( Originally Published 1909 )
A glance at modern Hebrew literature as a whole reveals a striking tendency in its development, at once unexpected and inevitable. The humanist ideal, which stood sponsor at its rebirth, bore within itself a germ of dissolution. For national and religious aims it desired to substitute the idea of liberty and equality. Sooner or later it would have had to end in assimilation. During the course of a whole century, from the appearance of the first issue of Ha-Meassef, in 1784-5, until the cessation of Ha-Shahar, in 1885, Hebrew literature offers the spectacle of a constant conflict between the humanist ideals and Judaism. In spite of obstacles of every kind, and in spite of the dangerous rivalry of the European languages, the rivalry of the Jewish-German itself, the Hebrew language has given proof of persistent vitality, and displayed surprising power of adaptation to all sorts of circumstances and all departments of literature, and widely separated countries have been the scene of its development. So far as the earliest humanists had planned, the Hebrew language was to serve only as an instrument of propaganda and emancipation. Thanks to the efforts of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Mendes, and Wessely, it rose for a brief moment to the rank of a truly literary medium, very soon, however, to make way for the languages of the various countries, while it receded to the narrow confines provided by the Maskilim. Its final des-tiny was to be decided in Slav lands. In Galicia, it gave birth, in the domain of philosophy, to the ideal of the " mission of the Jewish people ", and to the " science of Judaism." But for the great mass of the Jews remaining faithful to the Messianic ideal, what was of greatest significance was the national and religious romanticism expounded by Samuel David Luzzatto.
Lithuania, with its inexhaustible resources, moral and intellectual, became the stronghold of Hebrew. In its double aspect as a humanistic and a romantic force, Hebrew literature bounded forward on new paths with the lustiness of youth. Before long, under the impetus of social and economic reforms, the Hebrew writers declared war upon a Rabbinical authority that rejected every innovation, and was opposed to all progress. To meet the issue, the realistic literature came forward, polemic and destructive in character. A pitiless combat ensued between the humanists and Rabbin-ism, and the consequences were fateful for the one party as well as the other. Rabbinism felt that its very essence had been shaken, and that it was destined to disappear, at least in its traditional form. Humanism, on the other side, startled out of its dreams of justice and equality, lost ground, inch by inch, by reason of having broken with the national hope of the people. The attempt made by some writers to bring about the harmonization of religion and life turned out a lamentable miscarriage. The antagonism between the literary folk and the mass of believers ended in the breaking up of the whole literature created by the humanists. At that moment the progressive national movement made its appearance with Smolenskin, and supplied Hebrew literature with a purpose and its civilizing mission.
The predominant note of contemporary Hebrew literature is the Zionist ideal stripped of its mystical envelopes. It may be asserted that the Messianic hope in this new form is in the act of producing a transformation in Polish Hasidic surroundings, identical with that achieved by humanism in Lithuania. The rabid opposition offered to Hebrew literature by the Hasidim suffices to confirm this prognostication of a dreaded result.
Also beyond the boundaries of the Slav countries, in the distant Orient, the Hebrew lion is gaining territory, from Palestine to Morocco, and wherever his foot treads, culture springs up ,and national regeneration.
Deep down in the sorely tried soul of the Jewish masses, there reposes a fund of idealism, and ardent faith in a better future unshaken by time or disappointments. Defraud them of the millennial ideal which sustains their courage, which is the very cornerstone of their existence, and you surrender them into the power of a dangerous despair, you push them into the arms of the demoralization that lies in wait everywhere, and in some countries has already come out in the open.
Hebrew literature, faithful to its Biblical mission, has within it the power of replenishing the moral resources of the masses and making their hearts thrill with enthusiasm for justice and the ideal. It is the focus of the rays vivifying all that breathes, that struggles, that creates, that hopes within the Jewish soul.
To misunderstand this moral bearing of the renaissance of the Hebrew language is to fail to know the very life of the better part of Judaism and the Jew.
Literary creation is now at its full blossom, and the ferment of ideas instilled from all sides is so powerful that an abundant harvest may be expected.
And that Bible language which has given humanity so many glorious pages, which has but now, thanks to the humanists, added a new page, is it destined in very truth to be born anew, and become once more the language of the national culture of the whole of the Jewish people? It would be rash to reply with a categorical affirmative.
What has been proved in the foregoing pages is, we believe, that it exists, and is developing both as a literary and a spoken language; that it has shown itself to be the equal of the modern languages; that it is capable of giving expression to all thoughts and all forms of human activity; and, finally, that it is accomplishing a work of culture and emancipation. The expansion of the language of the prophets taking place under our eyes is a fact that cannot but fascinate every mind interested in the mysterious evolution of the destinies of mankind in the direction of the ideal.