Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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BERGER /THE LESSON OF THE SHOFAR
49
the Holocaust revealed the murderous excess of morally unan­
chored art. Playing classical music at Auschwitz is not art. It
is murder. Consequently, while Ozick consistently warns against
the “religion of art,” her art deals quite seriously with the post-
Auschwitz nature of Jewish religion.
Jewishly authentic post-Auschwitz literature requires recogni­
tion that Jews are a covenanted people. Covenant, for Ozick,
confers identity. “To be a Jew,” she writes, “is to be covenanted;
or, . . . to be at least aware of the possibility of being covenanted;
or, at the very minimum, to be aware of the covenant itself.”23
Those who write of Jews without taking their covenanted con­
dition into account “miss the deepest point of all.”24 I have a r­
gued elsewhere that Ozick’s view of covenant should be read
as an initiatory paradigm.25 The third part of her statement,
“to be aware of the covenant,” is in reality the first act of the
covenantal initiatory drama. This stage is followed by an “aware­
ness of the possibility of being covenanted.” The capstone of
this gradually unfolding Jewish drama is reached by those char­
acters who are or become fully covenanted. Enoch Vand,
Trust
s
only Jewish character, models this initiatory scenario. This
stance distinguishes Ozick’s centrally Jewish characters enabling
them to hear the shofar’s call even while acknowledging the
theological problems and the existential pain of post-Holocaust
existence.
But what does covenant mean in Ozick’s fiction? On one level,
her covenanted characters display an obsession for history, live
in a Jewish community, and emphasize the importance of study.
History, as noted, is the linchpin of the Ozickian covenant. Yet,
her stance vis-a-vis the Divine is ambiguous. At times, especially
in her essays, she emphasizes the Sinaitic covenant. For example,
in critiquing the Jewless universalism of Allan Ginsburg, Ozick
writes, “But you cannot comprehend Sinai and still say ‘allee
samee’.”26 At other times she stresses rabbinic reinterpretations
of the relationship between covenant and history which empha­
size God’s hiddenness. For example, she writes that “What grips
me is not God, but something else. I am in thrall to the history
23.
Ibid.,
123.
24.
Op. cit.
25. Alan L. Berger, “American Jewish Fiction,”
Modem Judaism
10:3, (October,
1990), 223.
26.
Art & Ardor,
162.