Page 90 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
porary Judaism, it did not harmonize with the verbal, grandi­
loquent heroism of self-appointed leaders:
. . . These are the ancestors of the People of the Book.
The hero as the progenitor of the bookish weakling: here was
a contrast worthy of the poet’s subtle contempt.
Bialik’s Essential Greatness
Bialik’s twinned nationalism and spirituality was perhaps his
essential greatness. As a disciple of Ahad Haam, he glorified
the House of Study as the perennial fount of spiritual rejuvena­
tion. At the same time he was aware that the religious base of
the people no longer supported the age-old edifice of Judaism.
He wavered between confidence and doubt, he deplored the dual
disaster—the personal and the national:
Shall I weep for your ruin or weep for my wrack?
While Bialik's philosophical mentor, Ahad Haam, could com­
fortably posit his faith in national ethics and in national,
secular-oriented spirituality, Balik as a poet had to resort to
imaginative concretization of generalizing abstractions. This he
accomplished superbly in
in the portrait of the dili­
gent student of the rabbinic academy. In that major poem he
traced the transmutation of a normal boy into a dim-eyed, pale-
faced scholar whose world had shrunk to a number of talmudic
folios and whose life had become a series of painful victories
over such innocuous distractions as the sight of a tree or the
sound of conversation. Bialik identified with the boy—the archetype
of thousands in eastern Europe at the turn of the century—whose
soul had become an arrow aimed at a cherished target: the rab­
binate. But doubts, drowned in talmudic chants, assailed his
faith and his aim. Perhaps it was the absence of non-Judaic
studies that irked the boy and, by implication, the poet. In an
autobiographical letter to Klausner, Bialik complained ruefully
that neither sciences nor languages were taught in the world-
famous academy at Volozhin where he had studied in his youth.
More than his contemporaries, he knew that his praises of total
scholarship were also the swan songs of an era. The exclusive study
of the three T ’s—Talmud, Talmud and Talmud—was doomed;
every individual had to search for his inner citadel of strength.
Bialik found it—a fact not fully appreciated by his critics—in the
world of his childhood and early boyhood.
The first six years of Bialik's life, spent in the Volhynian
village of Radi, inspired soft landscapes in his poetry. His atti-