Page 183 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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1 7 5
1892 Dubnow published a lengthy study o f Graetz’s
as a memorial to him af te r his dea th .6 Dubnow praised the Ger­
man Jewish historian’s “architectural” ability to assemble many
sources, “tiny elements” b rough t together “like oxygen and hy­
drogen becoming water,” in o rde r to create a convincing and
coheren t extended narrative o f the Jewish past. At the conclu­
sion, Dubnow paid Graetz what was for him an immense com­
pliment: like Dubnow’s idol Jo h n S tuart Mill, Graetz could have
said when he died, “My work is done .” Recognizing his m en to r’s
limitations (for example, an inability to fathom the role that
medieval Jewish mysticism played in sustaining Jewish morale),
Dubnow acknowledged that “Graetz taugh t us what we expe­
rienced all these centuries.”7
In 1893 Dubnow wrote an introduction for a planned Russian
translation o f Graetz’s
Popular History of theJews.
(The translation
was eventually confiscated by orders o f the Russian O rthodox
Church .8) Published separately in
as “What is Jewish
History: An A ttempt at a Brief Philosophical Characterization,”
this essay became the first piece to gain a repu ta tion for Dubnow
outside Russia, though he later repud ia ted what he considered
its overly spiritualistic approach .9
What isJewish History
Dubnow proposed that Jewish history
was, in every way, singular. The Jewish people was “an axis
crossing the history o f mankind from one o f its poles to the
o the r,” in contact with the most ancient civilizations o f the Mid­
dle East and the most modern nations o f contemporary Europe.
The first half o f Jewish history saw the creation o f a unique
religious world view and morality o f such exceptional impor­
tance that it became “an organic constituent o f the past o f all
that portion o f mankind which has contributed to the treasury
o f human though t.” The second half represen ted the special
6. “Historiographer o f the Jews: Graetz, his Life and Work,”
nos. 2-5, 7-9.
7. Ibid., March, p. 73; September, p. 13, p. 14. Dubnow criticizes those who,
picking at the little details, ignore Graetz’s masterful synthesis.
8. Simon Dubnow,
Kniga Zhizni [Book of Life: Reminiscences and Reflections, M a ­
terial fo r the History o f My Time],
vol. I (Riga, 1934), pp. 276-77.
9. The German translation,
Die Judische Geschichte: Ein Geschichtsphilosophischer
was translated by Israel Friedlaender and published in Berlin in
1898; the English translation,
Jewish History: An Essay in the Philosophy of
translated by Henrietta Szold from the German version, was pub­
lished by the Jewish Publication Society o f America in 1903.