Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
virtue, the great vocation o f this people,” Scholem comments:
“This ‘being elsewhere’ combined with the desperate wish to ‘be
at home’ in a manner at once intense, fruitful and destructive.”2
Frequently in modern Hebrew literature this yearning o f the
double-rooted imm igrant for his birthplace is expressed in the
explicit terms o f language .3 Otherwise, landscape becomes the
key: the renounced homeland appears to have shed every con­
notation apa rt from its idealized, frequently pastoral, beauty,
the poets’ almost Arcadian fantasies overbearing the other, less
idyllic realities o f diaspora life.
With the Haskalah one o f the characteristic means o f express­
ing the dislocation o f place was th rough m etaphors o f nature .
Many maskilic au thors had been drawn to the sentimental
Rousseauan view o f man and nature , partly for polemical p u r ­
poses and partly as a replacement fo r the ir own vanished o r ­
thodoxy. They adop ted at least one classical literary convention
for the expression o f the ir vision o f an ideal natu ra l life to be
pu rsued by the “new” liberated Jew: the Arcadian fantasy, itself
an idealized invention o f man and nature . This new maskilic
attitude which had been stimulated in pa r t by Hasidism and
in pa r t by classical convention, found its consummate ins tru ­
ment in the pastoral literature o f the 16th and 17th centuries,
transposed by Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto into Hebrew poetry and
drama. This type o f lite ratu re suited the maskilim very well
for it implicitly drew attention to the contrast between the lives
o f its predom inantly urbanized writers and readers, and the
idealized country life it portrays.
It did no t take long before the advent o f na tu re and the land ­
scape was exploited by the 18th-century Hebrew writers for the
purpose o f promoting the ideal o f renewal in the Holy Land.
This was not a practical promotion for they were unable to offer
the ir readers a realistic natura l locale to which to aspire bu t
only a vaguely historical env ironm en t tha t could fruitfully be
developed by their imagination. T h e writers had never seen
their task as one o f scientific precision. Instead they yearned
for a legendary land which they could decorate th rough a free
2. See Bloom, Harold,
Agon.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, p.
324.
3. See Levin, Harry, “Literature and Exile,” in
Refractions.
New York: Oxford
University Press, 1966, pp. 62-66.