Page 160 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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R E F L E C T I O N S O N A M E R I C A N
J E W I S H W R I T E R S
in c e
t h e
la s t
w a r
, a n a m a z i n g p h e n o m e n o n h a s o c c u r r e d
in American cultural life and an even more amazing re-
sponse to that phenomenon: Jews have assumed a major,
perhaps even a dominant role, and the fact has been accepted
quite casually. “Over the past 10 or 15 years,” Julian Moy-
nihan observed in his
N ew York T im es
review of
Herzog ,
“Jew-
ish writers . . . have emerged as a dominant movement in our
literature.” And no one thought the remark startling. From a
position as a minority of scorned outsiders Jews have progressed
almost to the status of an “in” group. (LBj stands for a “Little
Bit Jewish” runs a current schoolboy joke.) They have become
not only leaders in the literary establishment; where once they
were culture villains, they have in recent years become almost
The Christian world has, of course, never seen the Jew as
he really is. I t has always seen him and depicted him in sym-
bolic relationship to its own needs. (Indeed, who but a Jew
could have depicted the traditional Jew from the inside out?)
When the Christian world was busy crucifying Jesus, it needed
the Jew as Christ-killer; it needed a Wandering Jew to justify
the wanderings to which its expulsions subjected him; it needed
a usurer to despise for the greed it projected onto him; a
grotesque in whom to deride its own grotesqueries. Or, on
occasion, it eased its guilt by the forgiveness of an incredible
If the inherited Christian stereotypes have had little relation
to Jewish reality, the portraits of Jews that have appeared in
recent Jewish writing have aroused no greater enthusiasm among
Jewish critics. Not only in Jewish publications, Yiddish and
English, have there been protests against these portraits (once
even a minor scandal), as partial and therefore untrue and
offensive if not downright dangerous. Even in a journal which
prides itself on having transcended the “parochial,” a regular
contributor could, not too long ago, express the “hope for more
B
y
J o s e p h
C.
L a n d i s
culture heroes.
portrait of saintliness.
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