Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
of the pathfinding trio, extended it, and then developed themes
and attitudes that transcended those of the Renaissance writers.
The newer writers baked their fiction with more specifically
Jewish ingredients, in which even theology and internal cultural
conflicts played a role. Besides the introduction o f these new con­
cerns Holocaust survivors and Israeli problems were beckoning
for attention. The Jew’s connection with America was now that of
a citizen secure and entrenched, no longer fearful of losing his
religious innocence to a seductive materialism. The desire now
was less to make it than, having made it, to make his moral influ­
ence felt in an age of affluence. A transfer was made from a once
powerful commitment to Torah to an equally strong commit­
ment to social values, the relief of racial tensions and discrimina­
tion, the war against poverty and crime, involvement in peace
movements and nuclear disarmament programs.
Perhaps the most promising of the late Renaissance, early post-
Renaissance writers was Cynthia Ozick, a writer who can only be
described as “integrally Jewish.” She has been aptly termed an
uncompromising crusader against idolaters of all kinds. In the
title story of
The Pagan Rabbi
(1971), the battle against paganism is
literal. Ozick pits the moral discipline of religious Judaism against
the nature worship and sexual libertinism of the Hellenic world.
Nymphs of woods and fields and later on Christian maidens seek
to seduce previously stalwart Jewish men, who were committed to
the One God of Israel. Yet this God cannot be apprehended,
Ozick makes it clear, through rational processes. Like I. B. Singer
whose success becomes a subject of envy in one of her finest sto­
ries, she frequently invokes the supernatural. Characters levitate
as a symbol of the separation of a writer from the world about
her. A woman lawyer constructs a Golem that first turns New
York into a Utopia, then in the manner of Golems, females
included, turns against its creator and through sexual excesses
leaves the city in a more chaotic state than the one from which she
had rescued it. There are no limits other than good taste to the
luminous, often extravagant Ozick imagination, to her inventive­
ness which, if not always clear or conclusive in its results, usually
makes at least a fascinating speculative point.
Her war against false gods is sometimes waged through
competing cultural priorities. In
Trust
(1966), her least Jewish
novel, the unnamed heroine chooses between approaches to life
represented by her three “fathers”: the respectable WASP law­