Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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stand Judaism in terms of two traditional polarities: the cov­
enant and idolatry. Jewish history is the stage upon which the
conflict between the two occurs. Like their creator, Ozick’s au­
thentically Jewish characters passionately wallow in history. As
Victor Strandberg astutely observes of Ozick’s characters, a pas­
sion for history is “the key sign of Jewish identity.”10 Ozick’s
imaginative virtuosity and literary brilliance comprise an ex­
tended reflection on the content of post-Auschwitz Jewish iden­
tity in the Diaspora.
Despite Ozick’s emphasis on the shofar’s call, its covenantal
imperative, and the danger of idolatry, her work has been crit­
icized for lacking a religious dimension. The assertion is made
that Ozick’s fiction contains no “sense of the numinous,” and
that it portrays “no invisible yet powerful cord linking human
and God.”11 Bonnie Lyons’ provocative article further objects
that Ozick has little to say about the positive term “covenant”
and, apart from her short story “Bloodshed,” “there are few
positive spiritual characters in her fiction . . . ”12 A contrary
view is espoused by Louis Harap who discusses what he terms
“the Religious Art of Cynthia Ozick,” designating her “perhaps
the most brilliant” of the postwar Jewish American writers who
10. Victor Strandberg, “The Art o f Cynthia Ozick,”
Texas Studies in Literature
and Language
25:2 (Summer, 1983), 303.
11. Bonnie Lyons, “Cynthia Ozick as a Jewish Writer,”
Studies in AmericanJewish
6 (Fall, 1987), 16.
For a detailed analysis o f the spiritual characters and the covenant in
Ozick’s “Bloodshed,” “The Shawl,” and “Levitation” see Alan L. Berger,
“Crisis and Covenant: The Holocaust in American Jewish Fiction (Albany:
Suny Press, 1985), 49-59, and “La Shoa dans la litterature americaine:
temoins, non-temoins et faux temoins,”
9-10, 1989, Numero special,
Penser Auschwitz, 81-82.
Professor Lyons statement is flawed in that it grants no weight to the
theological impact o f the
on Jewish life and thought. Covenantal
premises are assumed untouched. A different view is reflected in the novels
o f theologically sophisticated writers, such as Saul Bellow, Arthur Cohen
and Hugh Nissenson. On Nissenson see Alan L. Berger “Holiness and Hol­
ocaust: The Jewish Writing o f Hugh Nissenson,” in
Jewish Book Annual
(1990-91), 6-25.