Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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8
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Temple in 70
c
.
e
.,
ensured Judaism’s continuity by founding
the academy at Yavneh; Elisha ben Avuyah, the enigmatic tal-
mudic figure who renounced his faith, declaring that there is
neither judge nor judgement (
leth din v’leth dayan
), and became
an “other;” and the seventeenth-century heretical mystic and
pseudo-messiah Sabbatai Zvi. Mythic themes such as the
akedah
(the binding of Isaac), Jacob’s wrestling both with Esau and with
God, the perils of “forcing the end,” and the eternal conflict
between Yitzhak and Ishmael are reflected in Nissenson’s works.
This essay examines Nissenson’s recently published
The El­
ephant and My Jewish Problem
(1988), and selected novels which
reveal the stages in the author’s quest for, and ultimate rejection
of, faith in God. The discussion focuses on his understanding
of the nature of faith, the role of Israel, and the post-Auschwitz
meaning of identity in an age of the death of God. These issues
are engaged by Jews of every persuasion; secularists and or­
thodox believers,
sabras
and those in the diaspora, survivors and
non-witnesses, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, mystical and athe­
istic personalities, those with and those without power. A fuller
illustration of Nissenson’s search for holiness is revealed by ex­
amining his two novels;
My Own Ground
(1976), and the award-
winning
The Tree of Life
(1985) which presents the issues of re­
ligious disillusionment in a Protestant context amidst life on
the frontier in nineteenth-century Ohio. All of Nissenson’s
works are united by their concern to elicit the type of holiness
which is appropriate in the face of radical evil. Throughout
the discussion, parallels to Richard L. Rubenstein’s position are
noted.
PROBLEM OF FAITH
The Elephant and My Jewish Problem,
a collection of stories and
journals written over a thirty year period, records the author’s
post-Auschwitz quest for justice. Like Abraham o f old,
Nissenson interrogates the Lord of the Universe asking, “Shall
not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The book’s dust jacket
emphasizes this theme, displaying a drawing Nissenson made
at the 1987 trial of Klaus Barbie, the notorious “butcher of
Lyon.” The drawing includes a Star of David bearing the word
Juive, and is captioned in French, Cour D’Assises. Nissenson’s
use of the term assize must, however, be understood on two