Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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T he reasons for this identification should be sought, as we have
said, in the realm o f g roup psychology ra th e r than in the social
reality o f Jewish life. However, this concept o f the Jewish fa the r
not only had a strong influence on the image o f the Jew in gentile
litera tu re (as far back as Shakespeare’s “Merchant o f Venice”) bu t
also on the self-image o f Jews who, in the period o f the
Enlightenment, began to accept this twisted picture as a true
description o f the Jewish family. They began to transfe r to the
shtetl and to themselves those ideas o f en ligh tenm en t and free­
dom which they found in the su rround ing Eu ropean environs, as
well as tha t “En ligh tenmen t” image o f the ugly Father who
becomes in a special sense — a Jewish father!
From this point o f view, the En lightenment w rought havoc
with the structure o f the Jewish family. In 1872, in Vilna, the
police arrested 40 young Jews on suspicion o f belonging to nihilis­
tic movements, blaming the members o f the Jewish community
for the youths’ bad education. In his reply, one o f the leaders o f
the community claimed tha t the damage was the result o f non-
Jewish influence, and tha t in fact, it had absolutely no connection
with internal Jewish conditions (See Jacob Raisin,
The Haskalah
Movement in Russia,
1913, p. 259).
We may note in this connection tha t the biblical narrative o f the
“Binding o f Isaac” was used by many writers to underline the
breakdown o f the family bond, Abraham appearing as the m u r ­
derous father. Again, this first appears in gentile literature , for
example in the works o f Henrik Ibsen and Samuel Butler (men­
tioned above). T he motif is also found in the work o f the English
war-poet Wilfred Owen. In a poem written at the time o f the First
World War, Owen portrays the merciless fa the r Abraham who
sends his son Isaac to be killed at the fron t. Abraham becomes a
symbol o f the wickedness o f the fathers o f both warring sides.
Later on, the “Binding o f Isaac” became a well-worn theme in
modern Hebrew literature afte r the establishment o f the State.
An ou tstand ing example is
The Days of Ziklag
by S. Yizhar
(Smilansky). In Aharon Meged’s novel
The Living On The Dead
(1965), the less-than-adm irable protagonist Davidov sends his
son to the fron t, knowing full well tha t he is likely to be killed, due
to his poor eyesight. And in Amos Oz’ story, “T he Way o f the