Page 161 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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N A SH / T H E D ISCU S S IO N O VER Y A L A G ’S L E G A C Y
153
was his masterful lament over the plight o f Jewish women,
Kotso
shel Yod
(“T h e T ip o f the Letter
Yod
,” 1878). In his earlier poem
depicting the plight o f Jewish zealots in the Roman circus arena,
Bein Shinne Arayot
(“Between the Lion’s Jaws,” 1868), Gordon
had set the tone for his campaign against the ill effects o f Jewish
traditional educators. As Shalom Spiegel translated it: they
“taugh t thee, alas, to go against life, to keep thyself behind
fences and walls, to be dead on earth, and alive in Heaven,
to dream while awake, and to be sunk in fancies . . . ”3 Writing
thus in the tone o f a reproving poet-“p rophe t,” Gordon was
viewed by his adulators as the fo re runn e r o f Bialik and as the
true initiator o f Jewish activism in modern times.4
By contrast, G o rdon ’s critics, such as Go rdon’s form er ally
in the battle for religious reform , Moses Leib Lilienblum,
faulted YaLaG for not having abandoned his assimilationist
hopes. Gordon, he charged, could not be considered “a national
poet.” To be so considered Gordon should have adjusted his
faith in accord with the dom inant Russian intellectual trend o f
positivism o r utilitarianism. This would have led him to Jewish
nationalism. Instead, all o f Go rdon ’s verse from his early, ro ­
mantic, period through his later, aggressively critical period o f
writing, suffers from a dea rth o f realistic depictions and expec­
tations.5
T h e influential critic, Barukh Kurzweil, too, later on acknowl­
edged YaLaG as having had a d ifferen t sort o f major negative
impact. Gordon, for Kurzweil, was the prime mover in that
modern Jewish
Kulturkampf
which overturned the Jewish world’s
once predom inantly religious world orientation in favor o f a
secular outlook. He particularly stressed the anti-clerical mo­
m en tum o f G o rd o n ’s poem
Zidkiyyahu be-Vet ha-Pekudot
(“Zedekiah in the Prison House,” 1879).6
3.
Hebrew Reborn
(originally published in 1930) (Philadelphia: Jewish Publi­
cation Society, 1962), p. 177.
4. Even such a remote ideologue as the Revisionist writer Abba Ahimeir ac­
claimed YaLaG as a “prophet o f Betar.” See his
Berit ha-Biryonim
(Tel Aviv,
1972), passim, and see my article, “Hebrew Language and Literature and
the Beginnings o f Jewish Resistance to the British,”
Hebrew Studies,
XVIII
(1977), p. 71.
5. M.L. Lilienblum, “Bikkoret le-Khol Shire Yehudah Leib Gordon,”
Melits,
Ehad M ini Elef,
pp. 1-34 (separate pagination), St. Petersburg, 1884.
6. See Kurzweil,
Sifrutenu ha-Hadashah
Hemshekh O Mahapekha
(Tel-Aviv:
Schocken, 1960), pp. 23-24.