Page 165 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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L
a n d is
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m e r ic a n
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izing. This moral complex of compassion it considered so in-
tegral to its identity that it designated it a “Jewish heart.”
Even its understanding of the essence of the ritual obligations
to divinity was colored by its sense of responsibility for man.
Divine service, the second of the three pillars of the universe,
in its fullest sense included those 613
m itzvos
or commandments
and their ritual prescriptions. Yet the very word
m itzvos
came
to be synonymous with “good deeds to men.” And Torah, the
first of the pillars in the order of their enumeration in the
Ethics,
became in its fullest sense the study of morality. Among
the primary anticipated results of such study was the elevation
of man to higher degrees of mentschlekhkayt. When to the
concept of a Jewish heart this culture wed the concept of a
Jewish head, it reflected not only that reverence for study and
the values of intellect which placed the scholar at the top of
the social scale, but also its profound conviction that such
study would add to the enlargement of man’s mentshlekhkayt.
The pillars of Torah, service to God, and responsibility for
man all came in the final analysis to mean the fulfillment of
man by the fulfillment of his obligations to man. The salvation
of one’s imjmortal soul and the attainment of another life
were never of central concern. Instead, the hope for the Mes*
sianic redemption was a hope for an earthly paradise of love
and learning, a Utopian vision of a reign of social justice and
decency, a world of mentshlekhkayt fulfilled. However remote
it knew the Utopian dream to be, it still affirmed human
life, rejoiced in the Sabbath as symbol of life’s goodness and
man’s moral potential, clung to life and celebrated life despite
the suffering one endured. Only the necessity to repudiate
mentshlekhkayt and its divinely enjoined way of life could
justify the choice of death. To live according to this pattern
of responsible humanity, to observe it and to celebrate it be-
came the ingredients of a beautiful life; and the sense of the
beauty of the moral life was expressed in the designation of
the man who lived it, not as a good Jew but as
a sheyner yid .
This constellation of traditional Jewish moral values, the
heritage of contemporary Jewish writers as it was of their
predecessors, is at the thematic center of their work.
The two writers of the past twenty years whose names are
most often linked together as major Jewish writers are Bernard
Malamud and Saul Bellow. The English novelist Brian Gian-
ville is even intrigued by the possibilities of a special genre,
the Bellamud novel. The concept has a moral if not a literary
validity. Malamud is “perhaps the most deliberately Jewish of
all American writers of his generation,” as David Daiches de-
scribed him before the appearance of Bellow’s
Herzog;
he is