Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Ozick’s novel warns against substituting literary idolatry for
Holocaust history while restating the difficulty of covenant fi­
delity. The novel’s title itself is highly suggestive. For example,
the title may refer to the forged manuscript. It may also refer
to Lars’ self-understanding. Or, again, it may cause readers to
think of Adela. I believe that the title may be understood as
a warning. Self-proclaimed messiahs in Jewish history have
failed to bring redemption. Shabbatai Zevi, the focus of I.B.
Singer’s classic tale
Satan in Goray,
Jacob Frank, and others have
all ended in theological disgrace. Abandoning the idolatry of
the text, Lars comes to realize that the manuscript of
The Messiah
“went into the camps with its keeper.” This permits Lars to
understand Ozick’s real meaning of Messiah which is to be
found in
There she writes “When we remember the mar­
tyrs we bring on the Messiah.”39 It is worth noting that accord­
ing to gematria (number mysticism) the numerical value of “re­
member” equals that of the word “blessing.” But Lars’ Jewish
destiny is uncertain. He returns to the ordinary, involves himself
with community, and presumably remembers the martyrs.
Thus, he may be poised to assume the blessing of his Jewish
identity. Yet, the reader is left to wonder if there is any spe­
cifically Jewish context in Lars’ new situation. Being a
nonwitness, and discovering the idolatry of text worship, im­
mersion in Jewish history may be too much for Lars to bear.
Ozick’s fiction reveals a particular understanding of authentic
Jewish identity after Auschwitz. This identity is based upon a
covenant which invests Jewish history itself with a transcendent
meaning while simultaneously suspending specific questions
about God. Writing liturgical literature, which “judges and in­
terprets the world,” Ozick hears the call of the shofar. This
call is meant as a warning against historically unanchored fan­
tasy. Her novels reveal that the post-Auschwitz covenant, like
its biblical predecessor, is comprised of community. For exam­
ple, Enoch Vand prefers the community of survivors, while
Hester Lilt seeks the consolation of midrashim. Hester Lilt and,
39. Cynthia Ozik,
(New York: E.P. Dutton, 1983), 236.