Page 216 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

THEODORE W IENER
Jewish Literary Anniversaries, 1985
M
o d e r n
JEW ISH
l i f e
was shaped in the nineteenth century, as
Jews — both in Eastern and Western Europe and in the New
World — emerged from their isolation and enlarged their intel­
lectual horizons. An important figure was Mendele Mocher
Sforim, the eminent Hebrew and Yiddish story-teller, who
achieved great popularity in his lifetime and laid the foundation
for a modern secular Yiddish literature, for up to his time Yid­
dish literature consisted mainly o f translations and adaptations o f
Hebrew religious works. A contemporary was the Hebrew writer
Peretz Smolenskin, who argued passionately for a change in Jew­
ish outlook and eventually championed the Hibbat Zion
movement, the forerunner o f political Zionism. Moshe Leib
Lilienblum and Lev Levanda, early advocates o f Haskalah, like­
wise turned to Zionism as a solution to the Jewish problem.
Isaac Seckel Fraenkel and Moritz Guedemann were typical o f
the new laity and rabbinate that developed in Germany, as eman­
cipation provided wider opportunities for self-expression. An
unusual figure in the United States was Mordecai Manuel Noah,
who early anticipated the Zionist movement o f the end o f the cen­
tury.
Other significant pathfinders o f the past century were
Nachman Krochmal, the philosopher o f Jewish history, Albert
Harkavy, the prominent historian o f RussianJewry, Raphael Na­
than Rabbinovicz, who provided a critical edition o f the Talmud,
Saul Phinehas Rabinowitz, the translator o f Graetz’s
History o f the
Jews
into Hebrew, and Mathias Strashun, who established a great
Jewish library in Vilna, a major center o f Jewish life.
Distant in time but notable for his innovative spirit was the
iconoclastic Eliezer Ashkenazi, whereas Aryeh Leib ben Asher, o f
Metz, represented the traditional rabbinate o f the eighteenth
century.
The present century has also produced many luminaries.
208