Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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peace and harmony. As a nonconformist he attempted to break
down the shackles of tradition; yet he found deep meaning in
Hasidism. Hasidic ecstasy and poetry appealed to him, and he
painted them with love and understanding.
The traumatic experience of two marriages, together with his
shy and reticent nature, impelled him to withdraw from social
contact. Therefore, he sees woman in a remote perspective which,
to her advantage, sets her apart from his man heroes observed at
close range. He portrays her in idyllic though tragic dimensions
and with such compassion and artistry that she remains lastingly
engraved upon the heart of the reader.
The Spokesman for Young Rebels
Berdichevsky emerged as the spokesman for the young rebels
who sought to expand the intellectual and literary horizons of
Hebrew literature. They sought to supplant the religious heritage
with a contemporary secularism rejecting both the commitments
of the Orthodox and the reformulations of the modernists led
by Ahad Ha’am. He was the great rebel of Hebrew thought and
letters, the challenger without peer whose doubts, heresies and
restlessness have made him a commanding figure in a revolu-
tionary age. His protest and dissent contributed toward the
crystallization of
fundamental affirmations in the Zionist synthesis.
Personally, he stood aloof from parties, platforms and programs.
Yet his voice was clear and audible in the Zionist debate.
The Zionist movement had rebelled against prevailing realities
in the name of historic ideals. Protesting against the aberrations
of Jewish life, Zionist theoreticians appealed to the spiritual values
in the cumulative experience of a people yet to fulfill its destiny
in its ancient homeland. The Zionist idea represented continuity
rather than severance of historical bonds. It sought to reinterpret
and channel Jewish aspirations into historically determined, reli-
giously dictated, and pragmatically required avenues of operation.
With all its modernism, the then prevailing mood of normative
Zionism was a decided “yes” to Jewish values. Berdichevsky uttered
an emphatic “no."
Berdichevsky
questioned the very spiritual foundations of his-
torical Judaism.
He did so, however, as an insider—“His Majesty’s
Loyal Opposition”—committed to preserve the corporate unity and
entity of the House of Israel, thereby remaining the great dissenter
instead of becoming the renegade so many lesser talents proved
to be.
Berdichevsky was obsessed with the burden of the past and
desired to be relieved of it. He felt that dominance by the past