Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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NORMAN TARNOR
American Motifs in Hebrew Literature
A
f a vo r it e
p r in c ip l e
h ig h
schoo l
physics teachers drummed
into unscientific heads constantly reminded us that “nature ab­
hors a vacuum.” We may also apply it to literature and formulate
it as follows: No literature is created in a vacuum. If this prin­
ciple applies to world literature, how much more so with regard
to that special brand of Hebrew literature inspired in and by
the “Land of ColumbusI”
Of course, this “special brand of Hebrew literature” has fol­
lowed previous behavioral patterns of Jewish literature evolved
in the lands of Jewish dispersion. The principle of action and
reaction with alien environments, and of rising to the challenge
of values inherent in them was continually maintained by Jewish
literature. This phenomenon was a sort of positive assimilation
practiced by such disparate personalities as Philo of Alexandria,
Judah Halevi, Maimonides, Immanuel of Rome and many others.
We should bear this fact in mind because Hebrew literature,
written as it was in a non-European language, tended to impress
the western mind with an aura of the exotic, the long ago and
far away. Nothing is further from the truth.
Before he returned to Israel to accept the professorship of
modern Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University, Simon
Halkin translated Whitman’s
Leaves of Grass
into Hebrew. The
reader is made to feel as though the book had been originally
written in Hebrew. No small part of this is due to Halkin’s
enormous talent but, as he once admitted, Whitman’s permea­
tion with the spirit of the
Tanach
helped considerably.
Let us consider an example. Gay Wilson Allen showed that
in one of the poems of
Calamus
, “The Base of Metaphysics,”
Whitman expressed his favorite doctrine as: “The dear love of
man for his comrade, the attraction of friend to friend,/Of the
well-married husband and wife. . . -”1 Need we belabor the
i Walt Whitman,
Leaves of Grass,
ed. Emory Holloway (Garden City, N.Y.,
1943), p. 101.
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