Page 69 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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63
G
rayzel
—C
ecil
R
oth
bears the title “The Elegies of the Ninth of Ab according to the
Ashkenazic Rite: a Translation and Notes,” the notes being pri-
marily historical. It was published in 1920, in Roth’s twenty-first
year, and was intended for the Jewish students at Oxford. A decade
later, on what was probably his first visit to the United States to
lecture at the Menorah summer school, he concluded his very
interesting discussion of “Parallel and Paradox in Jewish History,”
with the remark, “The only conceivable guarantee of our future
is an informed Judaism.” The address serves as a fitting introduc-
tion to the collection which bears the name
Personalities and
Events in Jewish History
(JPS, 1953). Every essay in the volume
bears the stamp of his inimitable charm, of his fervent devotion
to his people and his dedication to broadening the horizon of
Jewish life.
A Writer for Scholarly and General Readers
To this last mentioned objective he devoted his entire literary
output. It is amusing that one of the major criticisms levelled at
him by some scholars is the very element that best exemplifies his
approach to the writing of Jewish history. A number of his books
and essays do not provide the footnote material to which a studious
reader looks for information on the author’s sources. It is natural
for a scholar to be annoyed by such an omission in statements
which intrigue him. The fact is, however, that Roth followed a
perfectly reasonable policy. Most of his books and articles do have
footnotes: for example, his
History of the Jews in England
(Ox-
ford, 1941), his excellent article in
The Harvard Theological
Review
(XLIII [1950], 117-44) on the Disputation of Barcelona,
and his articles in
Speculum.
Quite clearly, Roth distinguished
between the media in which his works appeared and between the
audiences for whom they were intended. One type of reader looks
for notes and can follow somewhat complicated bibliographical
information, while another is likely to find footnoting a distraction
and a nuisance. Moreover, a volume on the Jews of Italy, meant
for the general English speaking public, would have required
notes predominantly in Italian or in Latin. Roth kept his objec-
tive and his audience in mind.
This simple procedure offers the clue to Roth’s attitude toward
the writing of Jewish history. He saw it not as a collection of facts,
constituting the “minutes” of an era; nor as a series of educated
guesses about the reasons things happened as they did, thus ere-
ating another philosophy of history. He quite clearly considered
it far more important to discover and relate the effect events had
on people, that is, how the past created the present. He was deeply
distressed about the possibility of a break in historical memory,
which he saw developing especially among the Jews. A generation