Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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A. ALAN STEINBACH
Introduction
i
S
in ce
1956,
w h e n
I became editor of the
Jewish Book Annual
(volume 14), my Introduction in most of the subsequent volumes
of the Annual affirmed my overwhelming conviction that Jewish
books are not only linked ineluctably with the configuration of
our Jewish destiny, but have contributed decisively to Jewish
survival. I referred to Jewish books as the systole and diastole of
the Jewish heart and as the intellectual embroidery of the Jewish
psyche. I averred (and continue to aver) that books for the
Jew became a survival value, a spiritual and mental efflux which
was to Jewish life what blood is to the veins and arteries; that
they offered to all Jews what the prince of medieval book-lovers,
Judah ibn Tibbon, suggested in his last injunctions to his son:
Make thy books thy companions, let thy book-cases and
shelves be thy pleasure grounds and gardens. Bask in their
paradise, gather their fruit, pluck their roses and their
myrrh. If thy soul be weary, change from garden to garden,
from furrow to furrow. . . .
As I write this Introduction to volume 33 I must confess to
profound disquietude. I have before me a letter dated October
1974, circulated by The Jewish Publication Society of America,
and I quote its first paragraph:
There are six million Jews in the United States. Yet probĀ­
ably less than two percent buy current Jewish books for
their home. A shocking statistic for a people concerned
with preserving its past and safeguarding its future.
A shocking statistic indeed! Aside from the pragmatic issue
whether or not we Jews should feel beholden to support Jewish
literature and to encourage Jewish writers, several gnawing,
agonizing questions obtrude and cast ominous shadows on our
contemporary Jewish scene. What has happened to the People
of the Book? Has that venerable cognomen become merely an
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