Page 8 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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J
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B
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2
Abba Eban, addressing the Israeli Dialogue, decried the fact
that “Israel goes forward without substantial reinforcement from
Jewish intellect abroad.” He added, “In the United States, in
Britain, and in Western Europe, leading Jewish intellectuals
are not conspicuous or prominent in the leadership or even
membership of the movements dedicated to Israel’s interests.”
Edwin Wolf II posed three crucial, closely related questions:
“What is the American Jewish community? What is an American
Jew? Ultimately, what is a Jew?” (Karl Shapiro, winner of the
Pulitzer and Bolingen prizes for his poetry, stated in the Intro-
duction to his
Poems of a Jew
, “No one has been able to define
J ew ”)
Mr. Wolf deplored the alienation of the Jewish intellectual as
an anamoly in Jewish life. “For one of the first times in history,”
he declared, “the best brains in the United States are not part of
the organized community. . . . What I am concerned about is why
a group which has been traditionally intellectual—one whose
primary image to the world has been intellectual—should be losing
the adherence, support, and even sympathy of its artists and
thinkers.” He was echoing the plaint in
Song of Songs
1.6, “They
made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I
not kept.”
The participating intellectuals did not equivocate in replying
to the allegation of alienation. Philip Roth, answering a ques-
tion from the floor characterizing him as “having a Jewish identity
which seems like a psychological shell,” replied categorically, “I
think of myself as a writer of fiction who is a Jew. . . . I am not a
Jewish writer; I am a writer who is a Jew.” Like Saul Bellow,
who maintained that “In literature . . . we can have only a
literary standard”
(Great Jewish Stories
, 1963), Roth avers that
preoccupation with so-called “Jewish standards” is a tyranny that
must be resisted, a parochial straight jacket that inhibits a writer’s
literary responsibility.
Professor Leslie A. Fiedler acquiesced in Roth’s (and Bellow’s)
criterion. He remarked that the sensitive writer must be true to
his personal vision, and to that alone. True, Fiedler does not
attempt to flee from his identity as a Jew. He invokes “Jewish
values” as well as “human values”; the motif of Jewish
Galut,
or
alienation, reflects a positive Jewish component in his recent
writing.
However, his allusion to the writer’s loyalty to his “personal
vision” calls for a commentary. Undeniably, Roth, Bellow, Mai-
amud, and Fiedler himself among other literary intellectuals,
weave their “individual visions” into literary tapestries of the
highest quality. However, they seem to forget that the contour