Page 100 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
knowledgeable reader detects, without footnoting, Yehudah Ha­
levi’s famous metaphor comparing the Jew among the nations
to a seed planted in the earth. Although inert to the eye of the
observer, this living-dead organism secretly nourishes itself in
preparation for a miraculous rebirth.
Underlying Ahad Ha'am’s various metaphors is his one mon­
umental analogue, depicting Judaism as that psychobiological
national organism which has evolved into the most ethically su­
perior and historically resilient folk genius the world has known.
This analogue spoke to a generation intrigued by Darwinism
and nascent studies of individual and folk psychology, and it
still engages a wide readership. It produced in answer to Jewish
self-effacement before Nietzscheanism, a gallery of Jewish ’’super­
men,” Moses, the rabbis of Yavneh, Maimonides; in answer to
historical materialism, a reaffirmation of the power of the spirit
to overcome the perishability of time; in answer to the Jews’
frequent lapses into self-denigration, a reflex of ethnic pride and
“the will to survive,” which deftly steered a course between the
Scylla of parochialism and the Charybdis of cosmopolitanism.
(“Transvaluation of Values” and other essays)
In Ahad Ha'am’s campaign for modern Jewish self-conscious­
ness, other literary images stand out clearly. The exemplary struc­
ture of his “Sacred and Profane” impresses itself on the mind
as a rationale for adhering to religious practices for reasons of
national identity and national discipline. His “Spiritual Revival”
is a manifesto, presenting the use of Hebrew language and He­
brew artistic subjects as symbolic vehicles for rehabilitating at­
rophied facets of the Hebraic national character. The need for
this rehabilitation is urgent. Ahad Ha'am describes the over­
whelming weight of assimilatory pressures as “a thousand hyp­
notists” at work inside of us, forcing us to believe untruths about
ourselves. (“Two Domains”) Only iron self-discipline in study
and deeds can overcome the erosive pressures towards conformity
and self-negation.
In this pivotal area of recharging Jewish self-consciousness, no
less a figure than Hayyim Nahman Bialik echoed Ahad Ha'am’s
message, writing as a disciple quoting his master. Bialik cites
Ahad Ha'am’s interpretation of the vexed rabbinic statement,
“If a man studies as he walks and breaks off his study to say:
‘How lovely is this tree! How lovely is this field!’—Scripture re­