Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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32
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
attemp ts to liberate American Jews from trad itiona l Juda ism ,
Y id d i s h -w r i t in g p h i lo s o p h e r a n d p o l i t ic a l ac tiv is t C h a im
Zhitlovsky, at the tu rn o f the cen tury , advocated writing Yiddish
in the Latin ra th e r than the Hebrew alphabet.
Yiddish has no more been able to liberate itself from the impli­
cations o f its role as the language o f trad itiona l T o ra h ins truc tion
and the “God o f A b raham ” p raye r regu larly recited by Jew ish
women at the conclusion o f the Sabbath, than m od e rn Hebrew
has been able to disassociate itself from its role as
leshon hakodesh,
the language o f the sacred texts and prayers o f Juda ism . T h e
conscious bastardization o f the language by the Am erican Yid­
dish press was no m ore successful than the similar a ttem p ts o f
Soviet bu reaucra ts to strip the language o f Jew ish associations
and have it serve communist aims. T h e d ee p e r levels o f m ean ing
in Yiddish words, phrases and idioms con tinued to h a u n t both
American and Soviet Yiddish writers and draw them ever closer
to the inn e r needs o f the Jewish people.
SOBEL’S POETRY
Elias Schulman, Kalman M armor, and o th e r h istorians o f Yid­
dish lite ra tu re in America, trace its origins to the writings o f J a ­
cob Zvi Sobel, who published a slim volume o f Hebrew and Yid­
dish poems in 1877.1 Sobel was also the au th o r o f “T h e T h re e
Principles o f the T o ra h ” in verse, subtitled “A World o f C on fu ­
sion.” In the la tter poem , he w arned his peop le against the d a n ­
gers o f assimilation. T h e T o ra h ’s th ree principles were abs ten ­
tion from superstition , the practice o f to lerance and hum an ism ,
and the elim ination o f poverty. I f Jews would bu t un ite , abandon
fanaticism and d rive poverty from th e ir midst, no enemy could
ever de fea t them .
Both Sobel and Elyokum T sunze r, the
badkhn
o r w edd ing
rhym ester, who came to America in 1889, were trad itiona lis t
Jews who had become
maskilim
o r advocates o f the m odern iza tion
o f Jewish life. Both p reached agrarian iza tion , bo th were in f lu ­
en c ed by H eb rew -w r i ting socialists such as A a ro n S am ue l
1 Cf. Elias Schulman,
Geshikte fun der Yidisher Literatur in Amerike, 1870-1900 ,
New York, 1943, pp. 141-147; Kalman Marmor,
Der Onhoyb fun der Yidisher
Literatur in Amerike,
New York, 1944, pp. 12-19; Kalman Marmor, “Yankev
Tsvi Sobel,”
L. M. Shteyn Yoyvl-Bukh,
ed. Y. K. Pomerants and A. Provotiner,
Chicago, 1938, pp. 98-114.