Page 162 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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is an answer, in particularly and distinctively Jewish terms, to
the question, in Saul Bellow’s succinct formulation, “How shall
a good man live?” It is, then, a world-view at the heart of
which is a distinctive ethos, with its conception of the nature
of man and of his obligations to other men, with its conception
of life and the values to which it should be devoted. How strange
that Peretz’s words should find a startling, if more truculent
echo in a writer who surely never saw them: “The fact is that
if you are committed to being a Jew, you believe that in those
matters most crucial to man’s survival and humanity—what the
past was, what the future will be, who and what man’s God
is—that you are right and the Christians are wrong.” T ha t this
remark should have been made by Philip Roth may strike some
of his antagonists with as much surprise as the sentence which
follows it: “You believe that one cannot understand the break-
down of order and values in the western world without con-
sidering the inadequacies of Christianity as a moral force in
the lives of men . .
Is There a School of Jewish Writing?
Nevertheless, if there is a school of Jewish writing in con-
temporary American literature, if there is a Jewish “movement
in our literature,” it is in one sense a most curious movement,
with neither a manifesto of principles nor a sense of community,
and with, indeed, a reluctance on the part of its members to
be included—and several have openly rejected the classification
for themselves. To speak of a movement which lacks a sense
of its own unity and cohesion would be misleading were it not
a grouping rendered valid by the profound similarity that char-
acterizes the moral vision of those who are so grouped. And what
distinguishes these writers who are Jews and makes them Jew-
ish writers is that, in varying degrees, they bring to bear upon
our times a sense of man and of life, of good and evil that is
deeply rooted in the Jewish ethic.
Those who are most profoundly Jewish in their writing are
those whose relationship to the East-European Jewish past is
most intimate. These second generation Jews are in the essence
of their moral vision direct products of that transplanted Yid-
dish-speaking world which was in its values and ways as well
as its language an intensely and consciously Jewish world. It
was a world which even in America recognized its differences,
and even when it yielded up its linguistic identity clung to the
moral values which it knew to be different from that of the
Christian world in which it was an island. No one could grow
up in such a moral context without being profoundly affected.