewish community developed. Furthermore, Jews
were under heavy economic strictures and social disabilities
which militated against authentic literary achievement. Another
complication to the blossoming of American Jewish literature
was the fact that Jews used three langagues—English, Yiddish
and Hebrew.
More than 200 years transpired from the time Jews came
to America before the first original Hebrew book was published
in the United States. Since 1860 there has been a considerable
number of Hebrew books and even more Yiddish books. There
has been also quite a production of English books on Jewish