The year 1907 was a year of great turmoil. Two years before, Japan and Russia fought a bitter war, which Japan won handily to the surprise of most observers. This humiliating defeat served to point up the corruption and inefficiency of the Czarist regime, which fostered the ease of the aristocracy to the detriment of working people. Virtually all power was vested in the hands of the ruler. The defeat precipitated an abortive revolt, which was brutally suppressed.
He had not the slightest doubt concerning the centrality of the Hebrew language for the Jewish people. Its literature over thousands of years had always expressed the peculiar genius of the Jews, and he believed passionately in fostering its continuance and development. He saw in the literature of the revived and modernized Hebrew language a natural successor of the love of Torah learning which had always been a major characteristic of Jews, protecting them from assimilation and ultimate disappearance. Not all Jews, were learned; but all Jews loved and supported those who were learned.
In 1907, with undaunted spirit, he faced the crisis as he saw it. Hebrew literature had come to a grinding halt. Writers had their hands full surviving physically, and had no nervous energy left to devote to literature. Young Jews especially were impoverished, and in no position to spare money for such luxuries as literature and culture. Life was all about struggle.
The situation that Klausner proposed was simple, even simplistic. The younger set, in large numbers, must find ways to set aside a modest number of rubles, or even a single ruble, for the support of Hebrew literature, through societies devoted to this aim. With the bravado of the utopian, he believed that modern, informed Hebrew writers would supplant the outdated Torah scholars, whose rightful heirs they were. There was no need to brashly interfere with traditional Jewish worship and practice; it would modernize and update itself in the brave new world.
In the course of his exposition, he plainly sets forth the case for Hebrew, against the oft forcefully argued case for Yiddish (the "Jargon" as even some of its supporters called it) Russian or German, as the future language of the rejuvenated Jewish people, as many on the left proposed.
Klausner points to the example of Norwegian, a language with a very small number of speakers, which has yet made a great contribution to modern culture, and is supported by government and private subsidies. He is consistent in his position in utilizing Hebrew, and only Hebrew, for his publications. His language is clear and pure, but following the example of the Russian he knew so well, he did not hesitate to adopted international words for new concepts as necessary, such as "revolutionary", "interests", "feuilleton", "realist", "republic", and others.
It is also interesting to note that his sentence structure is deeply influenced by literary Russian. The "euphuistic" style espoused by John Lyly years ago (and also favored by the French essayist Montaigne) has long ago been abandoned in English writing. But it is alive and well in Russian, and, in fact, it is one of the pleasures of reading great Russian writing to unravel and stand in awe of these long, perfectly well-formed sentences, which use participles rarely used, except as fossil forms in everyday speech. Such sentences often maintain interest on the part of the reader by delaying the subject until near the end of the sentence. A style like this presents a challenge to the translator, because modern English avoids exceedingly complex sentences. Usually I have broken up such sentences to make them more palatable to the reader of English, although I have left some to display the glory of their thickets.In the translation I have chosen to include brief explanatory notes within square brackets [ ] rather than use footnotes or endnotes which are less satisfactory in this medium. However, the numerous individuals mentioned are listed and explicated in a separate section at the end of this work.
I have used my own copy of the original text of this document, which I obtained a number of years ago, when the Beth Am ("House of the People") at 58th and Burleigh Streets in Milwaukee, the home of the local Jewish Labor Movement, closed, and its library was dispersed, most of its Yiddish books being transferred to the library of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
A pdf image of the original text can be downloaded from:
The paper used in this century-old pamphlet has unfortunately been liable to "slow fire" which has resulted in discoloration and chipping. This may result in difficulty in reading an occasional word. However, my translation should clarify this.
The Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem has half-a-dozen copies of this text under the call number 31 V 3249. The following is a translation of the Hebrew title page:
Publication of the Office of "Ivriyah", Bern.
What to Do?
(On the Question of the Crisis in the Hebrew Literature)
Dr. Josef Klausner.
At the Press of Josef Fischer, (62 Grodsky Street).
At the other end of the book there is a title page in German:
ZUR HEBUNG UND FÖRDERUNG
DER HEBRÄISCHEN LITTERATUR.
Dr. J. KLAUSNER
DRUCK VON JOSEF FISCHER (GRODGASSE 62.)
The German title reads: What to Do?/On the Promotion and Furtherance of the Hebrew Literature.
Josef Klausner led a full life in which he had some triumphs and many disappointments. He was denied the chance of being the first President of the State of Israel, being roundly defeated in the election by Chaim Weizmann. He was denied the professorship of history which he coveted at the new Hebrew University, and had to feel satisfied with a professorship of Jewish literature. Commentators have been quite hard on him, including the Hebrew Wikipedia and Meyer Waxman, who in his History of Jewish Literature declares:
There is no coördination of thought...but a conglomeration of generalities. In no place does the essayist really define the essence of these eternal values in Judaism...He neglects entirely the the emotional and mystic aspects of Judaism...[he advocates] a return to the prophetic or early spiritual state of Jewish life without taking into consideration all the later developments of the Jewish spirit during the long exile...
Yet consider his achievement. He understood in the depths of his soul, as did no one else, that gentem lingua facit "The Language makes the Nation" as Seth Sanders points out in his seminal The Invention of Hebrew, which chronicles the early development of the language. Go into a public library today anywhere in the United States, and find on the shelves the English translations from Hebrew of half a dozen books by the current Israeli writer and thinker David Grossman. Dr. Klausner, by his obsessional persistence, was one of the chief architects of such a remarkable outcome. And what claim to their inheritance would the Jews now resident on the land of the fathers exhibit were they speaking only Yiddish or German?
Cantor Isaac Gamliel, who attended one of Klausner's seminars in Jerusalem, told me that he was a kindly, gentle old man, whom his students called grandpa. This grandpa indeed has the reward of his lifelong efforts.
Finally our writers have shown signs of life.
Many of themand not the worst of them eitherhave already passed on and disappeared from the world in their role as Hebrew writers. Yet now we hear them groaning, lamenting and complaining. It is a sign that there is still a breath of life in them.
However, not only their cries and laments, but even their complaints, are not those of healthy people who are unhappy with their lot but long for a better situation. Our writers have shifted from one extreme to another, worse and even more erroneous than the first.
Not so long ago, the Hebrew writers were accustomed to praise, glorify and extol our literature, and to fall with fury on any who might have the audacity to deny its firm and flourishing status and superior merits in having many talents and wide development. And now everything has been changed from one extreme to the other: not only do they deny again and again its good status, they deny its very existence.
"There was once a Hebrew literature, and now there is not; there was once a Hebrew language, and now there is not. We built a castle on the sand, and they wind came and swept it into the water."
I am not one of the optimists. I was not such at the time when Hebrew literature was considered successful in matter and spirit, and to be optimistic now is almost impossible. Nevertheless, the great despair of our writers astonishes me.
It is true that the trials which our literature underwent in the last two years have been severe. Newspaper after newspaper, monthly after monthly, ceased publication. Such periodicals as survive do so by a miracle. Hardly any new books in Hebrew appear.
However are not the reasons for this situation as clear as the sun at noonday? Did success in normal years so spoil us that it is permissible for us to give up hope in years as exceptional as the last two?
Just consider general Russian literature, a rich, broad, literature, which has hundreds of thousands of readers, and you will be convinced what terrible depredations recent events have made. Newspapers have ceased, at the instance of the Government it is true, while the greatest and most renowned monthlies are degenerating for lack of readers. There too, significant books are no longer sold, but they are replaced by small, thin pamphlets costing a penny, and whose worth is no greater than that of an announcement, of passing value.
What can we learn from this? That the only kind of writing which can survive in Russia is that which is directed towards the current needs of the readers who long for news, or fragmentary calls and proclamations. Everything else must shrink temporarily, and await better, more tranquil times than these.
The truth is that Hebrew literature does not have a large number of readers, and is not directed towards temporary concerns, but rather to the deeper needs of educated readers who know at least two languages. People who know only Hebrew do not exist at the present time, and people who know two languages are not average readers, and their spiritual needs are higher and more profound. No one now has the peace of mind or leisure to supply such needs, least of all the persecuted and oppressed Jew over whose head the sword of the pogroms in poised.
If Yiddish is more successful in respect of these poor newspapers, the explanation is that they fulfill temporary needs, and their readers are simple folk who derive satisfaction from the fulfillment of such needs; moreover they do not know any other language. The proof is that literary works of lasting value, and which are not ephemeral, have been produced in Yiddish in the last two years in only the tiniest quantity. Yet the Hebrew language, whose fall the writers currently lament, to the more or less concealed delight of the Yiddishists, has been enriched in the last two years with literary pearls such as The Scroll of Fire and The Well, and others, by Bialik, In the Heat of Day by Tchernikovsky, many poems of lasting value by Yaakov Cohen and Zalman Shneur, many excellent stories by Brenner, as well as essays on general science and Judaic Studies (On Maimonides, Spencer, Nietzsche, on the Principles of Jewish faith, and so on) about which Yiddish is quite unaware. Such creations of permanent value do not make the desired impression in times of turmoil like ours, and therefore it appears to us that Hebrew literature has diminished during the last two years. The truth is that the "richness" of Yiddish is its poverty; and who knows if the imagined poverty of the Hebrew language is not its strength? It is quite possible that The Scroll of Fire alone will secure continuance for the Hebrew language more than all the Yiddish weekly and monthly periodicals with which Yiddish has been "enriched" in recent years.
If you have eyes to see matters not only as they are, but as they can be, you will readily recognize that the "success" of Yiddish with regard to its newspapers is not extremely great. All the Yiddish newspapers currently in Russia may be divided into two groups:
They will answer, of course, that the pressure of the times is the reason. I agree. But when the pressure of the times ceases, and the tumult quiets down, and the hunger for news lessens, it is possible that the Hebrew press will develop again.
An adequate sketch of the current conditions among us is afforded by Russian Jewish literature. One would have to be blind, or nearly so, not to see that this literature has great prospects in a free Russia. There is no doubt whatsoever that the number of Jews who speak and read Russian, whether their mother-tongue is Yiddish or Russian, is increasing day by day. And in Russia there are more than five million Jews, yet they had only three weekly newspapers, together with two monthlies, by which I mean periodicals which do not so much supply temporary needs, and are not directed to the bulk of the readership. Of these three newspapers, one, Yevreiskiy Golos [the Jewish Voice] lasted less than a year. True, it was revived, but only through the support of the party. The second, Yevreiskiy Zhizn [Jewish Life] has appeared regularly for the past two years only because it is supported by the Zionist Organization. The third, Voskhod [Ascent, Dawn] which had continued in the same format for twenty-six years recently ceased, and is attempting to continue in the shape of a daily newspaper, which, like all the daily newspapers, is directed towards current events and the general reading public. But it is still a matter of doubt if it will succeed in this manner, considering that the daily newspaper Novaya Zarya [New Dawn] lasted less than a year.
"There was once a Hebrew literature, and now there is not; there once were readers of Hebrew, but they are no more." Thus do our writers lament, grumble, and long to avenge the insult to our language.
But if our writers have so little confidence in a connection with the internal strength of our language, if they believe so little in the internal need which a certain proportion of readers have for Hebrew literature, there is no room for lamentations. How can anything survive which has no life force, and is not required even by a limited number of people? Why, indeed, should it survive?
In fact this is not the case. There is plenty of strength and force in the Hebrew language, and there is an inner spiritual connection between Hebrew literature and a decent number of readers. It cannot be otherwise. Should we decide otherwise, we would reach the absurd conclusion that matters dear and precious to an entire people for a period of forty generations should one fine day become superfluous and totally without value. If we decide otherwise, we deny one of the most well-known and basic principles, namely that nothing is destroyed and spoiled suddenly, and no outside event, however remarkable it may be, can turn a basic feature of the human heart to a "blank slate." If we decide otherwise, we thereby indicate that we think that man's spirit is a kind of wax that can be spread and squeezed at the whim of chance. In short, if we decide otherwise, we deny the efficacy of a national training which extends for thousands of years, as well as the now accepted Darwinist viewpoint that everything is acquired and stored up little by little in the course of several generations as an inherited characteristic which passes even unwittingly from fathers to sons. Such a decision is an antiquated judgment and an insipid view.
Only an unparalleled frivolity can so regard the function of the national possessions, whatever they may be!
Is it not sufficient to observe that some dozens of Jewish lads of both the working classes and the intelligentsia daily engage in killings, as it were for sport, for us to realize that the well-known abhorrence of murder by Israelites, who quake at the sight of bloodshed, has already passed away, even though such a characteristic was the result of a lengthy development, both outward and inward?
Is it not sufficient to observe how hundreds of Jewish lads have the impudence to assemble in crowds at the synagogues, and interfere with the worshippers, pronouncing insults against everything precious and holy to Israel, and distributing proclamations making it disgraceful to be a believer, since the faith and belief of Israel no longer exist?
How erroneous and superficial such a viewpoint is can be shown from a single important event, with which the whole of Europe is currently engaged.
In 1791 the great French Revolution abolished the Catholic religion. Its priests were persecuted for adhering to their religion, its houses of worship were turned into theaters, and even into barracks and stables for horses. In place of a belief in the Trinity, there arose a belief in Reason. "Catholicism is finished in France!" The French revolutionaries thought this and were happy, and the short-sighted among the faithful Catholics thought the same and mourned.
One hundred and fifteen years have passed, and what do we see now in France? It took the Dreyfus Affair, which shook French politics to the very foundations, the interests of the Republic, and an offensive war with the Clericalists to enable the Parliament to pass the "Law of Separation" [of the Churches and the State: Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et l'État]. In no way was it the intent of the "Law of Separation" to persecute the Church, to take its properties, or even to restrict its freedom to the least degree. On the contrary, its intent was to liberate the Church from the stewardship of the Government, just as it intended to liberate the Government from the stewardship of the Church. The Law was very careful to ensure that individuals separated from the Church, or Protestants, or any Catholic sect, could not use the property of the Church; and all this property, worth up to three hundred million francs should pass to the bishops and priests through the Associations Cultuelles [Religious Societies]. The "Law of Separation" assigned generous pensions and free accommodations to old priests. In short, the French Parliament did everything in its power to ensure that the Law would be easy on the Catholics so far as possible, to the extent that many Radicals and Socialists were dissatisfied with it after it was published, because they had become convinced and believed that its sting had been entirely taken away from it. Of course, all this was done because the Government and the Parliament were conscious of all the strength and power of Catholicism in Francein liberated, free-thinking France, from which freedom and heresy went out to the world.
Even so, all these concessions and leniencies did not help in the least. When the officials came in a straightforward manner to list the properties of the Church, it became necessary to send detachments of gendarmes to assist the officials. There were dozens of confrontations, barricades were constructed, chairs, rocks, and crockery were thrown on the heads of the officials and the police. There were fatalities also. Thereupon the Government redoubled its zeal and exerted all its efforts to stand by its opinion, and prevent the breaking of a law which had been passed by a majority of the Parliament.
The Parliament brought down the cabinet of Rouvier, which was not sufficiently keen to go after the lawbreakers openly. A more radical cabinet was formed with anti-clerical members such as Clemenceau, and socialists like Briand. In new elections, the majority of the participants voted for the supporters of the "Law of Separation". The victory over militant Catholicism appeared to be total. Suddenly the Pope issued a very harsh encyclical against the French government, recommending opposition to the Law by all lawful means, and requiring Catholics absolutely not to desist from opposition to the godless government and the sinful Parliament. Now this representative body had previously expressed its adherence to the Law, and this had been confirmed in the recent elections. Yet Catholics were commanded to adhere to their faith, against which indeed previously nobody had acted negatively, or even dared to do so. It was apparent to all that the Pope and his Cardinals would not have dared to come out in a high-handed way against the Government of the Republic unless they knew that strength was on their side, that the majority of the people remained firm in its belief, and was ready to fight even against its own supposed interests. Everybody is aware that the Catholics are realists, skilled in political affairs, and they would not place in danger the interests of Catholicism, unless it was clear to them that their actions were free of risk, and likely to bring success.
Such is the situation of the Catholic religion in "free-thinking, licentious France" one hundred and fifteen years after the great French Revolution "abolished" Catholicism as though it were the dust of the earth. (Of course, I cite Catholicism here as no more than an example. I do not compare the Hebrew language to it in any fundamental way.Author's note.)
Therefore I say: We must not despair! The decline of an historic literature, such as is the Hebrew Literature in a revolutionary epoch, in which it is customary to attack every historic possession simply because it is historic is natural and necessary, however painful it may be. Therefore a temporary decline like this proves nothing. Its reasons are obvious, and when they cease to apply, what prompts them will cease to apply also.
Is it not a fact that the revolutionaries of the great French Revolution also abolished the names of the months, simply because they were historic and customary? In their place they created names at their whim. Nevertheless, present-day France does not reckon with "Thermidor" and "Fructidor" [names of two of the revolutionary months], but rather, July and August.
However, by no means do I wish to heal the breach of Hebrew Literature lightly, saying: "Peace, peace." [Compare Jeremiah 6.14] The belief that it is impossible for outside events to destroy Hebrew literature completely still does not command us to close our eyes to the decline, which, in the final analysis, is noticeable in our literature in recent days, nor should it prevent us from seeking out the reasons for this decline in even deeper causative factors, apart from the external events whose influence is obvious and well known to all.
In my opinion, the most profound among these reasons is the loss of the essence of Hebrew literature. During the last fifty years, Hebrew literature was not large and particularly rich in quantity, but it was a fundamental literature, thanks to the unbroken chain of the influence of higher Israel thought which drew on a fundamental creativity rediscovered in the works of R. Nachman Krochmal and S.D. Luzzato at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This was fixed in the newer literature from the days of Smolenskin on, a unique attitude to the life of the People of Israel, from the point of view of national unity to which they became accustomed from then on to refer by the abstract collective noun "Jewry". "Jewry", or, more accurately the People of Israel, became a problem in Hebrew literature. The uniqueness and excellence of our people in the aspect of a people scattered among the nations, its political, social, religious and spiritual condition, unequalled by any other nation or tongue, its history, singled out in its length and eventfulness, its presence as a Semitic people on the land of Aryan nations, its life as a people removed from its source and planted on a foreign soil, the extremism which was both the excellence and the failure of this people, its ability to draw near to everything yet remain distant in spirit, to resemble everything yet remain different from everything, to bring benefit to the entire world, yet to poison the lives of its neighbors, to be considered a citizen in its own eyes and in the eyes of others, yet to remain a stranger in everyone's eyes and in the depths of its own soul, to participate in the life of the greater community, yet to think on distinct religious views and separate national aspirations, to declare "Thou hast chosen us!" yet to bend the knee to the fundamentalists, to be the most devoted of idealists, yet to run after money and powerless celebrity, to be profound and superficial at one and the same time, good and bad together, to be a despised assimilationist or yet a preserver of the paternal heritage in a place where only a handful of Jews livedall these profound and penetrating acts of recognition, which only those who have drawn on the source of the national treasury, only the Hebrew writers, can comprehend them fully, only they probed to its depths the problem of the people of Israel, and made Hebrew literature basic thereto, for this problem is its very life. Writers in Hebrew came and taught that the House of Israel is unlike all the others, since in reality there is no people on earth with a similar situation.
These writers did not teach a new [version of] "Thou hast chosen us." Who like unto them knows the deficiencies of the people of Israel, and who like unto them contested the "witness of Israel", as taught by the Sages of Ashkenaz [Ashkenazic scholars, eleventh to twelfth century.]? They contested too the belief that Israel can continue to exist even under conditions which no other people could withstand, that is to say that Israel can continue for ever scattered and dispersed among the peoples. They taught that Israel is no better than any other people, nor worse, but it is different from others in its condition, its life, is creativity, of course for reasons that are quite well-known. The recognition of this difference, this "uniqueness", if one can say so, forced them to confront also the solution of the question of its existence, the question of its life, in a special way, since the people of Israel is different from other peoples in its fate, in its characteristics, and in its condition to such a degree that a solution is required. The question of its life required a solution, inasmuch as it was different from the life of other peoples which had not been torn up from their lands, and do not have a long and unique history like this. Thus Zionism achieved in Hebrew literature a depth and seriousness which the Zionists who do not know Hebrew will never reach. Even hatred toward Jews, anti-Semitism, became in this national literature a more profound problem which they did not solve with superficial explanations. The anti-Semites are not [simply] "bad, sinful men", [Genesis 13.13] but men of a different character, neither Semitic nor diasporic, men whose Aryan character will not tolerate the Jewish character, which is concentrated on its selfhood. They are men who never tasted the taste of exile, and therefore will not tolerate the half-measures, double-think, and lack of spiritual straight-dealing of the Jew in exile. And a direct result of such a deep approach to the world hatred of the eternal people [there is an untranslatable pun here since `olam means both "world" and "eternity"] was that the only escape and rescue from the hatred towards Israel lies in the cessation of the exile, and a continuance of a free history by a free people in its own land which shapes its soul.
Hebrew literature went in pursuit of recognition of the soul of the people; Hebrew literature itself was but one of the unceasing discoveries of the people. Thereupon Hebrew literature slowly created for itself a particular view of the world and life, indeed to everything: beauty, nature, love, personality, society. Thereupon, with new eyes, those of a national, basic, unique approach, they considered one issue, namely whether they were happy that the outlook of Jewry was different from that of everybody else, or they were upset about it, and arguing against it, deeming it unacceptable and unsuccessful.
If Berdyczewski describes love for the broken and marginalized Jew in Two Camps or The Bird has Flown [the second name is an Aramaic proverbial phrase from the Talmud Beza, 21b, used as a dismissive answer to a question] with extreme resentment, or if Bialik finds in love for the ideal Jew exceptional modesty, purity and perfection, if R. Mendele the Bookseller describes the beauty of a Jew who is placid and at ease, bound up with the Holy One, blessed be He, tied up with the harsh images of Ghetto life, or if Tschernikovsky and Yaakov Cohen describe universal beauty with a clear feeling which they came to plant in the midst of a people who had previous been neither capable nor desirous of sensing such beauty until this very day, in order to rescue them thereby from one of the most terrible effects of exile, namely from a dullness of external perception and the non-existence of a national life, a special stamp, the like of which is not to be found in the works of love and beauty of any other nation, is impressed upon these works. And even when Dr. David Neumark writes on The Question of Choice in the Theories of Kant and Schopenhauer, and Dr. Osias Thon writes about Herbert Spencer, and Hillel Zeitlin writes about Friedrich Nietzsche, you feel, even in these essays which deal with general human concerns, that writers in foreign tongues, and Jews who write in foreign tongues, do not relate in the same way to the masters of general thought. All the general ideas of the universal thinkers, when passed through the Hebrew language, traverse also the prism of fundamental Hebrew thought.
Such a literature, with such unique points of view, putting their basic stamp on everything, which created a distinct and all-encompassing Weltanschauung, would sooner of later satisfy the total needs of a community, be it large or small, provided that it continued its fundamental activity in a forward direction. Indeed, we have already seen in the last ten years that Hebrew literature has been nourishing Jewish literature in foreign languages to the extent that most basic Hebrew essays, poems, and stories have been translated into Russian, German, Italian, or English, namely the works of Ahad Ha'am, Bialik, Tschernikovsky, Feierberg, Berdichevsky, Brenner, Judah Steinberg, and others.
However, a northern snow descended upon Hebrew literature at the beginning of its spring when the first tender buds in our literature began to sprout. The "spring" of the Russians [modern Hebrew literature began to flourish in Russia] became for us a strong and hard winter, because we Israelites are generally lacking in confidence, and the rays of the sun easily stripped us of our fringed garment. [cf. Numbers 15.38]
Suddenly, all was forgotten. Our different status suddenly ceased to be the result of a different history for a period of some 2,000 years, and was solely the result of the oppressions of the Russian bureaucracy, so automatically the solution of this question lay only in the fall of the bureaucracy. No longer was the hatred of the nations towards us based on deep internal causes; if there were in Russia 136 incidents directed against Jews in a single day, it was not the hatred of the Russian people towards us that caused this, it was "merely" the counter-revolution. All the special problems of the Jews were totally annulled. The claimed need of a national possession of the Jews roused only laughter, the historic foundation of any national aspirations became its greatest failing, and to relate to a vision of a life with which all other peoples are connected, so to say, in a Hebraic way was held to be total foolishness.
Here is but one example by way of illustration.
It is unnecessary to explain to readers of Hebrew "who dwell among their own people" [cf. II Kings 4.13] what was bloodshed in the view of all Israel until recent times. "Jew" and "bloodshed" constituted a contradiction in terms. Even a court which condemned a man to death once in 70 years was deemed murderous. A Jew who committed theft was something unusual, although such a thing certainly existed. But a Jew who was a murderer, a Jew who killed another person, a Jew who shed blood, this was something too out of the ordinary, something that hardly ever occurred, like a white crow or a black rose. At the sight of human blood a Jew's limbs shook and quaked, to the extent that only the hatred of Satan, or the guile of the serpent could fabricate against him a charge of murder.
Times change. The despair that engulfed Russian Jewry on account of the oppressive laws brought a certain portion of our people to murder and bloodshed, initially for political objectives, and subsequently for various other objectives, "to shock the bourgeoisie" [French: pour épater le bourgeois. This became the rallying cry of the 19th century French "decadent poets" who despised the middle class] and to get money for the organization, or simply to get even with those who disagreed with the party. Initially the Bund [The General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Devoted to Yiddish, Socialist, secularist, and opposed to Zionism, it still has branches in Israel and other countries] was responsible. They poked fun at all the Jewish national cultural treasures, and did their best to uproot them totally, lest, God forbid, they blur the recognition of class differences. Later on, there were still the distorted versions of the Bund, namely the Socialist Zionists and a section of the Workers of Zion on the one hand, and the Jewish Anarchists on the other, all of whom for the most part were Bundists.
In the first instance, the Hebrew newspapers in part, and the Hebrew writers in general (many of whom were also writing in Yiddish, Russian, or German) should have been shaken to their very foundations at the sight of this horrible change of values. The vision of human bloodshed, so uncommon in Israel, should have shaken their bodies, and disturbed their hearts and minds. Jews for whom human blood was exceedingly cheap had to become Hebrew writers whose 3000 year old literature had trained them to feel extreme disgust at murder. Yet they came to excuse one another of murder on the basis of the law [Deuteronomy 13.6] "Thou shalt wipe out the evil from thy midst." However, even such kinds of murder required exculpation and justification.
Other types of murders of necessity brought out furious protests, all the harder on account of the feelings of repulsion felt by the Jew at the sight of blood being spilled like water.
It was not incumbent upon the teachings of Judaism, the abstract Torah, the "Israelite ideology" as people say nowadays, to raise this protestthese days it is customary to look upon "teachings" as something unrelated to lifeand now there is no word more despised than "Judaism". Life itself, the essential, national life of Israel, which manifested so great an aversion to spilling the blood of a Jew, even by a law-court, even in wartime, this itself should have mounted enormous opposition to the murderous activities committed by Jewish young men of the [extremist] "organizations". For so strong an aversion to such acts was engrained in the flesh and blood of dozens of generations that it became second nature. Yet these young men act thus with unequalled light-heartedness, while most people, who have not yet forsworn the national characteristics, look upon their deeds with eyes dimmed by horror and dismay. And who should be sensible of the degeneration of the national characteristics of the majority of the people more than their Hebrew writers? These are their most faithful children, raised in the people's culture, who comprehend its life and teachings.
Apart from one or two pamphlets by Hillel Zeitlin, we do not in fact find even a trace of protest or opposition to such actions in the Hebrew press, nor indeed in what the Hebrew authors have written. The inclination to [the justification of] bloodshed evinced by the Russian newspapers, that is to say the newspapers of a people which has lived by the sword for a thousand years, and by its sword has overtaken and oppressed one third of the world from its founding until today, [is clear.] This very inclination is espoused by the Yiddish newspapers, who copy like monkeys the Russian newspapers, and are influenced by those masses of Jews in whom the Bundists have already succeeded in destroying every good Israelite quality. We find this self-same inclination in the Hebrew newspapers without the slightest alteration, without any basic examination, without any distinction whatsoever.
The inclination towards bloodshed is but one example. Also in respect of other Hebraic and general questions with which the world is engaged, the Hebrew newspapers and writers espouse the same inclination to limp along after the Russian and Yiddish writers and newspapers, evincing no individuality. The Hebrew newspaper and the Hebrew bookto the extent that it is possible to speak now of any book, let alone a Hebrew bookhave simply become translations of Russian and Yiddish newspapers and books. The Austrian Jew, or the oriental Sephardi Jew will find the present-day Hebrew newspaper devoid of content or attractiveness.
The question arises, then, of its own accord: Why should the Hebrew newspaper exist, if it has nothing new to say?
When the mission of "Ivriyah" [a movement founded in 1907 by Klausner, Bialik, Ussishkin and others to promote Hebrew language and literature] is fulfilled, and we have a decent number of Hebrew-speaking Jews, it is conceivable that there will be no place for this question. The Hebrew newspaper, even if it is not original in any respect, will be required by complete Hebrews such as these, who prefer it to a newspaper in Yiddish or in a foreign language, whatever it may be, because they will want to read everything in the language to which they are accustomed. However, at the present time there is hardly anybody in the world who knows only Hebrew, and almost all Hebrew speakers know Yiddish or another foreign language. If such people find in a Hebrew newspaper just a translation, and a bad translation at that, from a Yiddish or other foreign language, what need do they have of a translation if they can read the original? For the sake of the "special remnant" maybe, or the "remnant of our treasures from days of old"? Moreover, the Hebrew newspapers themselves abhor such "romantic love" for something which possesses only antiquity. Are they not "radicals" and "revolutionaries" who totally abolish everything "old"?
In short, the matter is as follows. So long as our newspapers continue to be Hebrew translations of Yiddish or Russian newspapers; so long as there does not appear in them a basic outlook about everything which is done in our broader and narrower, world, [namely] an outlook which comes from the unique life lived by the Hebrew language in connection with the Israelite people, an outlook which cannot be found, not only in newspapers in the Russian language, but also in Yiddish newspaperswhich itself did not spring up from the basic life of Israel, and did not develop correspondingly to the development of basic Hebrew thoughtthen neither the Hebrew newspaper nor the Hebrew book will be a true and complete necessity even for a community which is small and, of necessity, constantly declining. For not only will those who do not know Hebrew find no need to learn this language in order to read in it things which they can read [anyway] in Yiddish or a foreign language, but even the ones who do know Hebrew will forget it little by little because its literature will not, with any basic power, attract them by means of anything new. Let us not forget that it is much easier to read a language which one speaks, than one which one only reads. Therefore, so long as the Hebrew language has not yet become again a spoken language, we can say with absolute certainty that only if the Hebrew literature returns to its source, and continues its special national development such that it is representative of the national sentiments and our most personal Israelite consciousness, will it be possible to withstand the tough war with its two enemies: Yiddish on the one hand, and the vernacular on the other.
However, let us not delude ourselves with exaggerated hopes. If our language will become a living language, or if, at the very least, our literature will become what it ought to be, then indeed the continuance of Hebrew literature will not be in danger. Even in the worst years, there will always exist a certain community which feels a need for it, and for this reason it will not disappear. But we must perforce admit that for a period of many years this community will be rather limited. The spoken Hebrew language must contend with the local vernacular [i.e. Russian, Polish, etc.] perhaps even more than with Yiddish. The extent to which Hebrew literature will be unique and representative of the nation is precisely because this literature is the representative of a special progression, of a thought-stream different from the existent usual stream. It will be the possession of a minority precisely on this account. This minority is progressive, in that it differs from the opinions of the majority, and beats out new paths, trying to become ultimately the majority itself. Every literature in which the opinions of the minority are expressed, thereby obliging it to battle with the majority, requires support and assistance. Only a literature in which the opinions of the majority are couched is a self-sufficient entity, since the majority, powerful and dominant as it is, supports it. However, that literature which is the vehicle of expression of novel methods and thoughts needs propagation and help, since it meets with tremendous opposition from the proponents of the old attitudes, who are always in the majority, orwhat is worsetotal indifference. A literature in this situation is indeed alive, yet is not self-sufficient. It has only just begun to live its own life, and so is not yet self-sufficient. However, to it belongs the future. It must conquer the present by a blitzkrieg. And no war between the present and that which is yet to come can be won by the latter without enormous exertion on the part of those who support the new way. For only such ideas are self-sufficient which have already taken over the public view and rule by forcebut the future is not theirs. On the other hand, the ideas of the minority are at the present time like tender plants, which can only exist with much care and nurturing.
Even among the wealthiest nations, books and literary productions destined for the minority require support and assistance on the part of the government or of generous private donors. One science in particular will serve as an example. initially the majority of people did not understand its great value to the development of the new world-view. Only very recently more or less all intellectuals have begun to grasp this. I am referring to Assyriology, which came into prominence through the researches of [Friedrich] Delitzsch with his Bible and Babel, and the intervention of Kaiser Wilhelm [II] in the dispute which eventuated in the wake of this research. Even ordinary people began to recognize that this new science possessed educational value. In the whole world there are just a little more than 150 individuals engaging in Assyriology. Despite this, in every cultured country monthlies and annuals are devoted entirely to this science. The excavations in Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, and Erez Israel, the results of which at first glance are relevant only to some dozens of expert researchers, are supported by western governments or famous wealthy persons. The government of a relatively poor country like Italy some years ago devoted thousands of lira to publish Ethiopic books, even though the number of those able to read them does not exceed a hundred in the entire world. Moreover, it is known to everyone that our universities in whatever country could not exist without government support of their enormous expenses. Otherwise, not a single university could exist.
Such is the case also with books directed to experts, and their literary publications, for which at first sight there is no need, save for a tiny minority. I use the expression "at first sight" for there is no specialized area in the world which will not serve to broaden the knowledge and outlook of the bulk of intellectuals, and, in course of time, everybody. The aforementioned Assyriology, which initially appeared to be a specialized science, occupying some dozens of experts, bears witness. For finally it became apparent that the findings of its research could influence our religious attitudes and historical knowledge. In this way it is able to influence the entire world-view and life-view of the new man. For even the most specialized science, and the most abstract philosophical book tends eventually toward a broader and more comprehensive goal. Every man worthy of the name will profit by it. However, sciences directed initially to the minority, or books containing minority opinions need support. Each becomes a self-sufficient entity [lit. a living creature which carries itself, a Talmudic image of a young child being carried, which is not a "dead weight" since it partially supports itself] only after reaching its ultimate, most distant, goal, when it becomes a possession of the majority. If we will not give them the opportunity to spread among individuals during the period when their intent is still enfolded and latent and known only to the few, or if the opinions of the majority have not waxed old and lost their power, then their general goal will never be reached, and it will not become the possession of the majority. For this very reason, the literature of every new movement, which always attempts to fight the old idea, and propagate a new idea, needs support, because it comes to fight against an old established idea, and to spread a new idea, which, on account of its very novelty, is a possession of the minority. However, it desires to spread, and ultimately becomes the majority opinion.
Now seventy-six Socialists sit in the French Assembly. Accordingly, French Socialists number many hundreds of thousands. Yet recently [Jean] Jaurès announced that L'Humanité, [French left-wing newspaper, founded by Jaurès] the sole official organ of the party would have to cease publication on account of a lack of subscribers. Jaurès was obliged to get help from German Socialists, and in all French-speaking countries there were calls for donations to L'Humanité. Hebrew literature in its entirety is in the same situation as books or newspapers in European languages which are directed to a minority, or serve the needs of a movement primarily.
The bulk of Jewish readers read Yiddish or other foreign languages. Accordingly, our entire literature needs support and assistance. For this reason, the responsibility to come to the aid of Hebrew literature falls upon the wealthy, and also the merely comfortable, who know our language. This is caused by the fact that there is no Jewish government which can came to the aid of the literature. Moreover, the leaders of the Zionist movement, who ought by rights to support Jewish culture as one of the pillars of Zionism, fail to do so, because they feel they have to garner the affection of the majority through the newspapers in Yiddish, Russian, and German, which they support.
At one time every Jew, be he rich, middling, or even poor, used to support the Torah and those who studied it with all his might. And what is Hebrew literature if not the continuation of the Torah? And what is the remnant of our writers if not the spiritual heirs of those who studied the Torah in the past? In all generations those who knew the Torah were small in number. And the poetic, philosophic, and Torah books which they wrote during the Middle Ages and after were written for special people, the minority. Even so, everyone felt it a duty to make it possible for scholars to write such books, and to help publish them and spread them abroad. Should not such a thing be possible, indeed required, in our own day?
The Friends of Hebrew Literature were able to collect only 20,000 rubles for the benefit of the Ahiasaph Society, [Hebrew publishing society founded by the Benei Moshe movement around 1890] yet the Society published many good books, as well as monthly publications and newspapers throughout the course of thirteen years. Had the comfortable among us been able raise a similar sum for the Ahiasaph fund, or founded with a like sum a similar new society (as the Sinai Foundation wished to be) there would have been a huge boost to Hebrew literature in these difficult times. It would have lessened the present crisis, and enabled us to hold out until the evil times passed. There surely will follow better times for our people and also for Hebrew literature, the faithful guardian of our treasures.
I hear those of our writers who are deficient in knowledge declare with arrogance and scorn: "Hebrew literature is one of handouts and beggary. Literature should be self-sufficient!"
There is a little nation in the world which does not think so. This little nation possesses a language which is spoken in its country and the adjoining country [Denmark]. Recently, [7 June 1905] this nation achieved total political independence. This nation understood that on account of its tiny population literature could not be a means of support for writers. A philanthropist [possibly Richard Andvord, (d. 1913)] arose who established a literary fund of four million kroner. Support is given to all Norwegian writersfor it is Norway of which I speak. This applies both to literary and scientific endeavors. It is hard indeed to credit that Norwegian literature is basically a literature of handouts, since it has shaken up and reinvigorated the entire creative and poetic output of Europe. Its excellent writers now provide spiritual food to the entire cultural world. This literature, rich in quality yet with profound problems, is fundamentally a literature of handouts. The Norwegians understood that the literature of a little people cannot be self-sufficient. Accordingly, they arranged that their best writers should not cease to be on account of poverty and financial pressure, and that the best productions should not be thrown away by their authors for want of an appropriate publisher. When will wealthy and comfortable readers of Hebrew understand such straightforward matters?
Our literature can be helped to a not inconsiderable degree by our young people, who for the most part are neither rich nor even just comfortable.
A unique phenomenon has appeared in Hebrew literature, which has also helped greatly to bring about its physically low state.
Every literature has a community of writers who are old, or devoted to the old ways, as well as a community of young writers who are innovative. The first group constitutes the force which sustains the literature, and is its static element. The second is the enterprising force and its dynamic element, the force that drives it forward. Most readers are always on the side of the writers devoted to the old ways, and the book purchasers and newspaper subscribers come for the most part from this group. The younger generation for the most part is on the side of the young, innovative writers. Some of them purchase or subscribe, but their numbers are not great. This group is in the minority but they aspire to become the majority.
Hebrew literature too always had a community of writers devoted to the old ways, and a community of innovative writers. The community of readers was similarly divided. There was an old or elderly community, and a young community. However, to a greater or lesser degree, the old community always bought books or subscribed to newspapers, the young community were only readers. Rarely did a young reader buy a Hebrew book, or subscribe to a Hebrew newspaper.
In the course of the last five years [1902-1907] younger writers have completely taken over Hebrew literature, and the old writers have been totally dismissed. If you take, for example, Ha-Melitz ["The Interpreter" a long-lasting Hebrew periodical in which Klausner published his first writings. It was killed off by the revolution of 1905.] of five years ago, and compare it to Ha-Tsofeh ["The Watchman" was the third daily of its era, of strong literary bent. It lasted only three years.] or Ha-Zeman, ["Time", a semi-weekly which replaced Ha-Melitz when the latter ceased publication] you will be astounded at the notable differences between them. Whole sections dear to Ha-Melitz are totally absent in present-day newspapers. These include explanations of Bible and Talmud, and essays on Jewish history. Ha-Maamaristika ["Maamar" is a Talmudic statement: no information on this probably short-lived periodical] with its sermonic flavor has ceased publication. Style has changed totally, and ceased to be amateurish, while losing its Hebraic flavor and connexions. Everything now is written and published in the style of the young writers. There is not a trace of what the older readers liked, because their beloved writers of the old school have completely disappeared. Younger writers rule the roost, and provide literary sustenance for everybody. Of course, they do not write for old people, but rather for younger readers, the "Europeans" as we dub them in our ranks.
There is no question but that we have here a manifestation that on the whole gives cause for rejoicing. Although we can see in the Europeanization of our literature a blurring of its originality from many aspects, nevertheless current literature is better and more significant in general than the sermonistic, insipid literature we had in the days of old, Ha-Maggid ["The Herald" was the oldest (1856-1903) and most influential Hebrew weekly] and the old Ha-Melitz. However, the result of the European character of the literature, and the victory of the young writers was of necessity the departure of old and elderly readers from Hebrew literature, and a transfer to young readers exclusively. As a result the number of readers of Hebrew has shrunk even more than through the new way of life, which deflected the children from the study of Hebrew, because they entered the general schools, and had to learn the vernacular which was essential for them in their struggle for existence.
Many old and elderly who regarded Yiddish as a monstrosity, [it was commonly referred to as "the Jargon"] seeing it as a woman's language, began reading Yiddish newspapers, simply for the sake of the news, and not expecting from Yiddish any literary items. This occurred because they no longer understood the Hebrew newspapers, both on account of the language, and on account of the topics that were covered. So the community of Hebrew readers, always a minority, became a minority within a minority.
If our young people were not only readers of books and newspapers, but also buyers and subscribers, then the diminution of readers among the old and the elderly would not have been so serious. In the last resort, the future literature does not depend on old people, for this literature is directed toward the propagation of untraditional opinions. The guiding force behind such a literature, that which drives it on, is the younger generation of writers and readers. But to our great sorrow, our younger people are simply writers and readers. Buyers and subscribers are non-existent. So we are left with the remarkable phenomenon that almost every year new, extremely talented writers join the roster of Hebrew literature, proving that there are plenty of readers of Hebrew, because if there are no readers people do not write, yet even so the number of book buyers and newspaper subscribers diminishes daily. I speak of course of such new writers as Brenner, Jacob Cohen, Shofman [Schoffman], Shneur, Y.D. Berkowitz, Bar-Tuvia, Gnessin, Radler[-Feldman], etc.
The only way, then, to end the physical decline of our literature is for the young readers to become purchasers and subscribers.
It will be said that the young people are poor, and incapable of buying Hebrew books and subscribing to Hebrew newspapers.
This is a bitter truth about many of the young people, but not all of them. Anyone like myself, who lives among Jewish youth, knows that even the poorest of them spends every year several rubles on Russian or German books. Moreover, many young people are relatively well-off, and absolutely able to spend ten rubles a year for a Hebrew newspaper, monthly, or book. But there is a certain indolence, or force of habit, involved, whereby the Jew is is accustomed to read, but not to buy. Usually he borrows it from someone who himself got it for nothing. Accordingly few young people find themselves able to spend money on books and newspapers. What our young readers do not know is that the monthly Ha-Shiloah [Cf. Isaiah, 8.5. A high-quality literary Hebrew monthly published from 1897 to 1926] would have been able to continue without subsidy if it had always had just 300 over and above the average subscription list during its existence. Have they not considered that despite the poverty which prevails among our young people, 300 young people could not be found who might afford to spend six rubles a year for Hebrew literature? Such an expense might be difficult, but everything dear and precious requires sacrifice!
Everyone justly complains that years have passed without the publication of a significant Hebrew book. Our young people could worry about this also. Despite the terrible pressure to which our young people are subjected, we should be able to find in our midst a thousand young people who know Hebrew willing to join a society for the publication of worthwhile Hebrew books. Every western country has such a society. Such young people should be in a position to pay a membership fee of just one ruble annually. For an annual expenditure of 1000 rubles, it should be possible to publish three new books, as well as two or three older books which are already out of copyright. This means that they are cheaper to produce, and are likely to make, rather than to lose, money. For example, the book Love of Zion, [The first Hebrew novel, by Abraham Mapu.] which is already out of copyright, has been republished numerous times by ordinary printers and booksellers who render its internal beauty ugly with dark paper and broken and indistinct typefaces. Could not a society bring out such a book along with the life of Mapu, and a picture, and sell it at a reasonable price? Such a publication might result in a profit, since no royalties are involved, and this profit might be employed to benefit entirely new publications. However, even if there is no monetary gain, we shall gain in this sense, that we are spreading abroad the best older books, and the knowledge of our language and literature will grow.
The publication of two or three important new books per year is something not to be despised at a critical time for our literature in which important Hebrew books have ceased, not to mention unimportant ones. And, of course, I am setting our sights low, since it should be possible to publish more than a few.
This goal is perfectly attainable, and our young people can achieve it. Ivriyah [A Federation formed in 1907 by Klausner, Bialik, and Ussishkin to foster Hebrew language and culture] has begun to do its work with determination and energy. So it is possible for our young people to get together around it, and create a society for the publication of worthwhile Hebrew books of their own, without the need for a special committee or office. The essential thing is for our youth to know and acknowledge that they should not rely on purchasers and subscribers from the old and the elderly, since our literature is not according to their taste, but rather this is a literature of young people. And if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? [Hillel said: "If I am not for myself, who shall be for me? Ethics of the Fathers, 1.14]
Let us not despair or be lazy, and by the same token, indulge in self-reproach. If we can achieve just a little at the present time, let us recognize that everything starts small, and if initially we are few, is it not a fact that the few are the fathers of the many?
The new Hebrew literature, despite its connexion with the past, and its drawing on the creation of past generations, must not be an end, but rather a beginning.