Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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BILIK /
TSENE-RENE:
A YIDDISH LITERARY SUCCESS
101
the
Tsene-rene
thus: “[it consists of] nothing but Midrashim and
strange legends, asks many questions regarding the subject mat­
ter of the
parashah,
explains them according to the commen­
tators and preachers and does not give a thousandth part of
the literal meaning of the verse.” 14Obviously the public wanted
just such works since these pre-Enlightenment efforts to sup­
plant the
Tsene-rene
did not achieve much success. In the 18th
century no less a figure than Moses Mendelssohn mocked what
he termed the “
Tsene-rene
style” of the Polish rabbis. At the end
of the 18th century Joseph the 2nd of Austria under the in­
fluence of the adherents of the Haskalah condemned the
Tsene-
rene
for spreading superstition. In German-speaking areas the
Enlighteners sought to suppress the
Tsene-rene
by substituting
contemporary Bible commentaries (including Mendelssohn’s)
for the traditional medieval ones of the original
Tsene-rene.
The
Western
maskilim
were not above exploiting the popularity of
the classic work by using the title page of the original and sub­
stituting more modern works such as Mendelssohn’s Bible trans­
lation “printed in German but with Hebrew letters.” (Basel,
1822; F irth , 1861).15 The 1810 Sulzbach edition o f the
Mendelssohn translation calls itself
Tsene-rene
in order to appeal
to the traditional audience but states in the foreward: “One
might argue that we already have a
Tsenah Ure’enah.
This is
true, and it is useful. . . too, b u t . . . it is not suited for all, es­
pecially not half-grown girls, since its language is too corrupted
and...some passages are too lurid for the sensitivity of our mor­
als.16 A more legitimate rationalized version of the
Tsene-rene
by Herz Homburg sought to purge the more fanciful materials,
remove sections which can be interpreted as anti-Gentile, in­
clude more “scientific” explanations for natural phenomena,
and generally reflect the ideology of the Enlightenment.17
14. Israel Zinberg,
A History ofJewish Literature,
trans. and ed. Bernard Martin,
8 vols. (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press,) vol. 7 part 8, 137.
15. Jacob Shatzky, “Dray hundert yor
Tsene-rene
,”
In shotn fun over
(Buenos
Aires: Masterworks o f Yiddish Literature, 1947) 74-75.
16. Steven M. Lowenstein,
The Mechanics of Change: Essays in the Social History
of German Jewry
(Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press) 186.
17. Schultz, 8.