Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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HAROLD FISCH
The Crisis in the Jewish Family:
Its Literary Reflection
T
h e
c r is is
TO
w h ic h
we re fe r began in the period o f the French
Revolution and was basically a crisis within Christianity. I t had its
roots in the social and religious history o f western Europe.
T he Protestant Reformation o f the 16th century and onwards
did much to streng then the position o f the family unit, as can be
seen th roughou t the literature o f the movement (see Jo h n
Bunyan,
The Pilgrim’s Progress,
pa r t II, 1678). Divine service
within the framework o f the family often replaced church ser­
vices. But there were negative aspects. T he fa the r was conceived
o f as leader and arb itra tor. Basing themselves on the Apostle Paul
(Epistle to the Ephesians), writers o f the Reformation advocated
the total subservience o f children to fa ther, and o f wife to hu s­
band . In addition, they took from Paul the fundam en ta l principle
o f original sin, which in tu rn influenced the attitude to marriage
and the family among refo rm ed Christians. Carnal love was con­
sidered an expression o f original sin which, while it could no t be
den ied altogether as it perta ined to m an ’s essential na tu re , should
nonetheless be held suspect. It followed tha t family life was con­
sidered to be not an ideal so much as a concession to m an ’s evil
inclination. “For it is be tter to marry than to b u rn ” (1 Corinthians
7:9).
T he code o f behaviour in sexual matters was very strict bu t
the re was also a considerable element o f hypocrisy involved. No
mercy for the woman who went astray (witness Nathaniel Haw­
th o rn e ’s
The Scarlet Letter,
1850), bu t on the o the r hand , men were
allowed considerable latitude; the result was a double standard
fo r men and women.
This phenom enon was not limited to the Pro testan t countries
bu t was found th roughou t Europe. We may, fo r example, note
Lev Tolstoy’s
Anna Karenina
(1877) and Gustave F laubert’s
Mad­
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