Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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PELLI / HASKALAH LITERATURE
97
LITERATURE AS MISSION
Ano ther characteristic o f the first hun d red years o f modern
Hebrew literary creativity is already evident at the beginning o f
German Haskalah. It is the awareness o f the unique role and
mission of Hebrew literature as an educational medium. L itera­
tu re was viewed by the Hebrew
maskilim
as transcending its p u r ­
pose o f enhancing the sense o f beauty and aesthetic enjoyment.
Its role was to advocate the ideology o f Haskalah and to promo te
its ideas. This literature , then, was a didactic one whose p ropo ­
nents had endowed it with a mission: to educate the people and to
teach them in o rd e r to change the social, political and cultural
status of the Jews in Europe.
T he
maskilim
felt very strongly tha t the only thing tha t stood in
the way o f the achievement o f equal rights in the non-Jewish
world was the failure o f the Jews to participate in the En ligh ten­
ment trends tha t had transformed Europe. They the re fo re at­
tempted to in troduce many changes via the medium o f Hebrew
literature in o rd e r to alleviate the Jewish problem in Europe.
This extra-literary concept o f the role o f Hebrew litera tu re
dom inated the literary scene until the period o f reb irth towards
the end o f the n ine teen th century. Only th rough the efforts of
such Hebrew critics as Abraham Uri Kovner and David Frishman
did this basic concept o f literature change. It was at times mod­
ified or discarded completely in favor o f the aesthetic role of
literature: literature for litera tu re’s sake. It should be noted tha t
the appreciation o f beauty was also promu lga ted by the
maskilim.
However, beauty was regarded by many to be related to the
beneficial and was pu rsued by them for its extrinsic value.
b. SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES
In addition to the linguistic and literary aspects o f the Haskalah
period, one must consider some re la ted components o f the
movement. T he
maskilim’s
pragmatic o r even utilitarian concept
of literature was accompanied by practical activities to promo te
their ideology.
As a reaction to the past trea tm en t o f the Haskalah by literary
historians, the re is now evidenced a tendency on the pa r t o f
contemporary critics to regard literary activities in a social context
as demeaning the role o f literature itself. To apply this con tempo­