Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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2
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
empty, meaningless slogan? Jewish-wise, what are the quality and
sense of values of this generation, and how can we account for
this disheartening metamorphosis in its attitude to Jewish books?
If, in fact, the JPS statistic is correct, can we escape the melan­
choly conclusion that the
Am ha-Sefer
is becoming the
Am ha-
Aratzut?
For the past 2,000 years the Jews have been essentially a literary
and educated people; for them books have been an indispensable
component of every-day life. Ours is the longest continuous
literature in human history, because a yearning for knowledge
and a love of books have been an indigenous element in the
Jewish attitude of mind. The Jews implemented scrupulously
Hai Gaon’s admonition in his
Musar ha-Sekhel
—a rhymed ethical
treatise presented as a guide to daily living—“To three possessions
thou shalt look:/Acquire a field, a friend, a book.” Should the
third subject in Hai Gaon’s triad continue to be divested of its
relevance, the rich Jewish cultural pattern that has subsisted
throughout the centuries, as well as the image of the modern Jew,
will be seriously truncated.
This is not the place to explore further the problem adum­
brated in the JPS letter. Its solution requires concerted group
action. The time seems to be overripe for the Jewish Book Coun­
cil and similar cultural organizations, together with publishers
of Jewish books and periodicals, to convoke a special conference
to consider the problem and its ramifications.
II
In a sense, volume 33 of the
Jewish Book Annual
is
sui generis.
Eight additional articles and bibliographies, each dealing with
Jewish identification with themes and motivations deriving from
the American literary scene, have been appended in recognition
of the United States Bicentennial celebration. To cite an illus­
tration: Prof. Norman Tarnor indicates in his article “American
Motifs in Hebrew Literature,” how four pristine American motifs
were incorporated into Hebrew literature: Reuben Wallenrod’s
Hebrew novel, titled
Dusk in the Catskills
in English translation,
describes how first and second generations of American Jews
sought to assimilate into the American mainstream through the
work ethic; Hillel Bavli’s Hebrew novel is entitled
Mrs. Woods,