Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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have turned to “religion of one sort qr another.”13Arnold Eisen,
for his part, seeks to understand Ozick’s work by placing it in
the American cultural context. He correctly views her writing
as embodying, the “voice of a Jewish religious intellectual” rep ­
resentative of a group who “appropriate Jewish symbols for the
understanding of their own situation,” while ignoring their own
middle class ambience which they scorn.”14 Consequently,
Ozick’s work is described both as lacking a religious voice, being
a brilliant religious voice, and as appropriating that voice over
and against her own psycho-social surroundings.
In contrast, I argue that no Jewish American novelist has done
more than Ozick to shed light on the altered nature of post-
Auschwitz Jewish life. Although not written as systematic the­
ology, her fictions reveal a significant re-visioning of post-
Holocaust covenantal identity. Unlike much Jewish American
fiction, Ozick’s works display a keen sensitivity for history which
in Jewish tradition means an awareness of the complex rela­
tionship between deity and daily existence.15 Yet her authen­
tically Jewish characters are not God-intoxicated and display no
finely wrought theodicy. Ozick’s characters rarely quarrel with
the deity. Rather, they tend to be
ba’alei teshuva
(penitents). Nev­
ertheless, her writings illustrate that those who have heard the
shofar’s call adopt the rabbinic view which attributed to God
the statement, “Would that they would forsake Me and observe
My Torah for the light within it would return them to the prop­
er way”
{Jerusalem Talmud Hagigah
1). Like the rabbis of antiq­
uity, Ozick imbues both Jewish behavior and Jewish history with
providential resonance.
This essay addresses Ozick’s understanding of the meaning
of post-Auschwitz Jewish identity by discussing the principal
covenanted characters in her three novels. Three questions are
asked: What precisely is the post
Lesson of the Shofar?
13. Louis Harap, “The Religious Art o f Cynthia Ozick,”
33 (Summer,
14. Arnold M. Eisen,
The Chosen People in America
(Bloomington: Indiana Uni­
versity Press, 1983), 131.
15. Alvin H. Rosenfeld observes that “ . . . the Jewish writer knows that history
is not to be held back; . . . what
to be avoided is illusion about experience;
what is to be found out and insisted upon . . . is signification: the truth
that whatever is,
To an unusual degree, Cynthia Ozick is a writer
o f this Jewish Idea.” Rosenfeld, “Cynthia Ozick: Fiction and the Jewish
XXIII:7 (August/September, 1977), 77.