Page 176 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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THEODORE WIENER
Jewish Literary Anniversaries, 1992
i n
t h e
g a l a x y
of major literary figures in this year’s list two
stand out, Abraham Ibn Ezra and Mendele Mokher Sefarim.
Although eight centuries apart and in different civilizations,
they compelled attention because of their independence of spirit
and their pioneering ways. Ibn Ezra took a new approach to
the biblical text, so that his commentary is included in the stand­
ard rabbinic Bibles along with that of Rashi to the present day.
He succeeded in distilling the wisdom of his predecessors in
the field and leading the reader back to the simple Scriptural
meaning.
Mendele is seen as a founder of both modern Hebrew and
Yiddish literature. In the world of East European Jewry with
yiddish as its secular language it was natural that this medium
should be used to express the joys and sorrows, the triumphs
and tragedies in the life of the people. And so Mendele, al­
though a
Maskil,
overcame the disdain of the enlightened Jews
of his time for the language they often referred to as
Jargon.
Along with Peretz and Sholem Aleichem he is seen as one of
the classics of Yiddish literature.
The nineteenth century which saw the acculturation of the
Jewish community both East and West produced such figures
as Judah Leib Gordon and Peretz Smolenskin in the East and
Heimann Joseph Michael, Jacob Levy, Senior Sachs, Michael
Creizenach, and Saul Isaac Kaempf in the West. An earlier
teacher in the traditional mold was Joseph Teomim.
Among our contemporaries Menachem Mendel Schneerson
occupies a unique place. The success in bringing the message
of Hasidism to an assimilated community is indeed remarkable.
Recent Jewish scholarship is indebted to Bernard Mandelbaum,
Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, and W. Gunther Plaut. Yosef Kafah
has brought the insights of the Yemenite tradition to bear on
the Jewish past.
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