Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 6 (1947-1948)

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In literature there are three kinds of writings which should
be considered in the m atter of the contributions they are capable
of making to our need. As for current books, said an eminent
scholar, “ they have no right to all or most of our contemplative
leisure. Beware of literary furores!” Some Jewish books survive
chiefly because they are regarded as significant literary
documents th a t recorded how the Jewish world has felt or looked
or thought in this or th a t age or place. They have some quality
of permanence in them, and yet they are dated. Another kind of
writing throws down all barriers of time and locality. Its contents
are saturated with the tru th as it was in the beginning, is now and
ever will be. This is the literature which, makes one exclaim: “How
modern! Why, tha t might have been written t o d a y . . . ” Its
tru th is not abstract, aphoristic. I t is never platitudinous. Its
tru th may lie in its strange power to capture a bit of living beauty
and reality and to clothe it with the dignity and grandeur of
I t is such books, and such books only, th a t can most effectively
extend and supplement our contemporary Jewish experience,
th a t can help us to organize th a t experience in our own minds
into such orderly fashion, into such scope and compass of com-
prehension th a t nothing need surprise us, or frighten or ja r us out
of adjustment, or paralyze our right and timely action in the face
of specious counsel. For the reader of Jewish books all three of
these kinds of literature have an appeal. Indeed, all three are
necessary to the thinking Jew who is willing to face the time in
which he lives. Surely, he can, not without injury to himself,
ignore the reflection of his own period which to a very large extent
books of the day endeavor to provide. I t may help him in his
effort to understand the present if he gains a more or less adequate
acquaintance with those books which are regarded as classics,
but without at least occasional recourse to those of the third class,
the literature of permanent quality, he is likely to be a lost and
bewildered man.
So much of our current Jewish literary output, when it does not
a ttemp t to escape from it altogether, reflects the acute bewilder-
ment of the contemporary Jew, his frightening loss of direction,
th a t no Jewish reader can keep his balance, can maintain his sense
of proportion and perspective, unless one gives some of one’s
reading time to the books which rise above the preoccupations of
any period. Among the books of the year there is at least one
work which unmistakably falls into this category within Jewish
literature. I t consists of two sumptuous volumes and represents
a profound study of
Philo: Foundations of religious -philosophy in
Christianity and Islam
by H arry Austryn Wolfson