Cedars of Lebanon: “A Faith That Is Whole”
WHEN Menahem Boraisha died in 1949, he had finally achieved the artistic statement of “a faith that is whole” for which he struggled his entire life. His Der Geyer, an epic poem published in two volumes in 1933, describing the spiritual and physical journeys of an itinerant Jewish penitent during the 19th century, had gained him both critical and popular renown. He had, in his forty-fifth year, in the phrase of his early master, I. L. Peretz, grown strong wings and flown high.
The account that follows, from Boraisha’s volume A Dor (“A Generation”), published in 1947, is important both for its honest insight into his own limitations as poet, and for the light it sheds upon his milieu and the problems of his generation. Boraisha was certainly not alone in sensing the dilemma of a period between faiths-he was preceded and followed by Jewish authors describing the same dilemma in Hebrew and Yiddish, and, latterly, in the European languages as well. As he notes, the Jewish intellectuals and artists of the 19th century came to the Emancipation later than the rest of Europe, and Jewish religion had been a stronger force over a longer period- hence, the peculiarly violent reaction of Jews to the Enlightenment. Hence, too, the persistence of the problem of faith for modern Jews as a social phenomenon, not only a personal one. Judaism, as Boraisha puts it, is an imperative heritage from our forefathers; taken on its own terms, it has to be either accepted or rejected. Read from this vantage, as a self-conscious literary rebel’s statement of a common, almost mass feeling, Boraisha’s testament assumes new dimensions. The translation from the Yiddish is mine.-JACOB SLOAN
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