Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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with R. Judah Ibn Verga taking credit for the lion’s share of the
compilation and the writing of the most readable of this type of
I t is deplorable that, thus far, very little of the medieval heroic
Hebrew literature has been made available to the English reader.
Save for a limited number of excerpts in anthologies (see especially:
Jacob R. Marcus,
The Jew in the Medieval World
; A. Millgram,
An Anthology of Medieval Hebrew Literature
; Leon I. Feuer,
Literature Since the Bible
, Vol. I.; J. Hoexter and M. Jung,
book of Jewish History and Literature)
, and George Alexander
Kohut’s translations of Zunz’s German renditions of liturgical
heroic martyrologies incorporated in his
The Sufferings of the Jews
in the Middle Ages
, this rich and vast mine of Jewish information
and, what is more important, inspiration is inaccessible to the
English reader. And yet, it is precisely this type of literature
which inspired Zunz’s classic statement (quoted by George Eliot
in the superscription to
Daniel Deronda
, Book VI, 42): “I f there
be an ascending scale of suffering, Israel has reached its highest
degree. I f duration of afflictions, and the patience with which they
are borne ennoble, the Jews may vie with the aristocracy of any
land. If a literature which owns a few classical tragedies is deemed
rich, what place should be assigned to a tragedy which extends over
fifteen centuries in which the poets and actors were also the heroes ?”
Especially in our days of unprecedented Jewish heroic martyr-
dom on the vastest scale ever, it would be desirable that the com-
fort and pride to be derived from the ancient records of Jewish
heroism be made available to the Jews — and to the world at
large — who interpret Jewish sufferance as passive endurance
rather than active and aggressive heroism. We should like to
see an English
Anthology of Jewish Heroism
patterned along the
lines of Simon Bernfeld’s representative 3-volume Hebrew anthol-
Sefer Ha-Demaoth
(The Book of Tears), where the heroic
elements of Jewish existence and survival would be assigned their
rightful place of importance.
The medieval Hebrew accounts of Jewish heroism, which are
unjustly referred to as “martyrologies,” hold treasures of wisdom,
beauty and inspiration which deserve to be brought within reach
of the “average Jew.” Here is not the place for copious quotations
but to convey an inkling, at least, of which riches are buried in the
medieval Hebrew chronicles of heroism, we wish to cite one in-
stance of unsurpassed heroism, which is recorded in the Ibn Vergas’
“The Rod of Judah.” There it is told that among those who were
expelled from Spain in 1492, there was a Jewish family, consisting
of father, mother and two sons, who suffered the well known hard-
ships entailed by this expulsion. In the end, the mother and the