Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Cecil
The Jewish Love of
Roth
Books
The Koran speaks o f
both Jews and
Christians as “Peoples of the Book”—that is, of the Bible. Subse-
quendy, the title was arrogated to the Jews alone. But, based on er­
ror though this ascription may be, it is in fact fully justifiable. For
the Jews are a People of the Book, very literally and unquestion­
ably, in more senses than one. In the first place, they are no less the
creators than the creation of the Book of Books—the Bible (itself
none other than the Greek
biblia
, “little volumes”). Jewish history
and Jewish literature—the most ancient history of any people of
the world, and the longest continuous literature that the world can
show—are indeed from beginning to end litde more than a com­
mentary on the Bible; and the Jew of to-day is the creation of the
Bible and of that great religious literature that has received its in­
spiration from it.
This subject is one pre-eminently for a theologian or a philoso­
pher. My intention here is to deal with another aspect of the ques­
tion. For the Jews are a People of the Book in another sense as well.
They have been, for the past 2,000 years, essentially a literary and
an educated people. To an extent unequalled among any other sec­
tion of humanity, they have been interested in books. In an unlet­
tered world, when even kings could not sign their names, they had
already developed a system of universal education, so that an illit­
erate Jew was even in the Dark Ages a contradiction in terms. Cen­
turies before the modern idea of adult education was evolved, Jews
regarded it as a religious duty to band themselves together for
study every morning before the labors of the day began and every