Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 6 (1947-1948)

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A Survey of American Jewish Books in English for 1946-47
B y J
o s h u a
HERE was probably never a time in which a balanced literary
diet was more needed for the Jewish people than at this time.
The Jews now live in a period of swift and universal change and
in an atmosphere charged with doubt and apprehension, so per-
vasive tha t it reaches everywhere. The problems tha t confront
our people are so immediate, so pressing, so widespread, tha t they
enter our minds wherever we turn. Jewry today is like a perplexed
individual confronted by a personal crisis; the necessity of its
solution tends to overshadow every other interest, and it is not
easy to maintain a sense of proportion.
When one speaks of the need for balance one is thinking of the
eternal conflict between the immediate and the permanent. Bitter
experience has taught the Jews tha t such conflict is always height-
ened in times like these. There was a time, especially in the
Middle Ages, when it was possible to draw a very sharp distinc-
tion between the active and the contemplative life. This is hardly
the case today. Never was the distinction so hard to keep as in
our time. Most readers of Jewish literature, therefore, find them-
selves in the squirrel-cage of contemporary perplexity. Insistently
they are called upon to pay attention to this or tha t aspect of the
active Jewish life. The newspaper, the magazine, the newly-
published book, the radio, all press upon them to this end.
There are two chief means of maintaining the kind of equi-
librium tha t is necessary today. To either or both of these, Jewish
readers must of necessity turn. One of these is prayer and the
other is literature. By literature one means not merely books but
rather, to use the words of Prof. C. G. Osgood,
Poetry as a means
of grace
(Princeton, 1941), “ the thing which distinguishes itself
from the rest by its imagination, its beauty, its generalization and
transcendence over the mere phenomena of life.” There is, of
course, a third means — the reassurance th a t one finds in nature.
The words of the Psalmist — “ I lift up mine eyes unto the hills”—
(Psalm 121) come almost spontaneously to the mind of every
Jewish reader.