Page 184 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
asJews” (p. 182). The Jews of his group are united by the very fact
that they perceive reality through aJewish prism. It might appear
on the surface that their attachment to Judaism is characterized
by a discontinuity, by an effort to break with the past. In a
moment of despair, for example, the suggestion is made that
were Moses the Lawgiver to see the plight of the Jews at the time
of the Holocaust, he would shatter the Tablets once again. What
is important in that assertion is not the discontinuity with the past
but the fact that it refers back to the tradition at all. The frame of
reference itself constitutes a continuity.
The dilemma of the Jewish partisans is one that the “Russians”
(read Christians) do not seem to experience at all. There is, Levi
asserts, a Jewish way — however universal — to respond to Nazi
barbarism. A thoughtful Jewish partisan speaks:
I think that killing is bad, but killing Germans is something we
can’t avoid. . . . Because killing is the only language they under­
stand, the only argument that convinces them. If I shoot at a Ger­
man, he is forced to admit that I, aJew, am worth more than he is:
that’s his logic, you understand, not mine. They only understand
force. . . . So that’s why it’s important for there to be Jewish parti­
sans, and Jews in the Red Army. It’s important, but it’s also horri­
ble; only by killing a German can I manage to persuade the other
Germans that I am a man. And yet we have a law that says ‘Thou
shalt not kill.’ (p. I l l )
The biblical injunction against murder seems to set up a dialectic
between the Jewish “Way” and the partisans’way. This is further
emphasized by the story told in the novel of the yeshiva boys who
were drafted into the Czar’s army:
A month goes by, and the instructors notice that all these boys
have an infallible aim: they all become first-rate marksmen. . . .
The war comes, and the regiment o f Talmudists goes to the front.
. . . The officer shouts, ‘Fire!’Nothing happens, nobody fires. The
officer again shouts ‘Fire!’ and again nobody obeys; by now the
enemy is only a stone’s throw away. ‘Fire,’ I said you ugly bastards!
Why don’t you shoot?’ the officer yells.. . . ‘Can’t you see, Captain
sir? They aren’t cardboard outlines, they’re men like us. If we
shoot, we might hurt them.’ (pp.
115-116)
Except for the fact that this story does not touch on the biblical
and rabbinic commandment to defend one’s own life, the narra­
tion is a quintessential Jewish story in that it gives its due to the