Page 142 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
in the Holy Books of the Jews. As I stated in the citation of his
Doctorate of Laws (Honoris Causa) from Dropsie University:
When he stood before his father’s bookshelves, he saw the key to
the Jewish people’s existence. . . . And when he grew up, he did
not cast aside a single one of those books. All had their place in the
pattern he formed for his life—a pattern of wisdom, of devoutness,
of law and custom which in all ages has given our people the
strength and courage to its unique life in the face of all obstacles.3
Shazar spent all his life attempting to reconcile the spiritual
contradictions engendered in his childhood. Even the subjects
of his later scholarship, especially concerning Shabbatai Zvi, can
be traced to recollections of discussions amongst his elders. Sha­
zar’s great problem was the mystery of Jewry’s survival, a people
that flourished despite the incompatible tendencies of intense
self concentration leading to messianism, and of intense absorp­
tion of the outside world leading to assimilation. In relating this
issue to Zionism, Shazar was assisted by a significant confronta­
tion in his education: Baron Ginzberg’s famous Academy of
Jewish Studies. Here he was exposed to varieties of learning rang­
ing from traditional talmudic scholarship to the modern disci­
plines of philosophy, comparative law and oriental studies. The
range of scholars was even more influential: the Baron himself, a
remarkable eclectic; the orientalist Chowolson, the convert to
Christianity; Dubnow, the historian of the Jewish folk; Katznel-
son, the editor of the
Jewish Encyclopedia.
Shazar cultivated the
capacity to emphathize, to identify with the feelings and insights
of past generations and remote figures. Dubnow expanded this
concept when he said: “An intelligent Jew must feel completely
at home in every period of Jewish history.”4 This unity of Jewish
history was to be transmuted by Shazar into the unity of the
Jewish people.
Shazar was also busy in political party work. He attended the
Second International, naively believing the florid oaths against
war by the leaders of international socialism. His hero was Jean
Jaures, the French Socialist who was murdered the day before
World War I. The war found him in Germany, studying history
under the great Meinecke when he could pull himself away from
3 Full text can be found in
Zer le-Gevurot,
ed. by Ben Zion Luria (Jerusalem,
1973), pp. 15-17.
4 Shazar,
op. cit.,
p. 181.