Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 8 (1949-1950)

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M a u r i c e
G a l p e r t
HE last one hundred and fifty years have been a remarkable
period in the history of Hebrew literature, no less than in
the social and political history of the Jewish people. The regenera-
tion of the Jewish spirit, which found expression in an ever
increasing demand for emancipation from ghetto bondage and for
the establishment of a national home, was further manifested
during this period by a rebirth of the Hebrew language and
Hebrew literary activity.
The aim of this essay will be first, to acquaint the reader,
through at least a cursory survey, with the wealth and extensive-
ness of modern Hebrew literature during the last century and a
half; and second, to present in detail a bibliographic summary of
those works — in the fields of poetry, essay, fiction, and anthology
— which have already been translated into English and are there-
fore available to the English-speaking world.
When, in the first half of the eighteenth century, Moses Chaim
Luzzatto, Italian Hebrew poet and mystic, took up pen in Amster-
dam to compose a play on the occasion of his pupil’s nuptials,
little did he realize that he was launching a glorious era in Hebrew
literature. True,
Glory to the Upright
was only a typical morality
play, peopled with such allegorical personages as Righteousness
and Deceit, Passion and Reason; but in it the ancient Hebrew
tongue took a new lease on life and throbbed again with freshness
and youthfulness.
From this time forth a whole array of poets, novelists, essayists,
and polemicists appeared: Erter, Mapu, Smolenskin, Gordon, and
Ahad Ha’am. Hebrew books, periodicals, and newspapers began
to thrive in a dozen different countries. The holy tongue, for
centuries confined to liturgy and legalistic philosophy, was slowly
being transformed into a secular, colloquial language — the
keystone of the entire Jewish renaissance. The rebirth culminated
last year in the establishment of the Jewish state.
Today in Israel, the indisputable center of Hebrew artistic
expression, a vast, exciting literature is being produced. Novels
and stories are rolling copiously off the presses, and rank for
vigor, originality, and style alongside the finest fiction in the