Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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FREEHOF / ON THE COLLECTING OF JEWISH BOOKS
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velopment o f the intelligence as part o f worship. H ow this d e ­
veloped, history can only hint. I f you go back far enough in
history, you can explain one mystery by an earlier one, and you
end up with a mystery. When our ancestors started fo r some
reason to open to the public the sacred books, the Torah , and
read them in the synagogue and have a translator translate them,
and have an in terpreter interpret them, that was really the first
adult education in human history. Th is started us on a road o f
combining our intelligence and our faith. W e became writers o f
books, and there was a f lood o f Jewish books almost from the
beginning. Th is does not mean that there was no intelligence in
the other religions. It would be absurd even to say that. T h e r e
were astronomers among the Babylonians, philosophers among
the Arabs and am ong the Christian Scholastics. But there was this
crucial d ifference . Inasmuch as our learning was held to be a
religious duty, incumbent upon everyone as part o f his religion ,
our books were not merely fo r and by the few philosophers and
their followers. Even though hundreds o f students fo llow ed
Abe lard around on the Scholastic debates, they were still a
selected group. An d all the Chinese learning was a Mandarin
culture. Our learning represents the completest, the deepest d i f ­
fusion, the most democratic intelligence in the history o f the
world. Remember too, it was not just belles lettres, which occu­
pied the minds o f the Jews. Mostly it was a developm ent o f legal
literature — tough legal literature, analysis o f d ifficult, comp lex
texts! In any little village in Germany, in Poland, in Hungary and
in Lithuania, humble half-starved Jews could write books which
would take the best o f your m ind ’s e f fo r t to understand! An d they
poured them out in a stream!
T h e re never was such a complete penetration o f h igh-grade
thinking in the history o f man. Certainly we are a strange peop le!
An d it is absurd to use Mohammed ’s term, “ People o f the Book ,”
when it is so pathetically inadequate. T h e r e are multitudes o f
books! I f a person wants to collect Jewish things, there are always
Jewish books.
But where would there be any unique possession, since there
are book stores on the East Side o f N ew Y o rk with piles o f books?
T h e unique possession is possible because Jewish books d ivide
themselves into separate subject-classes. You get interested in a
special subject, and gradually you accumulate a specific collec­
tion.