Page 196 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
tained and elaborate of the critiques of American Jewry was
Moses Weinberger’s
Ha-Yehudim veha-Yahadut be-New York
(Jews
and Judaism in New York), published in 1887.8 As I shall dem­
on s tra te , a com parison o f H arkavy ’s 1911 work with
Weinberger’s earlier tract will be illuminating.
Harkavy’s polemic is unique in that it speaks of the Jews in
the small rural towns of New England. For a number of years
at the beginning of the century Harkavy was resident in Nashua,
New Hampshire, a town that had a Jewish population of about
three hundred and fifty (out of a total population of ten thou­
sand).9 Much of his polemic concerns the religious life of small
Jewish communities such as Nashua.
He comments on the
Song o f Songs
3:1-3:
Upon my couch at night I sought the one I love / I sought,
but found him not. / I must rise and roam the town, through
the streets and through the squares. / I must seek the one I
love
/ I
sought but found him not.
Harkavy’s exegesis follows:
‘On my couch’ — when I lay down in the darkness o f the
country I began to feel a yearning for God and wanted to cling
to him. But my yearning was in vain, for I was dwelling in the
country — where most o f the people know not of Sabbath or
holidays, or o f prayer or phylacteries. How could I, in such a
place o f darkness, find the one I love? For in such places it is
easier to forget God than to grow stronger in one’s fear o f him.
Therefore
‘I
sought but found him not.’
I must arise — I will go to one o f the great and well-known
cities, and there
I
will seek my beloved. There, in a place with
wide streets and markets, perhaps
I
will be able to learn from
people’s deeds, and grow closer to God. But this too was in vain.
For there too people err in their ways: most of the men shave
their beards, their stores are open on the Sabbath, they do not
restrain themselves from eating forbidden foods: — so there too
‘I sought but found him not.’10
As this section illustrates,
Vehu Shaul
is structured as a running
8. Weinberger’s book was published as
People Walk on Their Heads: Moses
Weinberger’s Jews and Judaism in New York
Trans, and ed. by J. Sarna (New
York, 1981).
9. The population estimate for the Jewish community is in B. Postal and L.
Koppman,
American Jewish Landmarks
(New York, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 183-5.
10. Harkavy, p. 32.