Page 97 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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S
ch u lm an
— I
sr a e l
T
sinberg
8 5
then to complete the work in Yiddish. The Yiddish version of the
chapters originally written in Russian is not a translation, but a
thoroughly rewritten text. Tsinberg stated in his introduction to the
first volume: “The word is not only the form, the vessel of thought;
it is the most important component of thought. In Yiddish the
literary history must be written differently than in a foreign tongue.”
Tsinberg’s history was written for his own people and in a style
and tone that created an intimate rapport between the author
and reader.
Possessing diligence, knowledge, and a deep feeling for literature,
Tsinberg combined the scholastic grounding of a literary historian
with the keen perception of a literary critic. His
History of Jewish
Literature
is therefore the unique work by a scholar, historian and
great literary critic, who describes and evaluates. His philosophy
of Jewish literature is expressed within the work itself. He focused
upon the main idea of Jewish literature: What is the aim and pur­
pose of life? How can the suffering of the chosen people be justi­
fied? How can we explicate the contradiction: “An all-merciful
God and a world full of cruelty and injustice”? A ll the great
Jewish thinkers and poets have concerned themselves with this
dichotomy, and the answer is pointedly articulated in Jewish litera­
ture.
Tsinberg gives us not only a literary, but a cultural history.
He ascertains the influences of the outside world on the develop­
ment of Jewish culture. He proves that the flowering and decline of
Jewish culture does not always coincide with similar trends in Eu­
ropean culture. “Jewish cultural history,” he writes, “has its own
style, developed according to its own patterns, and has gone through
different stages of development.” He discusses and documents
external influences upon Jewish literature; at the same time he
underlines the originality of Jewish style, which is the product
of Jewish traditional thought and pinpoints reasons why the
chronology of Jewish literature and literary forms differ from the
chronology of the European nations.
Perusing the various volumes of Tsinberg’s
History of Jewish
Literature,
one is amazed at the prodigious achievement. The
amazement develops into real ecstasy. It is difficult to comprehend
how one man was able to do it all, especially when we consider the
circumstances under which he worked.
I I
Israel Tsinberg was born in a village near Lanovitz, Volhynia,
Ukraine (Russia), in 1873. His father, an adherent of the En­
lightenment and a great admirer of Spinoza, hoped his son would