DAVID DAICHES’S essay in auto- biography comes subtitled "A Jew- ish Childhood in Edinburgh," and its assurance that those two worlds combine picturesquely has convinced at least the jacket designer, who stencils a menorah against a colored background that looks sus- piciously like a tartan. ‘The two worlds, in my childhood, were not really separate," Daiches informs us. Scottish Presbyterian orthodoxy accepted Daiches’s Jewish ortho- doxy with respect and interest, and his Scrip- ture teacher would ask, "What does the Hebrew say, Daiches?" whenever he came to "some obscure incident." Linguistically, Daiches notes, "Scots preserves many Ger- manic words lost in standard English and found, in a similar or even identical form, in Yiddish"; in one comic chapter, which appeared in the New Yorker, .he explores the vagaries of the Scots-Yiddish spoken by the Jewish immigrants in Edinburgh. Coexist- ence has occurred on many levels: for his doctorate at Oxford, Daiches studied Eng- STANLEY EDGAR HYMAN finds, in this essay on David Daiches’s autobiographical Two Worlds (Hrarcourt, Brace, 192 pp., $3.50), that the problem of Jewish self-identification is much the same in Edinburgh, Scotland, as in Bing- ha.mton, N. Y. Mr. Hyman is a New Yorker staff writer as well as professor of literature and folk literature at Bennington College. A revised version of his handbook of modern criti- cism, The Armed Vision, has recently been published by Knopf in their paperback series, with a companion volume of readings edited by him, The Critical Performance.
lish translations of the Hebrew Bible; as; poet, he translated Judah Halevi in-to Lallan Scots; as an ethnolinguist, he noted how the whisky slogan ‘Take a peg of John Begg’ was transformed into "Nemn a schmeck fui Dzon Beck." As a child, Daiches reports, he responde( loyally to pulls in both directions. He car tied a pocket history of the Jews to school to refer proudly to facts and figures, while "In my secret heart I wanted to wear a kilt" he found "the sound of bagpipes deepl, rousing" and was moved equally by "the plaintive melodies of Jewish liturgy"; ‘hi was driven to win a university scholarship to "vindicate the character of the Jew ii Scotland." The important difference Daiche felt, which he returns to again and again ii the book, was in relation to time: the secu lar year seemed to be outside time, while the Jewish world was cyclic and time-bound "The streets and meadows and hills o Edinburgh represented the timeless world,: as though "the sun stood still in the sky an( time was arrested forever," while "my re ligion, with its fixed times and seasons, it recurring sabbaths and feasts and fasts, eacl with its own synagogue and domestic ritual was a world strictly divided into tempora units." The Jewish pressure toward a life wholly within culture and outside nature which Isaac Babel anatomizes in the storie of his childhood, was not Daiches’s experi ence: young Davie was thought to be a legitimately occupied going tadpoling ik Dunsappie Loch as in his daily practice o 456 – ON THE HORIZONTHE "TWO WORLDS" OF DAVID DAICHES piano and fiddle; if his father thought rugger and cricket essentially absurd, he approved of and himself participated in walking and climbing, swimming and golf.
/AH, "his father." It has hardly been pos- ‘ sible to write this much about the book without mentioning Daiches’s father. He was Dr. Salis Daiches, rabbi of the Edin- burgh Hebrew Congregation and "virtual spiritual head of the Jews in Scotland." Two Worlds is actually less a reminiscence of Daiches’s childhood than a memoir of Daiches’s father, who died in 1945, "one day after Hitler and three weeks after Roosevelt." Rabbi Daiches brilliantly inter- preted the niceties of rabbinic law for his congregation and visitors; "he was a great preacher," Daiches says, whose eloquence "I have rarely heard equalled"; he did his Ph.D. thesis on Hume and was a profound student of Kant; he wrote scholarly essays, collected in the book Aspects of Judaism, as well as frequent letters to the daily Scots- man, resonant with the voice of Scottish Jewry, which "did an immense amount to create a pro-Jewish public opinion in the country." Rabbi Daiches was an odd but not unprecedented combination of progressivism and Orthodoxy: he ruled that switching elec- tricity on and off was not "kindling a fire" on the Sabbath; he disliked Yiddish, his na- tive tongue, and was rather snobbish about those "only half emerged from the ghetto"; he was optimistic about "the emergence of Judaism as a proud and respected part of a pluralistic European culture"; his religion was a "humanist utilitarianism," yet, Daiches says, "he had a profound religious sensibility" beneath that surface; and ‘he abhorred the Liberal and Reform Judaism with which his ideas had so much in common.* Daiches describes ‘his father as naive and unworldly, even childlike, yet "in many respects remarkably tough-minded." The *A chapter from Mr. Daiches’s book in which he dealt at length with both his father and grand- father was published in COMMENTARY for Decem- ber 1955.-ED.
senior Daiches was "a fine figure of a man" and something of a dandy; in his later years he relaxed enough to stop waxing his mustache, and on vacations *to discard his stiff collar and silk hat for gray flannels and a blue blazer; he learned to swim at forty and took up a pipe. Rabbi Daiches never felt entirely free with his children, Daiches says, but he eventually got so he could drink a glass of beer in a bar with his sons. (Daiches’s paternal grandfather, also a famous rabbi and scholar, the world’s leading authority on the Jerusalem Talmud, had no such difficulty, and annoyed his earnest grandson by never talking to him about anything but girls and such vulgar matters.) Daiches writes of his father in a tone of respect and love, yet many of his rem- iniscences speak eloquently of strain and difficulty, and the relation seems to have in- volved an extreme of dominance and sub- ordination. In one remarkably interesting anecdote, Daiches says his reaction as a child to a legal victory of his father’s over a rabbinic rival was thinking, "So perish all the King’s enemies!" "These chapters from my autobiography turn out to be a tribute to him," Daiches writes. "He is the hero, not I." Yet it is a tribute of an oddly ambivalent sort, and at times the hero is indistinguish- able from a villain.
s A venture in autobiography, Two Worlds is hardly a major work. Where it deliberately invites comparison with Proust: "Even now, the taste of seed cake, like Proust’s madeleine, brings back . . ." the comparison can only be demolishing. If one thinks of another recent memoir of a Jewish childhood, Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City (which Daiches reviewed ap- preciatively in COMMENTARY, December 1951), one is immediately struck by the far greater lyricism and beauty of the Kazin book. Daiches seems unsure of the audience he is writing for, shifting continually be- tween the assumption of a shared culture and explanation of the simplest matters.
There is one deficiency fatal to autobiogra- 457COMMENTARY phy, which must lay the heart bare in a fashion not even required of lyric poetry: Daiches either has little psychological in- sight into his own motivations, or is often disingenuous. He begins a long disquisition on his relations with his older brother: ‘There is, in Jewish tradition as in many other traditions, a peculiar mystique at- tached to the eldest son." Every incident of his account shows envy, rivalry, and prefer- ential treatment, even to "more and fancier cakes at his bar mitzvah party than at mine." The tone is typically "I found myself, in- explicably, bursting into tears," or "my mother’s remark, which I have never for- gotten." Yet Daiches concludes: "How diffi- cult it is to tell the truth and not be mis- leading! It might be imagined from what I have written above that I had a grievance against Lionel for being the eldest son and against my parents for treating him as such.
But I had no shadow of such a grievance (in spite of individual instances such as that of the chessmen) nor did I ever really believe that Lionel got preferential treatment from my parents." Daiches simply refuses to make the con- nections. For example, he tells two oddly parallel anecdotes in Two Worlds. In the first, he explains that when he stayed with his paternal grandfather at Leeds his grand- father used to have pickled herring and dark bread served to himself privately every night before dinner. When the boy, fasci- nated by the mysterious ceremony, finally nerved himself to tell the old man that he too liked pickled herring, he was handed it generously, and ate "rather more than I really wanted." In the second, Daiches tells the story of an old fierce-looking Edinburgh peddler named Moishe Pinkinsky, who was moved to share his sandwich of dark bread and chopped herring with a Gentile stranger in ,his train compartment. "I ate for dear life," the Gentile later told his friends, from whom the story got to Daiches. "And, you know, it tasted damn good. Some kind of caviar." Daiches never notices the parallel, nor that he, too, is in the role of the un- comprehending stranger, the goy.
The true drama of Two Worlds is thus found mostly below the surface, in hints, fragmentary revelations, and unconscious weightings. It is of course the story of Daiches’s break with his father, primarily over his marrying a Gentile classmate; his flight to America in 1937 to save his father’s face (his father had threatened to resign his position as rabbi); then a variety of appeas- ing gestures on both sides, including the young couple’s Orthodox Jewish wedding in America and a "Yom Kippur blessings" cable from Daiches’s parents; finally some sort of partial reconciliation when Daiches and his wife returned to Scotland for a visit in 1939, with a grandson. The next time Daiches came back, just before his father’s death, the old man preached a sermon about Jacob’s sending Joseph out into the world which Daiches took as addressed to him, "offering full understanding and reconciliation." The last paragraph of the book identifies his father’s adjustment to Daiches’s break with his tradition as "rueful rather than either complacent or tragic." Daiches’s own final adjustment in the book is, curiously, none of those things, merely the literary critic’s neutral discovery that Robert Louis Stevenson is an analogue: "Stevenson’s problems as a young man in Edinburgh were startlingly like my own; his relations with his father were like mine; we both went to America for similar reasons; we both achieved the same kind of ultimate reconcili- ation with our families." That the book is ultimately self-justification is made clear by its dedication to Daic’hes’s mother ("hoping that this new perspective on familiar scenes will explain rather than disturb"). Yet it never fairly rises to the height of its own story, to the full perception that would warrant all that purpose and passion.
WrHAT gives Daiches’s book its excep- tional interest and importance is not, in other words, his literary or imaginative power, but his typicality. In some fashion Daiches appears to be a representative figure for our time, and what we have in common with him seems central where the differ- 458THE "TWO WORLDS" OF DAVID DAICHES ences seem peripheral. Edinburgh is not that different from Binghamton. Daiches is an aristocrat, as Two Worlds makes clear, with an ancestry of "rabbinical scholars and Talmudists of considerable eminence" go- ing back to Rashi in the 11th century and beyond that-Daiches had it from family tradition-to King David. (One convinced classmate proclaimed "If Daiches’s father had his right, he would be King of the Jews," and the young prince used to lie awake at night wondering whether he might not be the Messiah.) True, our ancestry is less distinguished, but is not every Jew a king, and do we not all claim descent from Father Abraham, and most of us from the Vilna Gaon in addition? Daiches claims that he never encountered anti-Semitism until he came to America at twenty-five, but it seems unlikely; some of us grew up in the Jewish majority culture of Flatbush and Borough Park, and hardly knew a Gentile until we went away to col- lege, but we knew anti-Semitism neverthe- less. Orthodoxy and being a rabbi’s son shut Daiches off from a lot-he was deprived of the school literary society, which met on Friday nights, and the cricket matches, which were held on Saturday afternoons; he felt a barrier between himself and other Jewish boys because ‘We were the rabbi’s sons; people must watch their step in front of us"; for many years he never tasted fish and chips, because they were fried in animal fat, or bakeshop pastries, lest they be made of lard; he could not take girls to dances at the university (perhaps they too were made of lard?). Yet precisely what he could not be shut off from, the Gentile culture that came to him through books, turned Daiches in the literary direction so compatible with his Talmudic training and habits of mind, and so characteristic of many with similar backgrounds. At the age of fifteen Daiches wrote an epic poem in the style of Marmion on the subject of the Chanukah story, a Maccabead; in his last year of secondary school, he was ‘translating the Odyssey into limerick verse; at the University of Edin- burgh he was senior president of the English Literature Society, literary editor of the mag- azine, and so forth.
Now, like so many skewed Talmudists, Daiches is a specialist in the rabbinic nice- ties of literary criticism, a teacher of Milton and Burns, the author of a dozen volumes on literary subjects. Daiches remembers the characteristic form of discourse in his house- hold to have been argument, with parents, visitors, anyone; as he recalls, "it seems to me that we talked pretty nearly all the time." Now, of course, it is the lecture and the seminar. As befits a rabbi’s son, Daiches has a far better command of Hebrew than any of us, if less of a secular Yiddish culture than such comparable American figures as Alfred Kazin or Irving Howe. (A few of us, luckless, fought Hebrew school too thor- oughly to have much Hebrew training, and if our parents were Yiddish-speaking they preserved it as a private language in which to keep things from the children, as Dylan Thomas’s parents did with Welsh, and as Cleopatra’s parents, for all we know, did with Greek.) Daiches’s religious experience seems fair- ly typical, even to the intermarriage and the children raised on Jewish tradition filleted like a shad, with all ‘the tiny irritating bones of religion picked out and thrown away.
Unlike him, many of us would call ourselves "atheist" rather than "agnostic," not out of preference for the harsher and more provoca- tive word, but because "godless" seems a more honest descriptive term than "unknow- ing." The first major doctrinal break with Jewish faith that Daiches recalls was over that key point the Akedah, the sacrifice of Isaac, which has so strongly appealed to re- ligious sensibilities from Kierkegaard to Dr.
Wellisch. Daiches found it revolting then, and says he is still horrified by it. In his last year at the university, he began "to doubt profoundly" the authority of Judaism in the divine Revelation of the Torah to Moses, and within two or three years all faith had de- parted. When Daiches revisits Edinburgh now he still attends the synagogue, as a sentimental exercise, but the old "frisson" (the French word is characteristic) that 459COMMENTARY used to go down his spine at the climax of the Yom Kippur service is apparently gone for good. Others of us would record an essentially similar progress, mostly earlier, with different stimuli. One renegade of my acquaintance dates his break with Jewish religion to agonized childhood broodings on the custom of the shabbes goy (which Daiches recalls in Two Worlds with fond nostalgia), on the theory that a religion un- concerned with the soul of the Polish "super," encouraging him to violate God’s commandment, was no religion he could accept.
N PERSONAL and dramatic terms, David Daiches thus raises the whole problem of Jewish identity and identification. In February 1951, he published in COM- MENTARY a thoroughly provocative state- ment, "American Judaism: A Personal View," which many readers (among them this one) found spoke quite eloquently to their condition. In it he explained that hav- ing been raised in Jewish Orthodoxy he had become an agnostic and broken with the synagogue, but that Orthodoxy with its ritu- als and liturgies had a satisfaction and con- sistency, even a beauty, that made any modernized or reformed Judaism seem ir- relevant and absurd. The choice was thus "Rabbinical Judaism" entire, or nothing, and Daiches chose nothing. (In Two Worlds, Daiches explains that it was his father’s argu- ments against the illogicalities of Liberal Judaism that destroyed it as a "line of de- fense to which I might retreat," and thus paradoxically drove him to agnosticism.) Daiches’s own solution, he said, is to teach his children "the Hebrew tradition," which he defined as Jewish history and the Hebrew language, not religion-they were to read the Bible and Talmud, in Hebrew, as secular works.
The response to Daiches’s statement was rather remarkable. In a formal rejoinder, "The Task of Being an American Jew," (COMMENTARY, March 1951), Rabbi Leo S. Baeck thanked Daiches for ‘his graphic raising of the issues, strongly denied the ex- istence of any Jewish creed requiring belief or disbelief, and devoted most of his space to a historical defense of Reform, claiming that in a larger perspective, even those Jews who had formally renounced their Jewish identity -Heine, Marx, Disraeli-were nevertheless within Judaism. The reaction of a number of other rabbis, in the letter columns, ranged from ironic praise for the article as one of COMMvNTARY’S rare defenses of Orthodoxy, to a strong denunciation by a rabbi in North Dakota (April 1951) of the "chutzpah" of Daiches’s uncommitted, hence unexisten- tialist, view. Letters from laymen ranged similarly from one who went some distance beyond Daiches to deny that Judaism was any part of "Western civilization" and to characterize the Talmud as "largely point- less rubbish," to one who noted that God "chose an agnostic to voice His Call in the wilderness." One correspondent, Miss Carolyn A. Lisberger of San Francisco (April 1951) revealed that like Daiches she was a Jew and an agnostic, that like him she also went occasionally to the synagogue, and explained that she kept her "identity as a Jew," defining it as "an identification with a group that has a common heritage, a his- torical culture, an ethics that are rooted in a Jewish humanistic concern down the ages." What is visible most clearly in Miss Lis- berger’s letter, but is the peculiar feature of all the letters, is ‘that no one equates Jewish identity with belief in, or practice of, the Jewish religion. Thus no correspondent, however indignant, denied that Daiches the agnostic was a Jew, although a number de- nied his typicality, authority to speak on the issue, or intellectual honesty.
A writer I know well had been stamping around in fury outside the Jewish religion for many years, because he could not believe in the reality of God, or the after-life, be- fore he discovered in a colloquy with a pious uncle that he had left under a misappre- hension, that none of his pious relations believed in those things, except, it was ex- plained to him, one crazy great-aunt who had believed that when she died she would sit in Moses’ capacious lap. His relatives 460THE "TWO WORLDS" OF DAVID DAICHES believed in right religion, in Torah, in faith- ful ritual performance, in ancestral tradition; as Rabbi Baeck says, Judaism is not a creedal religion. But is a religion without faith any religion at all, and were not my friend’s pious relatives shul-going atheists, Chinese ancestor-worshippers? These days the fashion seems to run to making Jewish identity a matter of some rigorous pair of alternatives. Defining Juda- ism as revealed religion, Daiches says hold to traditional Orthodoxy or assimilate, and casting a regretful eye back on the Sabbath service, he chooses to assimilate. Arthur Koestler, in an even more emphatic essay, "Judah at the Crossroads," in The Trail of the Dinosaur, defines Jewish identity as historic nationhood, makes the choice be- coming a citizen of Israel or assimilating, and he too, with a shrug of regret, decides for assimilation.
Daiches’s all-or-nothing attitude toward religion, with Orthodoxy impossible but Reform absurd, is not unfamiliar in those who have deserted any rigorous communion; it is a fairly common attitude of lapsed Catholics toward Protestantism, and is, for example, precisely the attitude of Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s novels. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the "all" is chosen after a dabble in "nothing"-in the saintly old Gandhi, spinning in ‘his loin cloth, it is hard to remember the young London dandy who wore evening clothes and wickedly ate beef.
The Daiches family were amateur students of what the anthropologists call accultura- tion; Daiches writes, in an unusually patron- izing sentence, of the same Moishe Pinkin- sky who broke his bread with a stranger: "Moishe and ‘his like were regarded in our family with affectionate indulgence as inter- esting examples of a transitional stage in the emancipation from the ghetto." In a re- view of Nathan Ausubel’s Treasury of Jew- ish Humor in COMMENTARY, January 1952, Daiches defines what we think of as char- acteristic Jewish humor, ironic and wry, as similarly a transitional stage in Jewish his- tory, existing neither before nor long after the ghetto.
Yet while -he watches acculturation with an ethnologist’s eye, Daiches is himself ac- culturation in action, as much the product of a stage in culture contact as any drunken and demoralized Ojibway. When he says in the article on American Judaism, "Let those of us with a Jewish background . . .
teach our children Hebrew and Jewish his- tory," does he think that he can transmit his Jewish background, without the sanctions of religion, to his half-Gentile children and to their children? If he does manage to transmit historical and linguistic loyalties to his chil- dren and grandchildren, will they then be Jews, or only the sort of Gentile pro-Semites Daiches cheerfully describes in Two Worlds as "lunatic" and "embarrassing"? S DAICHES himself in fact a Jew, and to whom, and what does being a Jew mean? To the historic Jewish community, Daiches is a Jew if he never goes to the synagogue, ignores the Law, and believes nothing; he was circumcised in the Covenant at eight days as a ben b’rith, confirmed in the Cov- enant at thirteen as a Bar Mitzvah, and nothing can cancel those things out, I should imagine, but excommunication (which has gone out of fashion) or the formal renuncia- tion in Christian baptism (and not even that for Rabbi Baeck). Daiches might be thought a bad Jew, an agnostic Jew, but a Jew nevertheless, as the letters to COM- MENTARY make clear. To the Gentile com- munity, he and his children and probably their children are Jews because they have "Jewish blood." But is Daiches a Jew in his own mind? The Covenant in which he was circumcised and confirmed is a contract with God, periodically renegotiated in the Old Testament, in which in return for certain behavior God promises the seed of Abraham, among other things, the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. But if Daiches, like Koestler, does not want the land of Canaan, does not obey the requirements of his share of the deal, and in fact does not believe in the historicity of the contract or the existence of the other contracting party-could we not fairly say that the Covenant is canceled for 461COMMENTARY him, as for many of us? And will his chil- dren, or our children, be circumcised and confirmed in it? "Whether the Jews are a race or a nation or a religious community has long ceased to bother me," Daiches writes in "American Judaism: A Personal View." But it might well bother him. If we know more modern anthropology than Alfred Rosenberg or Julius Streicher t we know that the Jews are not a race, and that "race" is a term of very limited application. If the Jews are a nation, as Koestler maintains, it is the nation of Israel and some dispersed stragglers who hope to be there in time for the next Passover, but Daiches is not one of those.
With some melancholy, he writes in Two Worlds: "And I remember during my first year at Edinburgh University thinking that the summit of my academic ambitions would be to become professor of English at the newly founded Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It is perhaps a sad and certainly an ironic comment on human affairs that when I was offered that position at the end of the war I declined it." He does not even think much of Israel’s language, Hebrew, in "the unmusical and inflexible Sephardic pronunciation," loyal as he is to the arguments in favor of "a modified form of the Ashkenazic pronuncia- tion" in his father’s book. If the Jews are a religious community, Daiches stands outside it, but no one seems -to think that they are, and if they were, which religious community would it be? If his Jewishness is not racial, national, or religious, it must be a cultural identity, either internal (language, history, habits) or ex- ternal (the world’s judgment from a name, a gesture, the jut of a nose). Culturally, then, this learned disciple of those wonder- working rabbis I. A. Richards and Kenneth Burke (and all of us like him) is a Jew, and, as his book makes clear, proud to be one, along with the excommunicated Spinoza, the baptized Marx, the atheist Freud, the assimilated Proust, the heaven- storming Einstein. Ultimately, perhaps, more than historical and linguistic identification, it is habits of mind, patterns of taste. Daiches was never so much his father’s son as when disobeying his father’s order against fraternizing with Gentile girls at the uni- versity, thinking: "Presumably it was all right if I got into conversation with a girl after a lecture or after a society meeting.
Was it all right to walk a few steps while talking with her? If so, how many?" But these habits of mind are not inherited, they were trained in Daiches by the study of Talmud and Torah. Will his children have them? Will their children? Some of us now, proud in Jewish cultural identity, have not much more to transmit than a few words of mispronounced Yiddish, a midnight long- ing for a pastrami sandwich, a sardonic anec- dote. We, and David Daiches, may yet find that with the best will in the world, time- less Jewish cultural identity without time- bound Jewish ritual, "with its fixed times and seasons, its recurring sabbaths and feasts and fasts," diminishes and attenuates over the years and the generations, until finally it is only the memory of a memory, the dim recollection that once there was a glorious city where now only the bleak undifferen- tiated waves roll.