Page 113 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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BILIK /
TSENE-RENE:
A YIDDISH LITERARY SUCCESS
105
book
for the Jewish woman and her family, a synthesis of Bible
and aggadah which transcended the boundaries of text and
commentary to create a spiritual unity. “[We are] not in the
world of the Bible, of raw natural innocence and not in the
sphere of the agode, of veiled human naivete when we immerse
ourselves in the
Tsene-rene
bu t in an en tire ly new
atmosphere....And the creator [of the atmosphere] is the wom­
an.” He goes on to posit another provocative idea, that Yankev
ben Yitskhak Ashkenazi was
on kayn shum sof....a vaybershn
kharakhter
[without doubt a feminine character]. Further, says
Niger, “some of the contempt of the religious elite for works
in Yiddish was not only the contempt of the learned for the
unlearned but also the distaste of the masculine character for
the femininity, the womanly garrulousness of a Yankev ben
Yitskhok of Yanova and the other authors of religious books
in Yiddish.”27
Niger, Zinberg and Erik enjoined the battle of the sexes by
differentiating among traditional Jewish texts and contrasting
the aggadic with the legalistic components of Jewish traditional
literature. The contrasts are gender specific, sexual as well as
textual. Basic to this contrast is, of course the differentiation
between
mameloshn
and
loshn koydesh,
between Yiddish and He­
brew. Zinberg, Erik, Niger (in 1913) and others were ideolog­
ically committed to elevating Yiddish, the language of the peo­
ple which had been denigrated for so long even at the expense
of Hebrew, the privileged language of study and prayer. As
scholars and critics of Yiddish literature they were in a position
similar to that of Sholem Aleichem (b. 1859) when he created
instant prestige for Yiddish literature by dubbing Mendele
Moykher Sforim (b.1836) not as the father but the “grandfa­
ther” of Yiddish literature and proclaiming himself the grand­
son. But Niger, Erik, Zinberg and the others had no need to
establish prestige, since they had the voluminous sixteenth and
seventeenth century exegetical Yiddish religious-ethical litera­
ture as examples. Especially they had the
Tsene-rene
, long val­
idated by its persistent popularity among Yiddish readers. And
by emphasizing the role of the Jewish woman in the creation
of the classic work they demonstrated their commitment to fem­
inism. Max Weinreich, a consummate scholar and no ideologue,
27. Niger, 76.