Page 97 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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MINKIN ---- I. L. PERETZ
the ringing human spirit, will stand with broken wings at the crib
along with the ox and the cow — I hope for your victory, but I
fear and dread it.”
He loved Hassidism, was devoted to the traditional Jewish way
of life, and opposed religious reforms, but in
The Diamond
he
wrote one of the most biting satires against the petrification of
Judaism, when the diamond is forgotten and war rages over the
stones which mark its place.
The Jewish national ideal had attraction for him, but he was
skeptical of Zionism and felt that a narrow strip of land in Asia
was a narrow view of the Jewish destiny. He preached the mis-
sionary ideal of Judaism, viewing the Jews as the Messiah people,
suffering for the liberation of the world and the freedom of human-
ity, but he was scathing in his rebuke of assimilation. “Not for
this,” he cried out, “have we suffered these thousands of years,
that our civilization become forgotten and repudiated.”
He was one of the creators of Yiddish literature, and the greatest
of them all, yet he was not a fanatic Yiddishist, much to the
disappointment of his Yiddish cohorts. He had never declared
himself in favor of Yiddish, which he called jargon, as the national
language of the Jews: he sternly rebuked those who agitated for
it.
“ I have chosen jargon for my instrument,” he asserted, “because
something like three million Jews understand no other language.
But there must be no illusions about it. Jargon is not our national
language. We want all Jews to know the Hebrew tongue so that
the Bible may not be forgotten . . . . Abandonment of Hebrew
is like lopping a branch off the tree to which it belongs. I t is the
Jew’s death sentence.”
MASTER OF LITERARY EXPRESSION
#
He was versatile, prolific, and master of almost every form of
literary expression. He wrote essays, feuilletons, popular scientific
articles, travel pictures, allegories, ballads, short sketches, dramas,
and he died while writing a children’s lullaby. Although there
are ten volumes of his Hebrew writings, some of them translations
from the Yiddish, it is chiefly as a Yiddish writer that Peretz is
remembered. He made his debut in Yiddish with “Monish,” which
is a poem Faustian in style and conception. “Sewing of the Wed-
ding Gown” deals with the social question and is a powerful indict-
ment of human exploitation. Although he wrote several dramas,
the most successful are
The Golden Chain
and
A t Night on the Old
Market
, a powerful play in rhymed verse. When he died in 1915,