Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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A. ALAN STEINBACH
Introduction
THE PEOPLE AND THE BOOK
The sculptor dreams in stone,
The potter works in clay;
The scholar leaves us words alone
When he has gone his way.
No marble gods the Hebrews wrought,
No tombs to pierce the stars;
Nor sculpture of Assyria, fraught
With scenes of mighty wars.
For yellow gold the nations fought
And for power which passed away;
The wealth of books our fathers sought—
And it is ours today.
Elma Ehrlich Levinger
As
po e tr y
,
the lines quoted above are rather pedestrian, but as
a paradigm for what books have always meant (and should con­
tinue to mean) to the Jew, they must be interpreted as a peda­
gogic dictum. Much too long (and
ad nauseam)
we Jews have
boasted about Mohammed’s appellation of the Jew as “The
People of the Book.” Except for its original religious connota­
tion, that designation is no longer viable. Its broader cultural
meaning can become applicable to the Jew only if the preposi­
tion “of” in Mohammed’s rubric will be transformed into the
conjunction “and” as in the title of Mrs. Levinger’s poem, “The
People
and
the Book.” Too many Jews today must be character­
ized as “The People
without
Jewish Books.” I must dolefully
reiterate here the paragraph I cited in my Introduction last
year, taken from a letter circulated by the Jewish Publication
Society of America.
There are six million Jews in the United States. Yet probably
less than two percent buy current Jewish books for their homes.
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