Page 71 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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enough books make a claim on them that the need to be selective
induces them to exercise it. Moreover, their horizons have enor­
mously broadened. They bring to bear on their Jewish reading
the same standards of judgment and taste that they apply to
any book that seeks their assent. Our community did have some
books fifty years ago which sought to meet these criteria, for
in that blessed intellectuality of ours there were some Jewish
authors who, dissatisfied with what they saw around them, wrote
far in advance of most of their readers, seeking to bring Amer­
ican Jewry from where it was to where it needed to be.
In this period what has changed spectacularly for the Jewish
better — at least in this one respect — has been the symbiotic
development of a public for sophisticated works of Jewish
thought and of authors who address this group. In some ways
this is only another bypath in the well known history of the
post-World War II maturation of American Jewry, of its rise
from penury to affluence, of its stunning academic and cultural
ascendance, of its growth to self-conscious self-respect, and of
its odd will to remain Jewish despite being bewitched by the
pleasures of assimilation. But nothing in that record of the Ju-
daization of our community prepared us for the emergence of
a clear-cut interest in Jewish ideas
per se.
Our Jewishness, so
it seemed, was a blend of American pragmatism — do first,
you’ll think later — and ethnicity. So it was not to be expected
that abstractions about Jewish life rather than history or liter­
ature or how-to manuals would become a significant concern
of our authors and readers. The result of this unexpected evo­
lution has been a steady stream of cultured volumes of reflec­
tion, one so broad-ranging that even assiduous readers cannot
any longer easily stay abreast of it.
Social historians have yet to probe the etiology of this phe­
nomenon but even standing in its flowing midst a non-expert
can discern three, perhaps four, factors as critical to its forma­
tion: the explosion of the number of Jews academically involved
in Jewish studies, the crisis in ethics, particularly bio-ethics, and
the recent intensive search for meaning with its attendant fresh
appreciation of tradition. An extra energy has been given this
flow by the emergence of Orthodox authors who write in En­