Page 127 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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Diaspora throughout the ages. With this went the urge to clarify
the Jewish people’s contribution to mankind through Christianity
which he viewed as essentially Jewish in character.
Yitzkhok Leybush Peretz, the first to recognize Asch’s literary
talent, urged him to liberate himself from the artistic limitations
of the Hebrew of his day and to switch to Yiddish as his literary
medium. It was also Peretz’s call to Jewish artists to see the world
“through Jewish eyes” as a “morally responsibile world,” i.e. from
the perspective ofJewish ethical monotheism, that Asch sought to
realize in his writings. Asch’s strength always lies in his emotional
identification with the Jewish past and present, in his sense of
Jewish history, in his appreciation of the virtues of Jewish home
life and family loyalty, and in his quest for kindness, humanity
and morality in all times and everywhere.
In the overwhelming majority of his short stories, novels and
plays, Asch’s hero is the collective Jewish people. No writer is as
deeply sensitive to the polarities and conflicts of the Jewish soul
while at the same time being convinced of Jewish chosenness and
spiritual transcendence. Asch inherited his obsessional preoccu­
pation with Jewry from the founding fathers of modern Yiddish
literature. But whereas Mendele’s overriding concern had been
to improve his people, Sholom Aleichem’s to comfort it and
Peretz’s to marvel at it, Asch sought to glorify the Jewish people in
its own eyes and before the eyes of a hostile humanity. The “love
of Israel” which had been a cardinal principle in the faith of his
hasidic forbears, became for Asch a major source of creative
passion and literary inspiration. Despite his lapses into sentimen­
tality, and kitsch, Asch’s works constitute the first major attempt
in Yiddish and Hebrew writing to present the Jewish people as a
whole in what is simultaneously a sympathetic-romantic and
objective-realistic light. The inclusion of Asch’s writings in Jewish
school curricula, alluded to above, was no accident. In Asch’s
writings Israel is God’s people, a model people, and despite its
shortcomjngs, the suffering-servant who is the hope of humanity.
When Asch’s writings are viewed from the perspective of the
dominant social trends in modern Jewish history, they are seen to
represent a confluence of four major tendencies. Just as his
proclivity for the romantic and the idealization of the Jewish