Page 81 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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a h n
— F
r e n c h
ew i sh
r iter s
clinging to minimum religious practices of Judaism. The
now compelled them to search more intensely for a more
meaningful relationship to their past. In terms of survival, French
Jewry ultimately benefited from the miscarriage of justice in the
Dreyfus Case, but from the standpoint of history the tension be-
tween Frenchman and Jew was short-lived and never permitted
the development of a distinctive French-Jewish literature.
Although the Dreyfus Case pushed some Jewish intellectuals
back into the fold, initially by revolt, later by conviction, some of
the great writers of Jewish origin—“Isrealites” as they preferred
to be known—failed to demonstrate then or later, a significant
interest in Jewish questions. Bergson eschewed them, Andre
Maurois (born Herzog) stayed away, as did Tristan Bernard and,
except in his final years, Julien Benda. Their integration into
French life provided them with a perfectly secure spiritual and
intellectual home. German assimilationists across the Rhine had
craved a similar home in German culture, but they had been
mercilessly denied entrance or, where admitted, felt the pangs
of rejection. Out of the ensuing conflict evolved a German-Jew-
ish literature. The merging of French and Jewish elements proved
so harmonious and smooth that no significant French-Jewish
literature came into being.
The era from 1900 to the end of World War II was dominated
by Spire and Fleg, both of whom were led back to Judaism
during th
e Affaire.
But between these two men there was a marked
difference. Fleg, a moderate by nature and a less gifted poet, was
Jewish mostly by religion. He sought inspiration from Jewish
sources even as he sang incantations to the Seine and la douce
France and treaded lightly and cautiously on Zionism, in which
he feared the spectre of dual allegiance. Only after World War
II and the loss of both of his sons did he throw caution to the
wind, taking pride in the new state and identifying with its
achievements. The more talented and original Spire was also the
less disciplined. He proudly called himself a militant Jew, which
he was indeed, preaching the closed fist instead of the open
wallet. During the Dreyfus Case, he fought a duel to uphold
Jewish honor, although his knowledge of Judaism was such that
any questions about it would have seriously embarrassed him.
Where Fleg was high on religion, Spire was low; where Fleg was
low on peoplehood, Spire was high. Culturally they both drank
the heady wine of France which brooked little competition.
Goncourt Prize Winners
If the Dreyfus Case marked the first pause for reflection, the
Nazi Occupation and the Vichy Regime proved the second. After
1945, French Jewry was again the beneficiary of wide sympathy;