Commentary Magazine

The Question of Survival

Although four generations of Zionist and Yiddishist thinkers, Hebrew essayists, novelists, and poets, have struggled with the definition of Jewish peoplehood and its bearing on a revived Jewish state, the question has never had much urgency in the intellectual life of American Jews. At times of stress or crisis, Jews everywhere tend to assume a common solidarity, but in this country, at other times, they have not troubled themselves much about the nature of their allegiances. It is not stress, however, but continued normalcy which evokes the malaise of problems of identity, and now that the Zionist goal of “normalization” has been palpably realized in Israel, a sovereign state for almost two decades, the whole question of Jewish national identity may begin to loom larger, in a new perspective, for many Jews. One possibly illuminating sign of these times is the excitement and disturbance aroused in France by a book on Israel which appeared there about a year and a half ago.

Georges Friedmann’s Fin du peuple juif? (“The End of the Jewish People?”1) is one of those rare books that become “events” not for their appeal as scandal or literary novelty but because they truly are events in the realm of ideas, compelling us to reassess old assumptions, take longer views of the most familiar intellectual scenes. Friedmann’s book created a considerable stir in the French Jewish community, and, to a lesser degree, in serious Christian circles in France. It was heatedly debated, attacked, praised in the press, and was even the subject of public forums and round-table discussions, including one in Strassburg in which Friedmann himself participated, trying to explain, as it were, to the indignant elders of Israel that what they objected to was not what he had meant at all.

Fin du peuple juif? is a book that encourages misinterpretation because it joins together so many ostensibly incompatible elements: a viewpoint that is scientifically factual and intensely personal, a set of cautiously reasoned conclusions that are designed to be boldly argumentative, and, in the heat of argumentation, a candid confession by the writer of his own ambivalence. The title itself may seem at first like a false lead in the interests of sensationalism, for the bulk of the book is taken up with a detailed survey of the State of Israel in the 60’s; but in fact the title is precisely appropriate, as is the question mark with which it ends.

The best way, I think, to approach the book is the way Friedmann himself proposes—by beginning with the author. Georges Friedmann is a French sociologist of considerable repute and enterprise: he has published a dozen or more volumes of sociological inquiry, chiefly on questions of the meaning of work in the machine age; one of his studies is concerned with the emerging social and economic order in Soviet Russia, and two others with Latin America. He is, then, an experienced social scientist, accustomed to global perspectives. He is also, as he confesses in his engagingly personal preface, “one of those whom Jewish believers call ‘marginal’ or ‘peripheral’ Jews.” Or rather, that is all he was until October, 1940, when the Vichy government banished him from his academic post because he was a Jew. Friedmann recounts with moving simplicity and directness how his whole world was shaken to its foundations by that event. The result, however, was not a “conversion”; on the contrary, the excluded professor soon rediscovered in working with the resistance movement the very sense of absolute solidarity with the French people which, until the advent of the Fascist regime, he had never had reason to question.

In 1963, Friedmann visited Israel for the first time. He went, he tells us, simply as a social scientist interested in studying new terrain, but once there, he was overtaken by a second, much greater crisis of conscience as a Jew, unexpectedly caught in “the grip of awareness of Judaism, the consideration of its role and of the mission it claims for itself in the world.” Fin du peuple juif? is the result of that crisis of conscience: it is a doubly valuable book, because of the superb professional resources its author commands and because of the seriousness of his personal encounter with Israel.

Friedmann’s conclusions—which, I shall argue, reflect the pronounced limitations of his own experience as a Jew—are debatable, but his general representation of Israel is not; it is as good a portrait of contemporary Israel in one volume as anyone has written. He devotes carefully documented chapters to each of the major areas of social concern in Israel—the kibbutz, the new aspirations to affluence, the problems of integrating the Afro-Asian Jews and the Arab minority, the effects of the state of siege, the role of religion in society, the crisis of values in the younger generation. He even manages to make sense of the Histadrut, that inscrutable, omnipresent workers’ federation which strikes some outsiders as a kind of second government in Israel.

Friedmann has a lucid comprehension of all the grave dilemmas and institutionalized perversities of Israeli society, but he also shows a sense of excitement in discovering the unique achievements of the Zionist enterprise. Both kinds of awareness are actively at work in his exemplary analysis of the kibbutz movement. He defines with great precision the many unsettling problems that now confront the kibbutz: the economic dependence on salaried labor, the radical changes in the nature of work (a redemptive activity in kibbutz ideology) brought about by industrialization and automation, the irresistible infiltration of bourgeois amenities and attitudes into the kibbutz, the widespread feeling in the new urban Israel that the kibbutz is now a peripheral institution, a quaint relic of the pioneering past. Nevertheless, he is genuinely moved by the accomplishments of the whole kibbutz “adventure,” and he forcefully reminds us of an essential fact of historical uniqueness that we may sometimes forget through sheer familiarity: “The kibbutz movement, despite its limitations and difficulties, constitutes the most ample and successful revolutionary experiment in ‘utopianism,’ the one which most closely approximates the forms of life that Communism set itself as a goal.”



In general, Friedmann is able to offer a valuable assessment of what is happening in Israel because of the breadth of his own perspective. He continually raises basic questions about the place of Israel in what the French call, with more attention to the resonance of the phrase than to its logic, “the second 20th century.” Can Israel put up any effective resistance to the incursions of the mass society, the dime-store-plastic, cinematic, transistorized process of universal Americanization? Can Israel offer any serious social or cultural alternatives in an age of accelerating automation and exploding populations? What role is Israel to have in the shifting interplay of tensions between East and West and the emerging Third World?

While Friedmann manages to show the larger significance of his subject by taking this broad view, he is also a nice observer of particulars. In two extended visits to Israel, he went everywhere, investigated all the milieux, talked with an extraordinary variety of people, examined all the available sociological studies in each area of his inquiry; and so his work scarcely suffers from the newness of the subject to the writer. There are, to be sure, occasional lapses. Sometimes one comes across a minor conceptual confusion, as in the characterization of Bible-instruction in Israeli schools as “more or less religiously oriented.” At points, a gap in background knowledge shows through, as when Friedmann explains that the leader of a Hasidic group is known as a “Tsaddik, or Maggid.” At rare moments, he reveals simply an inadequate experience of Israel. Visiting professors generally travel by cab, and this is surely why Friedmann attributes “coolheadedness and courtesy” to Israeli busdrivers, who in fact are proverbial in that country for their irascibility and aggressive bad manners. (This particular slip is an instructive instance of the danger of drawing inferences from social theory without sufficient observation: the bus companies in Israel are driver-owned cooperatives, and Friedmann assumes that the drivers’ share in the enterprise gives them a sense of responsibility and dignity, while the ordinary Israeli will quickly tell you it gives them rather a sense of disdainful superiority to the passengers.)

More typically, however, Friedmann keeps the actualities of his subject sharply in focus. Writing with grace and wit, even with a certain sense of drama, he has a novelist’s eye for revelatory detail and for the characterizing nuances of milieu. With all the statistics he adduces and the analysis of social structures which he undertakes, much of his understanding of Israel is communicated through vividly realized scenes—an immigrant celebration of Shavuot on Mount Zion, a moment of shared confidence with a young Algerian in a Jerusalem café, an encounter with a group of touring high-school students at the maritime museum in Eilath. His description of midtown Tel Aviv, in a few well-chosen words, defines a whole ambience with admirable precision: “the brilliant and noisy center of sumptuous shops and cafés, with their banal cosmopolitanism, where one sometimes has the impression of being in a Levantine city heightened with a touch of dolce vita, despite certain vestiges of local exoticism, bearded Jews in hats, picturesque schnorrers.” Even in his honest enthusiasms, he maintains the distance of the cool observer who delights in the activity of critical observation. Thus, at the beginning of the book, he sweeps rapidly across the familiar panorama of Israel reborn: “a collectivity where men of all colors mingle, from five continents and 102 lands, drying the swamps, irrigating the desert, making new cities rise out of rock and sand, completely modern ports, housing complexes which in point of ugliness too often have nothing to envy of our own in France.”

Nevertheless, as the troubled question of the title suggests, Friedmann’s book is not merely a portrait of Israel; it is rather the large conclusions drawn from the portrait which make Fin du peuple juif? the event that it has been. In the last third of the book, he addresses himself to two broad, closely related questions—the nature of Jewish peoplehood and the prospects for Jewish continuity in Israel. Since he cannot envisage a Jewish religious faith which, as in the past, will serve as a unifying and sustaining force for the entire Jewish people, he sees two alternatives open to Jews: either to assimilate in the Diaspora, as they have been doing ever since the Emancipation, or to assimilate in Israel, where in a generation or two Jewish immigrants become Israelis, a people radically different in character traits, mentality, physical makeup, cultural values, from their ancestors. Now, this clean split between Israeli and Jew finally depends upon Friedmann’s conception of Jewish peoplehood, and that will require some attention, but we may legitimately begin to test his conclusions by considering the Israeli scene itself, because the evidence there is not, I think, as onesided as Fin du peuple juif? would have us believe.



The notion of an opposition between being an Israeli and being a Jew, as Friedmann himself is aware, is not especially new. He refers a number of times to the Canaanite group in Israel, which he considers—rightly, it seems to me—as symptomatically important despite its numerical insignificance. The Canaanites, like most anti-establishment groups in history, were named by their adversaries. The appellation they themselves use, “Semitic Action,” expresses their general desire to cast away the empty appurtenances of Jewish identity and to assume a new role as a Hebrew-speaking people among related Semitic peoples of the Near East; but this aim has led them to identify in some ways with the Semites who inhabited the land before Joshua’s conquest—that is, before pristine Hebrew culture was encumbered by the relentless carping legalism and jealous monotheism of the Jews. Though the Canaanites are a stench and abomination in the nostrils of the Zionist leadership, as a matter of historical fact they are merely following out the full ideological implications of a strong undercurrent of anti-Jewish feeling, of revulsion from the experience and values of the Diaspora, which has run through Zionist thought from its beginnings. The memorable aphorism of Yudka, the hero of Haim Hazaz’s much-discussed story, “The Sermon,”2 jibes perfectly not only with the Canaanite position but also with a basic tendency, emphatic even when only implicit, in the writings of M. Y. Berdichevski, Y. H. Brenner, A. D. Gordon, and others who helped shape Zionist ideology—“When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist.”

Fin du peuple juif? marshals considerable evidence in support of this view. Several sociological surveys of Israeli youth have shown that its sense of belonging to any Jewish collectivity beyond the borders of Israel is often tenuous. Meetings between groups of young American Jews and young Israelis have revealed a serious lack of mutual comprehension—in the sociological terms Friedmann uses, there is perhaps an interdependence but no significant similarity between the two groups. A study of reactions to the Eichmann trial among young people in Israel indicates a simple incapacity on the part of the Sabras to imagine the agonizing predicament of European Jewry under the Nazis. When Friedmann adds to these findings the obvious fact that the Jews who have come to Israel are living in a new climate, in a drastically different combination of social, political, cultural, and even genetic elements, he feels he must conclude that “a new people is being created in our time, from day to day, in Israel: a young, physically new people which is neither the appendix nor the center of a henceforth legendary ‘Jewish people.’”

Like most self-conscious attempts to be toughly realistic, this interpretation ends by neglecting certain significant aspects of the reality it sets out to define. Despite the trenchancy of the Canaanite critique of Zionism and its corroboration in the limited national horizons of many Sabras, the vast majority of Israelis assume without question that they are Jews, and would be shocked at being thought anything else. This assumption, admittedly, is perplexed with difficulties, for it is by no means clear what its practical implications should be, but it remains a primary datum of Israeli consciousness which can hardly be discounted.

In the past two or three years, moreover, there have been indications that at least some Israelis feel impelled toward more concrete expressions of their implicit sense of identity as Jews, or even toward a reconsideration of the classic Zionist assumptions against the background of Jewish life in the Diaspora. The growing concern for the plight of Soviet Jewry, closely parallel to concern in this country over Russian anti-Semitism, reflects an abiding sense of Jewish solidarity—only the most simplistic cynicism would write it off as merely a self-interested desire to see greater numbers, and “Occidental” numbers at that, arriving in the beleaguered state. Among Israeli intellectuals, a movement of groping toward the Diaspora has generally been initiated out of an awareness of the problematic nature of the relationship between Jews in Israel and elsewhere. The feeling persists, however, that such a relationship is a kind of existential necessity: several recent Israeli novels, for example, try to explore the complexities of coming to terms with Jews outside the State.3

In Israeli literary circles, the recent and conspicuous success of avowedly Jewish writers in America has been an object of fascinated contemplation and an occasion for self-examination as well. Israeli writers are, of course, inevitably struck by the immense quantitative difference between their own situation and that of the American Jewish writers: while Bellow and Malamud between them reach millions of readers, the best Hebrew fiction must be content with an audience of a few thousand. The qualitative aspects, however, of American Jewish creativity preoccupy Israelis much more: some Israeli intellectuals have been moved to wonder whether the lucid perspectives of alienation and marginality, supposedly the birthright of the Jewish intellectual in the Diaspora, have not been tragically lost to Jews living in a Jewish majority culture. Aharon Megged, an influential novelist and critic, writing in 1965 in Masa, the weekly literary supplement he edits, pointed out to his Hebrew readers that the prominence of Jews in American intellectual life is not comparable to similar phenomena in prewar Europe: American Jewish writers, he argued, are unique in the way they have stressed their Jewishness, virtually flaunted it, conscious that they have become modern culture heroes as the representatives of an anxious people in an age of anxiety. “It is themselves,” the Israeli critic observes, “and not us whom they see as the heirs to the great tradition of the Hebrew literature of ancient times and of the Yiddish literature of recent generations. If they strike us as less than authentic Jews, in their eyes we are no more than Canaanites—not a manifestation of spiritual liberation, as Ahad Ha-am envisioned, but of spiritual contraction.” Megged does not mean to propose a new “Jewish” program for Israeli intellectuals, but these are grave doubts he raises, even if in a somewhat bemused tone, and his words illustrate how some Israelis are beginning to rethink their relationship with Jewishness and the Diaspora. Appropriately, he ends his essay with a reflection on the bewildering diversity and elusiveness of what may be thought of as legitimate Jewish experience.



An equally revealing document is a review by Ehud Ben-Ezer, a young critic and novelist, in a recent issue of Shdeimot, the kibbutz quarterly, of the Hebrew translation of Bashevis Singer’s The Slave. Ben-Ezer concludes his enthusiastic appraisal of the Yiddish novel by arguing that Singer’s fiction ought to be taught in Israeli schools, as part of a new curriculum of Jewish—instead of only Hebrew—literature. The review ends with an explicit renunciation of the jaundiced view of traditional Jewish life inherited by Zionism from the Hebrew Enlightenment:

It seems to me that he [Singer], and not the writers of the Hebrew Enlightenment, belongs among the legitimate representatives of this [East-European] Jewry, which, after the Holocaust, maintains an “as-if” existence in all his work. Perhaps by such means the new generation of Sabras will manage to sense the actuality of Jewish existence in all its variety, without the complexes imposed by seeing it through the lenses of a generation that rebelled against it, rejected it, viewed it narrowly, laying bare every trace of decadence in order to create the myth of supposed “healthiness” which is no longer Jewish, in Israel.

The Israeli schools, I’m afraid, are still a long way from adopting proposals like Ben-Ezer’s for a radically revised curriculum, but there have been some signs of a new popular interest in the vanished East-European Jewish milieu. The Hebrew version of Fiddler on the Roof has been an unprecedented success, not only because it is slickly American (other musicals, after all, have been translated), but also because it is Sholem Aleichem. The season it opened in Tel Aviv also featured successful runs of three other plays drawn from the world of the shtetl, a phenomenon that would have been unthinkable in the emphatically post-exilic Israel of a decade or more ago. Aharon Megged, at the beginning of the article from which I have already quoted, aptly observes the paradox:

“My father’s home,” as we get further away from its point of disappearance, now seems more and more like a warm, solid, sturdy house, able to serve as an imaginative refuge for someone who lives in a wide open housing development, surrounded by building-scaffolds. No one would have imagined fifteen years ago that the Palmachnik4 would be looking, of all things, for a collective yesterday. That figure has long since gone the way of all flesh, or has matured, but his generation, and people younger and older, are looking for both yesterday and the day before.

These flutterings of Israeli interest in old-fashioned Yiddishkeit obviously do not constitute anything like a turning-point in the cultural development of the State. As Megged suggests, the vague yearning for a long-abandoned past is largely a matter of nostalgia—which is, of course, precisely the case for so many American Jews who have become interested in the shtetl in recent years. It seems unlikely that any viable sense of group identity can be maintained through nostalgia, because nostalgia is a mode of relation flawed with deception—about oneself, and about the nature of the past. What is interesting is that the former Palmachnik should be sharing a nostalgia, more or less, with the Great Neck Hadassah lady. It suggests that we are all in the same predicament: for being a Jew at this point in time is very much a predicament, though not a hopeless dead-end off the high road to assimilation, as Georges Friedmann implies. We are all fumbling, in the Diaspora and in Israel, for ways to make sense out of the confused but stubborn consciousness of our own Jewish identity in a new world: our bouts of collective nostalgia, whatever embarrassing excesses they may lead to, are themselves a testimony to the persistence of that consciousness. The uncertain paths toward Jewish self-realization that have been followed in Israel and in America sometimes parallel each other, often diverge, occasionally intersect, but at least we have the potential advantage—so far conspicuously neglected—of learning from each other’s mistakes.

It may seem as though in all this I am counterpoising Friedmann’s weighty statistics with mere straws in the Israeli wind, but I think that is not the case. With the pace of history as rapid as it has become, predictions about the survival of any large human enterprise are risky, and surely one important “factor” to be pondered, if not measured, is the sustaining belief of those actually involved in the enterprise, even when the belief affects only a minority. The discussion of the kibbutz in Fin du peuple juif? illustrates this point nicely. All the external evidence might easily lead a sociologist to conclude that the kibbutz is an interesting, transitional social experiment which, in the changed conditions of “the second 20th century,” must inevitably wither. Friedmann, however, with great imaginative sympathy for the kibbutz experiment, can feel the force of a faith in a more human social order which has energized the whole undertaking, and so he is unwilling to give it up for lost, despite the discouraging evidence of the facts. He has no such sympathy, on the other hand, for American Jewry: on the basis of the well-known studies of intermarriage and assimilation, taken together with our notoriously low birthrate, he concludes that we are, in the long view, on the way out. This is hardly a position to be casually dismissed, but it fails to take into account significant facts of consciousness which characterize the Jews whose demise is being forecast, or the presence of vital centers of activity—I have in mind not only individuals but institutions or even communities—which sometimes make one hopeful about American Jewish life, for all its self-admiring fakery and ostentatious emptiness.

Basically, however, what underlies Friedmann’s vision of inevitable assimilation in Israel and in the Diaspora is his conception of Jewish identity, both individual and collective. In this respect, he seems to follow Sartre, whose definition in Réflexions sur la question juive he cites at one point with somewhat qualified approbation: “A Jew is a man who is considered by other men to be a Jew: that is the simple truth.” This is obviously a definition by someone who comes from the outside, and uses nothing but the outside to define his subject, and that is almost equally true of Friedmann. He is uncompromising in his insistence, with italic emphasis, that “anti-Semitism produced Jewish consciousness, Jewish persistence, the perseverance of Jewish existence.” To reach this conclusion, he must ignore certain historical facts and juggle others in a rather suspect way. Thus, he claims that the very genesis of Jewish peoplehood in the ancient world was “strictly dependent” upon external reactions to the various Diaspora communities because of their observance of Mosaic law. This is peculiar reasoning. In the ancient Near East, nationality and religion were coextensive; the Jews in their own land, obviously, were a normal people with a national faith. What is remarkable, as Yehezkel Kaufmann has shown in his monumental study, Gola v’Neikhar (“Exile and Foreign Land”), is that the monotheistic nature of that faith was able to sustain an unprecedented sense of national identity even in exile, enabling Jews to believe their banishment was a divine decree, not, as other ancient peoples in the same situation believed of their own defeat, proof of the inefficacy of the national god. Before concluding that the Jews kept their identity in exile because of Gentile reaction to their particularist practices, we surely must ask what inner necessity compelled them to maintain such practices when the established pattern of the ancient world should have prompted them to adopt the ways of their host nations.



The word “determinism” crops up with unsettling frequency in the last sections of Fin du peuple juif? Though Friedmann recognizes, even admires, an intrinsic élan in Jewish culture, he continually explains it away as a “reaction” to external pressures. In this way, the elaborate regimen of Jewish law, associated by Friedmann with ghetto life, is supposed to have originated in the need for psychological security under extreme duress, in conditions of imminent threat to life, limb, and property. Although there is surely some truth in this view of the painstaking rigidity of Jewish observance, it does violence to history: the basic system of Jewish law was established not in ghettos but in the academies of the Hellenistic and Persian ages, when the conditions of Jewish life, and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, were very different from what they would be more than a millennium later in Russia and Poland. In general, Friedmann tends to see Jewish life through the ages in a single frozen image based on a stereotype of persecuted East-European Jewry. In his view, the core personality (personnalité de base) of the Jew is entirely determined by anti-Semitism. These, according to Friedmann’s “scientific” account, are the essential characteristics produced in the Jew by persecution: “an exaggeration of certain psychological traits, well-described in the literature of the ghetto, among which are a hypertrophied sense of criticism and destructive analysis, an escapism through dream, an active imagination . . ., cruelty in humor, self-denigration.”

Now, one may find in “the literature of the ghetto” (Mendele? Peretz?) striking illustrations of some of these traits, though the ascription of cruelty in humor is rather puzzling, but this does not mean that such characteristics are part of the core of a universal Jewish personality. Because Friedmann relegates matters of belief and conscious commitment to a secondary role in the persistence of Jewish identity, he must place great weight on “observable” similarities of character, and thus he assumes that Jews as people have been much more alike than they actually have been, not only at different times and places, but even at any one time and place. It is a historical fact that there has been a Jewish tradition, a Jewish people: I am not so sure whether there really has been a Jewish personality, and it is perhaps that which should be regarded as “henceforth legendary” in the light of the experience of modern Israel.



There are no completely reliable sociological measures of past societies, but one can easily cite a whole line of individual creative Jews whose lives and achievements show little relation to Friedmann’s list of character traits, from Yochanan ben Zakkai and Akiba to Rashi and Maimonides, Judah Halevi and Samuel Hanagid, to an even wider group of figures after the Emancipation that includes not only Herzl and Ahad Ha-am, Rosenzweig and Buber, but also Einstein and even Freud. Friedmann’s conception of Jewish character, beginning with the notion of a propensity to hypercritical, destructive analysis, is, to speak plainly, the stereotype of the Jew cherished by genteel anti-Semitism. There is, then, a hidden circularity in the argument of Fin du peuple juif? : having adopted the anti-Semitic notion of what Jews are like, it defines the Jewish people as a response to anti-Semitism and so concludes that with the disappearance of anti-Semitism the Jewish people as well must disappear.

Friedmann makes a few vague attempts to remind himself and his readers that Jewish experience in exile has also had more sympathetic aspects, but from his vantage-point as a highly acculturated French Jew, he is incapable of seeing the manifestations of genuine vitality in modern Jewish life in the Diaspora, or the continuities between that vitality and the realities of Israel. When he wants a general image of the Diaspora Jew, he falls, revealingly, into a classic Zionist contrast between the indomitable Maccabees, on the one hand—that is, Jews when they were really a people—and, on the other hand, the kind of Jew he encountered when he visited Poland in the 30’s: “that somber crowd in caftans, bustling, fearful . . ., clinging to the walls when they went beyond the limits of the Jewish quarters.” The Israeli journalist, Victor Cygielman, writing in a special issue on Israel of Esprit, the liberal French Catholic quarterly (September, 1966), offers a precise and eloquent corrective to this image:

To be sure, there were in that period Jews in caftans, fearful, clinging to the walls. But to reduce to this stereotyped image the flourishing community of Polish Jewry before 1939, nearly three and a half million souls, with its Yiddish writers, newspapers, and theaters, its vast network of primary and secondary schools (where, among other things, modern Hebrew was taught), its trade unions and political organizations (socialist, Zionist, Communist)—that is almost like showing a tourist the district of the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta in Jerusalem and concluding: this is Israel.

I have been treating Fin du peuple juif? as an argument while neglecting that question mark of the title which hovers over the whole book. Working from his limited premises, Friedmann does conclude that the “end of the people” is rapidly approaching, but he is pained by his conclusion, moved by a recognition of great loss in the Jew’s final emancipation from exile. In part, however, he regrets the wrong loss, since his notion of Jewish existence as a response to hostile environments leads him to think of its contribution to civilization almost solely as an acuteness of consciousness generated by living in anxiety. He ends his book, very aptly, with a dialogue between two imaginary representatives of his own ambivalence: the first voice bemoans the disappearance in Israel of that spiritually fertile anxiety which has been the heritage of the Jews; the answering voice wonders whether any heritage is worth the price of tragedy exacted from the Jews, or whether historical Judaism might embody possibilities of living a happy yet creatively Jewish life. We may not all accept Friedmann’s bias, but surely most of us share something of his ambivalence; it is a pity only that he was not able to give resonance to both sides of this dialogue in his entire treatment of Jewish peoplehood, past and present.




1 To be published in English by Doubleday in June, with statistics updated through 1966.

2 Available in English in Israeli Stories, ed. Joel Blocker, Schocken, 1962.

3 Two especially relevant novels, Haim Gury's The Chocolate Deal and Hanoch Bartov's The Brigade, which I discussed last year in these pages (“Confronting the Holocaust: Three Israeli Novels,” March, 1966), will soon be published in English by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

4 Israeli commando, a popular image of the tough new breed of Israeli Jew.

About the Author

Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.