Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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Herman Wouk and the
Liturgical Novel
Rejoice, young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in
the days ofyouryoung manhood; and walk in the ways ofyour heart,
and in the sight ofyour eyes; but knowyou thatfor all these God will
bring you into judgment. So remove trouble from your heart, and
put away evil from your flesh, for boyhood and youth are a breath.
h e
e p i g r a p h
o f
work of literature is like a key signature in a
piece o f music: it sets the tone of the work. Obviously, the quota­
tion at the threshold o f
Inside, Outside
1by Herman Wouk, taken
from Ecclesiastes XI:9-10, puts Herman Wouk’s latest novel in a
Jewish key, in the key of Jewish tradition, Jewish wisdom, Jewish
study, and Jewish practice.
The novel, the epigraph informs us, will not merely tell a tale.
Like the genre from which the epigraph is taken — Wisdom Lit­
erature — the novel will have meaning beyond the story it tells.
The very fact that Wouk chose to use a biblical epigraph also tells
us that the novel will be midrashic, adding the element o f story to
the biblical passage about the fleetingness o f the joys o f youth. It
will also teach, in another register, like the Book o f Esther, the
priority o f worthiness over happiness, and the necessity o f
responsibility, of making oneself available to serve one’s people
when the occasion arises. As the Book of Esther has shown, more­
over, story can also become liturgy. Above all else,
Inside, Outside
a liturgical work.
Cynthia Ozick, in her essay “Toward a New Yiddish,” argued
that only if a work is “centrally Jewish” will it stand the test of
time. She goes on to define “centrally Jewish” as “whatever
touches on the liturgical.” And Ozick issues a stirring prediction
1 Herman Wouk.
Inside, Outside.
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1985). Page references
to this work are made in the body of the text.