Page 136 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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narrow horizon and a restrictive denial of a real and full life. The
Jewish mission idea in both assimilationist and nationalistic ver-
sions is a deception.
Berdichevsky keenly regretted the resulting subjugation of the
individual in the interests of the collective. He reminds us that
advances in the long history of Jewry were always scored by indi-
viduals whose accomplishments were largely not
because
of but
in spite
of the environment and the group. He turned into a fault
the very quality of historic Judaism emphasized by Ahad Ha’am—
its corporate nature and blending of individual interests and col-
lective needs. He considered this frustrating and dwarfing to the
image of man seeking to free himself from the shackles of custom
and society. The spiritual tradition deadened man’s sense of beauty
and weakened his ties to nature. In becoming spiritual beings,
Jews were transformed into emasculated individuals.
His Transition from the Negative to the Positive
Had he stopped there, Berdichevsky would have been just an-
other name in the rabble of rootless and confused intellectuals
who constantly fall over their Jewishness without ever finding it.
He came not only to destroy, but to build. And the edifice he raised
was to be both functional and decorative for the household of
Israel. Assimilation was totally alien to him. If Jews were to share
equally in twentieth century life and thought, they were also to
be separate. At this very juncture—the individual and his relation
to his people—Berdichevsky made the transition from the negative
to the positive.
The starting point is a change of focus from religion to people,
from group to individual, and from the spiritual to the temporal.
Then enlightened self-interest of the individual becomes in turn
the basis for intelligent group interest. Assimilation offers no
solution since it requires denial of self and the sacrifice of one’s
individuality in order to be accepted by an alien society. Zionism
offers the only answer to the personal quest to live freely and fully
without having to be sacrificed on the altar of the collective good.
Only in a free Jewish society can the Jew be an unhampered indi-
vidual. Thus, Zionism ejected on the basis of its idealistic historical
foundations returns in response to realistic individual needs. The
outcome is not a rugged
laissez-faire
anarchism, but the harmonious
blending of personal and social interests.
The new man Berdichevsky envisioned, motivated solely by
personal considerations, will be compelled to seek a new life in
Palestine. Freed from the inhibitions of the religious tradition,
he can subscribe to any principle and entertain any theory without