Page 137 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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131
W
iner
— M
ich a
J
o seph
B
erdichevsky
regard to its Jewish antecedents or contrasts. Unlike the Jew of
the past, the Jew of tomorrow is at home in the real and natural
world, appreciative of its physical phenomena, inwardly enriched
by its contact. He is neither the “light unto the nations’׳ nor is
he their scapegoat. He is neither better nor worse than anyone
else. Yet the Jew of tomorrow speaks the Hebrew language, for
he must have a medium and it might as well be his own. He lives
in Israel, for he would live in his own country. In all other respects,
he is a citizen of the world.
Thus,
the individualism of Berdichevsky led to nationalism
that postulated both the Hebrew language and the land of Israel.
His was a romantic longing for pristine beauty, for primitive
strength and simplicity—somewhat reminiscent of Rousseau. He
longed for a return to the prehistoric force and vigor the ancient
Israelite tribes possessed before they succumbed to the intellectual
and spiritual.
Removing barriers, lifting controls, allowing life to take its
natural course—these are values to be demanded of literature as
well. In Berdichevsky’s literary creed, the creative writer owes no
obligation to the ethnic tradition. His spirit is not to be bridled
by the harness of national culture. The attempt to create a litera-
ture imbued with the historic destiny and tradition of Israel,
was anathema to him. His novels depict the conflicts of the indi-
vidual, frustrated in his passions and drives, at war with the social
mores. His essays champion the right of the individual to think
and act with obligations to none. “We may bow or refuse to bow
to any deity of our choice.”
Yet, with all his untrammeled individualism, Berdichevsky was
no “rootless cosmopolitan.” So deep were his emotional ties that
he found it extremely difficult to transgress the restrictions of
Jewish ritual. There was an ambivalence within him: simultaneous
detachment from and attachment to Judaism. His writings abound
with personal confessions, often expressing deep anguish. The
sorrows of a nation are evident throughout his work—the sorrows
of disturbing questions, aching problems and uncertain answers.
He was the spokesman for a bewildered age.
The Scope of His Influence Today
To what degree is Berdichevsky’s influence felt in Israel today?
Are his broodings and gropings merely echoes of the past? Secu-
larists, striving for a society liberated from religion and tradition,
invoke his name. Youthful rebels against social norms proclaim
him their source of militancy. The ramifications of Berdichevsky’s
thought include the emphasis upon individual needs and differ­