Page 110 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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104
JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
As previously noted, there was a justified fear that the induc­
tion into the German language, especially of the young genera­
tion, threatened the unchanging continuation of a tradition
whose guardians these rabbis were. Still, the German translation
per se was not what caused the opposition. Thus, Rabbi Landau
did write a
haskamah
for a simple, word-by-word German Pen­
tateuch translation by R. Sussmann of Glogau (see Eliav, op. cit.,
34-35; Altmann, 398). Even less was it directed at anything objec­
tionable in the Biur proper (for an exception, see Eliav, op. cit., p.
35, n. 67). Rather was it the instinctive resistance against modern
ideas, against the looming neglect of Hebrew and the study of
Talmud, against losing the battle for the minds through the new
glory shed on the Bible, in short, against the loss of a whole way of
life. It was the fear of assimilation, of Westernization at the
expense of Jewish law and ritual. For the same reason that the
enlightened Jews of the time — especially people around the new
Hebrew periodical
H ame’assef
— enthusiastically welcomed the
translation (cf. Sandler, op. cit., 220ff), a fraction of the orthodox
leadership condemned it from the very beginning. It is this early
condemnation that has clung to the work; it never fully disap­
peared. Developments such as the wave of baptisms around the
turn of the eighteenth century as well as the rise of Reform
Judaism are still being traced back by some to Mendelssohn’s
Pentateuch translation. Such an attitude, however, means making
a scapegoat of a literary work that itself must be seen as an
expression — not the cause — of the powerful tide of modernism
that swept Europe from West to East in the second half of the
eighteenth century.