Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

Basic HTML Version

firms Wiesel’s contention that every writer, especially Jewish
writers, must write with the Holocaust as a background.
Ozick interprets the lesson of the shofar as meaning that post-
Auschwitz Jewish identity involves choosing among a series of
antinomies: Moses versus Pan, History as opposed to Nature,
Monotheism instead of Idolatry and Paganism, and Jewish ver­
sus Gentile. The linchpin of Jewish identity is the Covenant
at Sinai and all that flows from this watershed event, including
the ideas of moral choice and a distinctive behavioral code. Wa­
vering from this path leads to paganism or, to use the earlier
cited example of the ram, becoming “caught in iniquities and
entangled in misfortunes.” Her covenanted characters are fully
aware of the dissonance between normative theological pro­
nouncements and the world of Auschwitz. They do not shrink
from confronting the abyss which separates the Exodus of Re­
demption (
yetziat mitzrayim)
from the anti-Exodus of the Hol­
ocaust. Rather, Ozick has her centrally Jewish characters model
various ways of walking the covenantal path and responding
to the shofar’s call. For example, the nameless rebbe in “Blood­
shed” is a religious figure who hears the ram ’s horn. But so
too does the secular Enoch Vand in
the angry Genevieve
Levin in “The Suitcase,” “Levitation’s” otherwise mediocre J im ­
my Feingold, and
The Cannibal Galaxy
’s mysterious Hester Lilt.
Ozick boldly confronts the contradictions and complications
involved in post-Auschwitz identity. Two short stories exemplify
this confrontation. Her award-winning “The Pagan Rabbi”
(1966), reveals that even those who are covenanted must con­
tinue to resist temptation. Isaac Kornfeld, a brilliant Torah
scholar, abandons covenantal Judaism (history). He is fatally at­
tracted by pagan nature in the form of a dryad to whom he
makes love. Unable to bear the tension between the demands
of his Jewish soul for self-restraint and the dryad’s appeal for
self-abandonment, Kornfeld (corn field) hangs himself with his
prayershawl from the limbs of a tree.
Sheindel, the rabbi’s wife, was born in a concentration camp;
her life was spared when a mob incapacitated the electrified
fence she was to be thrown against. After her husband’s suicide,
Sheindel observes, “I was that man’s wife, he scaled the Fence