In Praise of Chaim Grade
YIDDISH literature, which flowered a century ago in Eastern Europe as an impulse of modernization, has now become largely commemorative, bearing favorable testimony to the world of traditional feeling and practice which Yiddish writers once rejected and sought to reform. This change is not simply a matter of nostalgia for the irretrievable past, but the result of a distinct inversion of values. Western modernity once held out to the Yiddish writer perspectives of individual freedom and a richness of spirit not to be found within the constraints of the Pale of Settlement or the code of Jewish law; yet that same constrained past, seen from this side of the Holocaust, now appears to offer a compelling image of a relatively hopeful, morally robust, and genuinely better world. To write of East European Jewry is thus today a means not of expressing but of repudiating a tragic vision of mankind.
About the Author
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author most recently of Jews and Power (Nextbook/Schocken).