Responses & Reactions
MARTIN BUBER’S two-volume collection, Tales of the Hasidim,* has probably had a greater impact on non-Jewish writers-whether theologically inclined or theologically indifferent-than any other Jewish book of recent times. But the Tales have perhaps worked an even more powerful fascination on Jewish writers and intellectuals, and particularly on those who stand outside the organized Jewish community. Prominent among the latter group is NORMAN MAILER, whose informal bi-monthly column on the Tales appears for the first time in this issue. Regarded by many critics as the most important American novelist of his generation, Mr. Mailer is the author of The Naked and the Dead, Barbary Shore, and The Deer Park. His other works include an autobiographical volume, Advertisements for Myself, and most recently, a collection of poems entitled Deaths for the Ladies (and other disasters).
THE TRADITION of the Hasidim is naturally and passionately existential. It is a tradition which lives apart from the regular, grave, solemn, aspects of Judaism, which are the ground and tablet of the essentialist. Disraeli once made a speech in Commons to the effect that the most damaging mistake a conservative party could make was to persecute the Jews, since they were naturally conservative and turned to radical ideas only when they were deprived of an organic place in society. The statement is certainly not without interest, but may grasp no more than a part of the truth. It is more likely the instinct of the Jews to be attracted to large whole detailed views of society, to seek intellectual specifications of the social machine, and to enter precisely those occupations which subtly can offer institutional, personal, and legislative possibilities to a man of quick wit and sensible cohesive culture. The precise need of the essentialist, the authoritarian, or the progressive is to have a social machine upon which one can apply oneself. Later, having earned sufficient and satisfactory power, one may tinker with the machine. It is small wonder that the four corners of modern Protestantism are pegged on Judaistic notions, upon a set of social ideas given bulk and mass only by a most determinedly circumscribed conception of heaven, hell, divine compassion, and eternal punishment. For modern man, Judaeo-Christian man, the social world before him tends to become all of existence.
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