Page 70 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Jewish Thought
on the Emergence
of a Genre
t h e e a r l y v o l u m e s o f t h e
Jewish Book Annual
the lists of
new books published do not contain much of what today would
be called “Jewish thought.” The reasons for that are largely
semantic and social. There have always been thoughtful Jews
and there is hardly an age in our long history when there have
not also been writers seeking to share their ideas with others.
It was no different in the 1940s for all the special difficulties
authors and publishers encountered due to the war, the linger­
ing economic tightness and American Jewry’s continuing cul­
tural latency. As a result one can find in these initial registers
a steady sprinkle of books in the classic genres of Jewish think­
ing: homiletics, commentary, talmudic
and, in a more recent style, ideology. Anyone who wants to
understand what intellectual Jews seriously cared about then
and how they carried forward a millennial style in an age dom­
inated by a radically secular culture must study this literature.
That the connotations of the term “Jewish thought” have
changed over the past five decades testifies to our contemporary
conceptual sophistication. It is only by the standards of our cur­
rent riches that these old lists seem quite impoverished. For
today the term “Jewish thought” carries with it the implications
of academic competence, of books written for the university
trained and culturally sophisticated reader — a reader, inciden­
tally, who has benefited by the explosion of knowledge which
has characterized this half-century. No longer can one expect
commendation for one’s writing as a simple matter of commu­
nity pride, that the appearance of every Jewish book should
be greeted with thanksgiving and its quality guaranteed by the
Jewishness of its author and topic. Today’s readers have been
taught that a critical attitude is the beginning of wisdom and