Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

Basic HTML Version

92
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
should one remain Jewish in this world? “Ask the fire why it
burns! Ask the sun why it shines!” is the answer he cites in one
memorable article. (“Three Steps”) When confronted with the
fact that Hebraist-Zionist activity had reached its lowest ebb,
he responded in a manner most characteristic of his dogged faith
in the ability of an elite task force of exceptional Jewish indi­
viduals to keep the true Jewish spirit alive by sheer psychic de­
termination. What does Ahad Ha'am care about the paltry
number of devotees! Had not God said to Moses concerning his
recalcitrant people: “Allow me . . . and I will annihilate them
. . . and I will make you into a great nation.”
Ahad Ha'am heatedly denied the view that
all
members of
a people had to be ethnically and culturally self-conscious if
one were legitimately to talk about them as a nationality, or
in Ahad Ha'am’s case, as a Hebraist-Zionist movement. He as­
serted:
Really, National Spirit is a collective concept only with regard
to the manner of its genesis . . . ; once it has developed
and struck root in the heart . . . it is a
personal
psychological
phenomenon. . . . If I feel the Hebrew National Spirit in my
heart, imparting a unique character to my entire mental life
—why, then it
exists
in me, and its existence is not termi­
nated, even if the rest of the Jews of my generation stop feel­
ing its existence in their hearts. (“The Time has Come”)
Naive? Perhaps. But for those familiar with Ahad Ha'am’s
pen, philosophy, and presence, this is not the facile sentimental­
ism of so many shopworn sermons. The man was sober, a rene­
gade from his Hasidic upbringing. He was a nonbeliever in su­
pernaturalism, yet possessed by an eerie fear of False Messiahs,
of
“dehikat ha-ketz”
(abortive redemption), of the hubris of rely­
ing on physical-political might rather than on “God’s” spirit.
Are all of the above considerations purely literary? Certainly
not. If Ahad Ha'am’s individual metaphors and tightly struc­
tured sermonic essays have become permanent, classical analogues
for manifold contemporaneous Jewish ideologies, it is because
of the man behind them. Nevertheless, today’s high school and
college students are still engaged by his isolated essays, even in
English translation, without knowing the perimeters of his
thought. Ahad Ha'am serves as a primer for style and a window
to serious thinking.