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August 20, 1965 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1965-08-20

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Crusades, Inquisition, Resistance Through the Shema, Michener Due
Ancient and Modern Jewish Experiences—All Are Merged to Speak Here
James A. Michener, author
"The Source," will address
in James A. Michener's Powerful New Novel, 'The Source' of a public
meeting here at the

With skill that incorporates
scholarship and r e s e a r c h, and
story-telling that already has ele-
vated him to the higheSt rung
among novelists, James A. Michen-
er has linked history with fiction,
and has produced one of the most
impressive compilations of basic
facts in Jewish history in his new-
est work. "The Source," published
by Random House.
It is much more than a novel:
it is a chronicled history combined
with commentary; it is an indict-
ment of bigotry; it is a recapitu-
lation of Jewish experiences that
include martyrdom, adherence to
faith and affirmation of Jewish
devotions — reaching the historic
climax in Israel's rebirth. And it
debates the current internal Jew-
ish dilemmas.

There is one especially valu-
able service that was rendered
by Michener: the manner in
which he exposed the "experts,"
the traveling "scholars" who, in
their reports on the Middle East,
shunned Israel, played up to the
Arabs because in their terri-
tories they could photograph ur-
chins in native garb and uncouth
natives riding on donkeys; where-
as in Israel there was progress,
modernization, Westernization.
They could not stomach the mod-
ernization because they would
have preferred to see. an Israel
in a Museum, mummified, rath-
er than as a nation reborn.

Michener does such an exposure
by introducing a visiting professor
who would not even substitute
"Israel" for "Palestine," who re-
fuses to recognize Israel's need for
water, with the comment: "Who
wants to see a great gaping ditch
running smack down the middle
of the Holy Land?"; who prefers
seeing something like "Old Testa-
ment people moving among an-
cient ruins"; who wants the land
"kept . . . rural.''
* *
Michener's hero Cullinane re-
sponds, attempts to enlighten Prof.
Brooks and his wife. But it is hope-
less; reason and justice are useless
with these anti Israel propagan-


dists. Humor about modern reali-
ties is useless for these people
who are about to go back from
"the Holy Land" to the United
States to talk about the pictur-
esque Arabs, to imply venom about

the Godless Israelis.

What a marvelous job was per-
formed by Michener in exposing
the sham of such travelogues by
people who bring venom against

Israel — and Jewry !

Michener's story deals with
every aspect of Jewish history.
It includes the ancient factors,
the religious elements, the per-
iods of the Crusades with their
accompanying horrors, the out-
rageous ritual murder libel, the
Inquisition and its cruelties, the
Nazi terrors and their inhumane

In his reconstruction of historic
developments, Michener traces the
backgrounds of personalities, and
in one chapter deals with St. Mark.
He was Menahem ben Yohanan
who according to Jewish law, be-
cause he was considered a bastard
—according to Jewish law there
are no bastards except the off-
spring of a relationship with a
married woman — could not be
a member of the Jewish com-
munity. By adopting his new faith,
Menahem became acceptable, to
the new society and the new
church. In the course of this dis-
cussion there is developed the
theme involving bastardy and a
Jewish rule that may or may not
meet with approval or rejection.
But it does deal with a tradition—
and "The Source" is filled with
referrals to traditions.
* *
Then there is the lengthy refer-
ence to Maimonides. A Crusader
discusses the Christian-J e w i s h

. conflict with a Jew who would not
abandon his faith. The bearded
Jew points to Maimonides' Thir-
teen Rules as identifying the Jew.
And when the Crusader asks:
"Why do we hate Jews so deeply?"
the Jew replies:
"Because we bear testimony that
God is one. We were placed among
you by God to serve as that re-

The reader's hair will stand on
edge again upon reading Mich-
ener's description of the cruelties
that were practiced to exact con-
fessions from Jews during the In-
quisition in Spain. He describes
not only the medievalism of Spain
and the church but also the con-
ditions of that era, the "age of
growing f r e e d o m," each year
bringing new horizons. "But not
for the Jews," he declares, and

"In 1492, after more than '700
years of faithful service to

Spain, the Jews were expelled
from that state. They fled to
Po r tug a 1, where they were
scourged, forcibly baptized and
later exiled. In Italy and Ger-
many they were forced into in-
human quarters where they
wore inhuman costumes. At al-
most rhythmic intervals they
were charged with murdering
Gentile children for blood to be
used at Passover. They were ac-
cused of poisoning wells, of
spreading cholera, of knowing
how to in f e c t rats with the
plague to decimate Christian
communities; and they were par-
ticularly accused of posing as
Catholics, accepting the holy
wafer of communion and hiding
it slyly under their tongues un-
til they could produce it for
blasphemous black masses. In an
age of growing freedom they
were constantly restricted as to
where they could move, what
they could wear and especially
what occupations they could en-
gage in.

"In this golden age of discov-
- ery the Jews discovered only the
rope and the fagot. Each time a
Jew was accused of having mur-
dered a Christian child — and
never once was the charge sub-
stantiated — some Jewish com-
munity would be wiped out in
one ghastly slaughter. Each time
a crime occurred near a Jewish
quarter, that district would be
stormed by indignant Christians
and its inhabitants burned alive.
And throughout the Christian
world, come Holy Week, the
friars would preach such ser-
mons against the Jews that the
e n r a g e d churchgoers would
storm from their cathedrals to
kill and maim any Jews they
met, thus hoping to honor Him
who had been crucified on Good
Friday and risen in resurrection
on Easter.
"Why did not the Christians,
since they held supreme power,
simply annihilate the Jews once
and for all? They were restrained
because Christian theologians
had deduced from passages in
the New Testament the ambiva-
lent theory that Jesus Christ
would not return to earth bring-
ing with Him the heavenly king-
dom until all Jews were con-
verted to Christianity, but at the
same time 144,000 unconverted
Jews were needed to be on hand
to recognize Him and bear wit-
ness to His arrival. On this am-
bivalent theory two courses of
action had been built: Jews must
be . converted; and those neces-
sary few who refused must be
kept in such obvious misery
that all who looked could see
what happened to people who
denied Jesus Christ. So the Jew-
ish districts multiplied, the
harsh laws increased, and each
year the Jews suffered unbeliev-
able repressions. It was as if
the Church kept them alive to

remember the coming of the
Messiah, the way a man keeps
an aching tooth in his head to
remind him of mortality. -

"In only two ways did Jews
share in the expanding spirit of
the age: they were still encour-
aged to serve as moneylenders,
which enabled them to keep
alive; and in 1520 in Venice a
printer struck off a complete
copy of the Talmud. So bitter
had been Christian hatred of
this Jewish masterwork, so often
had it been burned by the auth-
orities in Italy, Spain, France
and Germany, that when it was
finally put into type only one
manuscript copy was known to
exist. It was by a miracle that,
this summary of Jewish know-
ledge was saved . . . and the
Venetian printer who thus res-
cued the law of Judaism was a
"But in those dark days, when
the Jews of Europe sighed at the
stake and smothered in their
districts without any moral pro-
test from the Christian world,
one gleam of hope began to
shine from a most unlikely quar-
ter: the inconspicuous hillside
town of Safed in Galilee."

Then commences a long chapter
describing the emergence of Jew-
ish scholarship, of mysticism, of
renewed devotion that stemmed
from the new Jewish dedication

in the Holy Land.
But even before he describes
the Safed period, Michener re-
lates in his masterful novel how

Jews, by reciting the Shema, by
reaffirming the devotional "Hear
0 Israel . . .," overcame their
enemies, survived as adherents to
a faith they would not abandon.
Indeed, the portion dealing with
Safed is a gem. The men who
created that center of mysticism
are among the heroes of history.
And while, in the course of his
novel, Michener touches upon the
very challenging issues of reli-
gious domination in Israel, he pro-
vides food for thought, for further
discussion regarding the theocratic
charges leveled at Israel.
There are dialogues in "The
Source" that make the novel ex-
ceedingly valuable. When the
Israeli debates with the Ameri-
can about the conflicting posi-
tions of their countries, of the
Jewries in the two . lands, he
raises the serious issues in-
volved in the disruptions that
often emerge in the partner-
ship. The views, acrimoniously
expressed, may arouse resent-
ment. But they bring issues to
the fore. Perhaps they are all
for the good: when facts are
aired, they must lead to the
good will ultimately pleaded for
by Michener's characters.

Hebrew Corner

Guest of Bedouin

The Bedouin love to welcome guests.
For many hours they prepare a large
and good meal. The womenfolk and all
the members of the tribe- take part in
preparing the meal.
Instead of chairs, the guests sit on
the floor on mattresses and cushions of
colored cloth.
The ceremony of welcoming the guests
begins with drinking bitter coffee. The
coffee is drunk very slowly — so custom
After the coffee comes the meal. They
serve large plates with rice and pieces
of mutton.
Knives and forks are not to be seen
at this meal — fingers are used. This
is simpler.
The bread, too, is not ordinary bread.
They eat pittot (thin wafers of bread),
baked by the Bedouin women. The meal
is eaten by all of them from one plate.
The custom of welcoming guests in the
East is an ancient custom. The Bible
tells us of the welcome which Abraham,
our father, made for the three angels.
The ceremony of the welcoming of
guests of the Bedouin is not finished
with the meal. After the meal, the main
part begins.
The Bedouin elders tell the guests
stories of their fathers, of heroic deeds,
of interesting trials, etc., etc.
In the evening the Bedouin conduct in
honor of their guests a "fantasia" —
horse-racing and shooting in the air.
Translation of Hebrew Column
Published by the Brit Ivrit
Olamit, Jerusalem

"The Source" causes the reader
to know about Kabalah and the
Zohar. It exposes the outrage of
the blood lie, it makes known how
Luther first defended Jews then
became one of their worst
* * *
Curiously enough, when the ob-
jections emerge against religious
domination, and one of the heroes
in this serious novel, Ilan Eliav,
goes to the Vodzher Rebbe to
plead against an injustice imposed
by Jewish law which prevents a
couple to marry because the
woman, a widow, had not been re-
leased according to the biblical
injunction by her brother-in-law,
there is the yielding to the exist-
ing inevitable which is explained
by the Christian author as follows:

"The law need not be abro-
gated; what was needed was
some new leader to refight in
the 20th Century the battles that
great Akiba had fought in the
2nd. The law must be hu-
manized, brought up to date.
Eliav felt sure that were Akiba
alive today he would long since
have simplified it, adjusting it
to modern life as he had once
adjusted it to Roman.

Rackham Auditorium, Sept.
His appearance here will be
under the auspices of the Zi-
onist Organization of Detroit,
Wayne State University and
the J. L. Hudson Co.
Plans for the • event are
being made by Dr. John M.
Dorsey, the University Pro-
fessor of WSU; Carmi M.
Slomovitz, president of the
ZOD; and Mrs. Mettie Baron
Golub of the J. L. Hudson Co.
Dr. Dorsey will be host to
Michener at a gathering pre- /
ceding the public lecture. Ads,- —
mission to the lecture will b(
free and Michener will
graph his book for those de-
siring to secure it that night.
At noon on Sept. 30, Mich-
ener will address a Brandeis
Women's meeting.
Further details will be an-
nounced next week.

Jew and the custodian of God's
law; for if His law was exacting
it was also ennobling
Thus James A. Michener consist-
ently adhered to the view that the
law, the Shema, the traditional
"Hear 0 Israel . .. " is the sus-
taining power of the People Israel.
Reconstructed h is t or y in "The
Source" serves as proof of that
right and will and determination
to live—and the inevitably of that
life. In this novel the story-teller
also is historian. Many of the
facts are colored, most of them—
those dealing with the tragic eras
during which Christians were the
guilty persecutors, and the current
events in Israel—are accurate.
But even in arounsing controversy
"The Source" serves a great pur-
pose. A great novelist made such
a purpose posible.

"But the law would continue,
for only it could keep Israel
alive. Where were the Chaldeans
and the Moabites, the Phoeni-
cians and the Assyrians, the
Hurrians and the Hittites? Each
had been more powerful than
the Jews, yet each had perished
and the Jews remained. Where
was Marduk, great God of the
Babylonians, and Dagan of the
Philistines; and Moloch of the
Phoenicians? They had been
mighty gods who struck terror
in the hearts of men, but they
had vanished and it was the con-
ciliatory, sometimes awkward
God of the Jews Who not only
persisted but Who also vitalized
two derivative religions. And
God exercised His power
through the law.
"It was no mean thing to be a 40—Friday, August 20, 1965

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