Literatura hebrea

The Bible has been treated in England and America

in a variety of excellent text-books written by and for Jews and

Jewesses. It seemed to me very doubtful whether the time is, or

ever will be, ripe for dealing with the Scriptures from the purely

literary stand-point in teaching young students. But this is the

stand-point of this volume. Thus I have refrained from including

the Bible, because, on the one hand, I felt that I could not deal with

it as I have tried to deal with the rest of Hebrew literature, and

because, on the other hand, there was no necessity for me to

attempt to add to the books already in use. The sections to which I

have restricted myself are only rarely taught to young students in a

consecutive manner, except in so far as they fall within the range of

lessons on Jewish History. It was strongly urged on me by a friend

of great experience and knowledge, that a small text-book on later

Jewish Literature was likely to be found useful both for home and

school use. Such a book might encourage the elementary study of

Jewish literature in a wider circle than has hitherto been reached.

Hence this book has been compiled with the definite aim of

providing an elementary manual. It will be seen that both in the

inclusions and exclusions the author has followed a line of his own,

but he lays no claim to originality. The book is simply designed as a

manual for those who may wish to master some of the leading

characteristics of the subject, without burdening themselves with

too many details and dates.

This consideration has in part determined also the method of the

book. In presenting an outline of Jewish literature three plans are

possible. One can divide the subject according to Periods. Starting

with the Rabbinic Age and closing with the activity of the earlier

Gaonim, or Persian Rabbis, the First Period would carry us to the

eighth or the ninth century. A well-marked Second Period is that of

the Arabic-Spanish writers, a period which would extend from the

ninth to the fifteenth century. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth

century forms a Third Period with distinct characteristics. Finally,

the career of Mendelssohn marks the definite beginning of the

Modern Period. Such a grouping of the facts presents many

advantages, but it somewhat obscures the varying conditions

prevalent at one and the same time in different countries where the

Jews were settled. Hence some writers have preferred to arrange

the material under the different untries. It is quite possible to draw

a map of the world’s civilization by merely marking the successive

places in which Jewish literature has fixed its head-quarters. But,

on the other hand, such a method of classification has the

disadvantage that it leads to much overlapping. For long intervals

together, it is impossible to separate Italy from Spain, France from

Germany, Persia from Egypt, Constantinople from Amsterdam.

This has induced other writers to propose a third method and to

trace Influences, to indicate that, whereas Rabbinism may be

termed the native product of the Jewish genius, the scientific,

poetical, and philosophical tendencies of Jewish writers in the

Middle Ages were due to the interaction of external and internal

forces. Further, in this arrangement, the Ghetto period would have

a place assigned to it as such, for it would again mark the almost

complete sway of purely Jewish forces in Jewish literature.

Adopting this classification, we should have a wave of Jewish

impulse, swollen by the accretion of foreign waters, once more

breaking on a Jewish strand, with its contents in something like the

same condition in which they left the original spring. All these three

methods are true, and this has impelled me to refuse to follow any

one of them to the exclusion of the other two. I have tried to

trace influences, to observeperiods, to distinguish countries. I have

also tried to derive color and vividness by selecting prominent

personalities round which to group whole cycles of facts. Thus, some

of the chapters bear the names of famous men, others are entitled

from periods, others from countries, and yet others are named from

the general currents of European thought. In all this my aim has

been very modest. I have done little in the way of literary criticism,

but I felt that a dry collection of names and dates was the very

thing I had to avoid. I need not say that I have done my best to

ensure accuracy in my statements by referring to the best

authorities known to me on each division of the subject. To name

the works to which I am indebted would need a list of many of the

best-known products of recent Continental and American

scholarship. At the end of every chapter I have, however, given

references to some English works and essays. Graetz is cited in the

English translation published by the Jewish Publication Society of

America. The figures in brackets refer to the edition published in

London. The American and the English editions of S. Schechter’s

“Studies in Judaism” are similarly referred to.

Of one thing I am confident. No presentation of the facts, however

bald and inadequate it be, can obscure the truth that this little book

deals with a great and an inspiring literature. It is possible to

question whether the books of great Jews always belonged to the

great books of the world. There may have been, and there were,

greater legalists than Rashi, greater poets than Jehuda Halevi,

greater philosophers than Maimonides, greater moralists than

Bachya. But there has been no greater literature than that which

these and numerous other Jews represent.

Rabbinism was a sequel to the Bible, and if like all sequels it was

unequal to its original, it nevertheless shared its greatness. The

works of all Jews up to the modern period were the sequel to this

sequel. Through them all may be detected the unifying principle

that literature in its truest sense includes life itself; that intellect is

the handmaid to conscience; and that the best books are those

which best teach men how to live. This underlying unity gave more

harmony to Jewish literature than is possessed by many literatures

more distinctively national. The maxim, “Righteousness delivers

from death,” applies to books as well as to men. A literature whose

consistent theme is Righteousness is immortal. On the very day on

which Jerusalem fell, this theory of the interconnection between

literature and life became the fixed principle of Jewish thought, and

it ceased to hold undisputed sway only in the age of Mendelssohn. It

was in the “Vineyard” of Jamnia that the theory received its firm

foundation. A starting-point for this volume will therefore be sought

in the meeting-place in which the Rabbis, exiled from the Holy City,

found a new fatherland in the Book of books.

Chapter I. The “Vineyard” At Jamnia •  Chapter II. Flavius

Josephus and the Jewish Sibyl • Chapter III. The Talmud

•  Chapter IV. The Midrash and Its Poetry •  Chapter V. The

Letters of the Gaonim •  Chapter VI. The Karaitic Literature

•  Chapter VII. The New-Hebrew Piyut •  Chapter IX. Dawn of the

Spanish Era •  Chapter X. The Spanish-Jewish Poets (I) •  Chapter

XI. Rashi and Alfassi •  Chapter XII. The Spanish-Jewish Poets (II)

•  Chapter XIII. Moses Maimonides •  Chapter XIV. The Diffusion of

Science •  Chapter XV. The Diffusion of Folk-Tales •  Chapter XVI.

Moses Nachmanides •  Chapter XVII. The Zohar and Later

Mysticism •  Chapter XVIII. Italian Jewish Poetry •  Chapter XIX.

Ethical Literature • Chapter XX. Travellers’ Tales •  Chapter XXI.

Historians and Chroniclers •  Chapter XXII. Isaac Abarbanel

•  Chapter XXIII. The Shulchan Aruch •  Chapter XXIV.

Amsterdam in the Seventeenth Century •  Chapter XXV. Moses

Mendelssohn

This eBook of “Chapters On Jewish Literature” (1899) by Israel

Abrahams belongs to the public domain.Complete book.

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