Elegy for a Lost World

"Elegy for a Lost World," Commentary, May 1950.  (A review of The Earth Is the Lord's by Abraham Joshua Heschel.)


More important is the fact that Dr. Heschel occasionally succumbs to what can only be called romantic simplification. Poland was not, after all, Paradise, and Eastern Europe cannot make the unconditional claim of the Garden of Eden. His statement that Ashkenazic Jewry “borrowed from other cultures neither substance nor form” is unjustified, as is his delicate disparagement of the Sephardim as, in some sense, not truly Jewish. It is significant that no mention is made of the “false messìahs” who stirred Ashkenazic Jewry to its depths, for that would suggest frustrations and anxieties incompatible with the perfect inner life the book describes. Dr. Heschel seems unwilling to concede that the Jewish reality of Eastern Europe was something in history and not outside it, and that Zionism and Yiddish secularism, for all their religious impulse, were indeed a revolt against the image of the Ashkenazi. We fail to hear in this book the voice of the young Bialik, who wrote, upon returning to the ghetto:

I come, my brothers, into your company!
Together we will rot. . . .

Nor do we recognize our harassed and disbelieving ancestors, who fled to America, not only from the pogroms, but—very many of them—also from the rebbe, the Hasid, the ghetto.

Commentary Magazine