Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
vival that Zionism envisioned in Palestine became a reality.
Indeed, without a Hebrew-speaking community to sustain it —
though the Hebrew language itself might continue to be read for
its religious texts — the audience for Hebrew literature seemed
likely to disappear entirely within several generations, as it in fact
has done outside of Israel today.
Thus, the very fact of writing in Hebrew in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries was seemingly an act of faith in, or
at least of hope for, the success of the Zionist venture, especially
as doing so was a matter of deliberate choice, since Eastern-
European Hebrew authors could also have written in Yiddish (to
which some actually switched), or in some cases in Russian or Po­
lish. This is not to say that all Hebrew writers of this period were
confirmed Zionists. There were proto-Zionists like Mapu, who
wrote at a time when Zionism as a discrete force in Jewish life did
not yet exist; non-Zionists like Mendele, who, despite his caustic
critique of Eastern-European Jewish life (or, it may be, because of
it), refused to take Zionism seriously and wrote in Hebrew (even
recasting his earlier Yiddish works in it) on the mistaken assump­
tion that a Hebrew-reading intelligentsia with an interest in secu­
lar letters would continue to exist indefinitely in the Diaspora;
authors like Gnessin, whose creative attachment to Hebrew was
so great that he went on writing in it even after a thorough disillu­
sionment with Zionism caused by a visit to Palestine, and like
Berdichevsky, who believed passionately in the need for a
Zionist-like revolution in Jewish life but not in the possibility of
achieving it. Yet such men were exceptions to the rule, though
their being so made them among the most interesting, and some­
times the most tragic, of modern Hebrew writers. For the most
part, well into this century (only in the 1920s and 30s, when its
center shifted from Eastern Europe to Palestine, did Hebrew
writing first begin to be an environmental taken-for-granted
rather than a partly ideological decision), a serious author choos­
ing Hebrew as his medium was ipso facto a Zionist and as such
culturally and politically engage.
This engagedness, however, was a far from simple matter and
led to tensions of its own that are as much a part of modern He­
brew literature as the commitment to Zionism itself.
One encounters, for example, the seeming paradox that, as
strongly identified with Zionism as most Hebrew authors were,
many were deeply sceptical of its prospects for success. Though