Page 81 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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ements which may in some way shed light on identity. To be
more specific, the reader may consider himself to be a tradi­
tionalist, or a total atheist; he may participate in communal en­
deavor with fellow Jews, or stay away altogether; he may think
in nationalistic terms, or deny any interest in self-perpetuation.
But as long as he seeks out Jewish books he is a reader searching
for enlightenment regarding Jewish identity.
Identical criteria apply to the writer. He may subscribe to
the philosophy of Orthodox Judaism claiming with Maimonides
that the Divine Lawgiver conveyed to Moses at Sinai the entire
Torah, both Written and Oral, with detailed instructions as to
how to transmit it to future generations. Obviously, non-
Orthodox writers do not abide by this concept, some even re­
jecting the basic tenets of Judaism. Nevertheless, their works
are accepted as legitimate expressions of Judaism, since each
author struggles for an appropriate definition of the term ac­
cording to his understanding. Books in the various categories
of non-fiction, therefore, may run the gamut of varying ap­
proaches to Judaism.
Books in the area of fiction, however, call for a different per­
spective. What defines a fiction title as “Jewish,” if in its plot
and development nothing is said regarding the nature of the
Jewish experience? Is it the fact that the author hails from a
Jewish background? Or do some deeper reasons exist for ap­
pending the title “American Jewish literature” to the numerous
novels of the renowned trio of Bellow, Malamud and Roth?
These questions have been frequently discussed in the critical
articles published in JBA. As an illustration, Charles Angoff
refuses to validate as “Jewish” even Herman Wouk’s
finding nothing in the heroine’s attitudes and be­
havior to depict her as a “member of the tribe.” Angoff main­
tains an identical stance with regard to other heroes typified
by popular writers of fiction of the 1950s.1
1. Ira B. Nadel lists in
Jewish Writers o f North America,
Detroit, 1981, 86 fiction
authors who emerged into prominence. To these must be added essayists
o f the caliber o f Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Leslie Fiedler, Harold Bloom
and others.