Page 93 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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LEO P I N S KER AND HI S L I TERARY
CON T R I B U T I O N S
On the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of His Death
By
H
erbert
P
ar z en
T
h e
la st
tw o
decades
of the nineteenth century were crucial
years in the history of the Jewish people. The Jewish Ques-
tion once more demanded a decisive answer. For the panaceas of
the century—enlightenment, emancipation, assimilation—had be-
come broken reeds though the majority of European Jewries
lacked the wisdom and the courage to recognize the facts of life.
The pogroms of 1881 in Russia, with the accompanying May
laws and the resurgent political anti-Semitism in the West, were
painful experiences but Jews for the most part shut their eyes
and assumed the storms would pass.
True, there was recognition that the refugees fleeing from the
Pale of Settlement needed help to find a refuge, whether in Pales-
tine, Argentina or North America. The aid was niggardly, unor-
ganized and patronizing—even that of Baron Edmond de Roth-
schild in Palestine was palliative and philanthropic.
During this chaos and fear a small group of men, primarily
Hebraists who hitherto had been interested in reviving the
Hebrew language as a tool for a modern Hebrew literature,
began to advocate a national solution of the Jewish problem with
Eretz Yisrael
as the center of gravity. The proposal seemed so
overwhelming, studded with so many difficulties and confronted
with such bitter opposition, that only the stout-hearted and far-
sighted, fools to their opponents, had the vision and the tenacity
to advocate and to fight for the national revival in the historic
land of the Jewish people.
This small pioneering group was reinforced in 1882 by Dr.
Leo Pinsker, though he was neither a Hebraist nor a yeshivah
student. Hitherto he had been an educated assimilationist who
advocated the Russification of the Jews in the Romanov Empire,
to be Russian in culture, identity and loyalty. Their reward, it
was hoped, would be improved treatment with eventual civil
and legal equality. To these purposes he helped found and edit
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