Page 98 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

Basic HTML Version

Ahad Ha‘am: Wordsmith and Moral Force
(On the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Death)
o f
f e r v en t
and talented Hebrew essayists were sponta­
neously generated by the Zionist renaissance of the 1880’s. Alone
among these forgers of modern Hebrew journalism, Ahad Ha'am
continues to command an abiding literary appeal, both in Israel
and throughout the Jewish world. This phenomenon owes much
to Ahad Ha‘am’s personal moral and intellectual stature, to his
symbolic role as the gadfly and conscience of Zionist ideology
from its inception until today, and of course, to his effective
Hebrew style. However, above and beyond their content and
context, his essays possess literary features and an emotional tone
which distinguish them in their genre and enable them to sur­
vive the devastating crucible of translation, and lienee, virtually
immortalize them.
Ahad Ha'am was master of the technique of artful sermonic
expansion on well-chosen metaphors which intermesh religion
and psychology. He instilled psychological slogans with the con­
viction and gripping existential tension of religious statements.
Similarly, he made phrases of religious origin appeal to a god­
less audience, coupling the consummate skill of a political myth-
maker with a moral authority and saintly integrity unique in
the annals of the nonpious.
Ahad Ha'am’s sleight of hand in psychologizing religion and
sacralizing psychology has been excoriated by his detractors. But
the vigor of these various assaults bespeaks no little awe at the
inspired artistry which could produce in Ahad Ha'am’s newly
coined phrase “More than Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath
preserved them” the weight of a hallowed rabbinic aphorism.
(“The Sabbath and Zionism”) Similarly, friend or foe had to
admit that Ahad Ha'am’s amplification of Franz Delitzsch’s
quip, depicting the life of the medieval Jew as “freedom within
slavery” and the life of the post-emancipation Jew as “slavery
within freedom,” also had the ring of theological truth. (“Slavery
within Freedom”)