Page 97 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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MORDELL----100TH BIRTHDAY OF EMMA LAZARUS
85
concomitants of historical Judaism for an emasculated “pure ideal
Jewish religion/’ In “An Epistle to the Hebrews” she opposed the
revival of the Jewish Sabbath which in her opinion was more
adapted to the needs of a simple agricultural society than to the
conditions of a complex civilization. In her Beaconsfield essay
she practically accepted some non-Jewish appraisals of Jews as
narrow, arrogant, subject to a passion for revenge, vanity, and
love of pomp.
Emma Lazarus was after all better acquainted with English
than Hebrew literature. Being a liberal and much taken with
reform movements in the air, such as Single Tax, Socialism and
Ethical Culture, all of which she traced to the Bible, she under-
estimated the power of tradition and custom. Hence she sue-
cumbed to the casual compliments of Renan to Judaism in his
statements about the value of the Jewish religion residing solely
in its moral generalities. Had she read his bitter attacks upon
the Talmud and his criticisms of the Jews for their alleged lack of
originality, she might have reserved her eulogy upon him in the
prize essay she wrote. But it must be remembered that she did
not err less than other Jewish contemporaries. She must be given
credit for her self-sacrifice and services to a cause then unpopular.
The poems of Miss Lazarus that bear directly upon Jewish
history and Jewish rights and aspirations scarcely exceed a score.
Reference to a few not previously mentioned will shed light on
their nature. The two longest are based on historical episodes.
One of these called “An Epistle” with a long explanatory subtitle
that it was directed from Joshua ben Vives of Allorqui to his
former master Solomon Levi-Paul, De Santa Maria, Bishop of
Cartagena, appeared in the
American Hebrew
, June 16, 1882, and
was reprinted in her collected poems. The poem is an appeal to
the infamous convert Solomon of Burgos, baptized in the latter
part of the fourteenth century, for a plausible presentation of the
reasons which compelled him to embrace Christianity. Vives set
forth his own logical objections to that faith and challenged
Solomon to refute them. The request was to a large extent futile
for Solomon had been motivated by ambition to abandon Judaism.
The episode was a versification of some passages in Graetz’s
History
of the Jews.
The irony of the situation is that later the writer of
the “Epistle” became converted to Catholicism.
RASHI IN PRAGUE
The other lengthy narrative is “Rashi in Prague,” a tale of
persecution in the eleventh century. Rashi on a visit to Prague
had been beaten and arrested, but he exonerated both himself