Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Fugitive

My “retrieval” of Ezra S. Brudno’s 1904 apostasy novel The Fugitive, published in 1904 by Doubleday, Page, appears this morning at Jewish Ideas Daily.

The novel is a 400-page Bildungsroman on the theme “Once a Jew always a Jew.” Although born in Volozhin, home to the “mother of yeshivahs,” Brudno had become thoroughly secularized by the time he came to write The Fugitive in his late twenties—an expert in case rather than rabbinical law.

For Brundo, then, “once a Jew always a Jew” means that a Jew can assimilate into the vernacular culture, and can even marry a Christian, and still remain a Jew. Indeed, in his close knowledge of Jewish religious and literary tradition—his references range from Mishnah and even Tosafot to the classics of Haskalah literature—he himself is obviously comfortable in his Jewishness.

What never occurred to him is that a generation might arise without a similar knowledge of Jewish tradition. And for that generation, “once a Jew always a Jew” would not be so obviously a given.

That’s why I say, in my review, that the novel’s effect outruns its conception. Its effect is to underscore the necessary dependence of Jewish identity upon Jewish knowledge.


Gary Baldridge said...

Do you have a list of all the books you'll be retrieving in this survey?

R. T. said...

And does not Jewish identity (as religious, cultural, and political reality) depend upon (1) cultural and ethnic values (and membership); (2) faith in Judaism (especially--or preferrably--at the Orthodox level)? The question is based on what may be a simplistic and unsophisticated reading of Jacob Neusner's contribution to an anthology of essays entitled OUR RELIGIONS.

D. G. Myers said...

Mr Baldridge,

The books will be selected from the master list posted below the jump here.

D. G. Myers said...


In Jewish law, identity is derived from the mother’s identity or from conversion, both of which would seem to require a minimum of some knowledge. But that’s just the point: birth to a Jewish mother (i.e., Jewish “ethnicity,” whatever that is) and conversion mark the minimum level, the starting point, of Jewish identity.

To raise it above the floor, identity must be formed and enforced by knowledge. And though the Jewish religion is the most convenient source of Jewish knowledge (and the proven method for passing it on), religion is not necessary to Jewish identity.

On this question the secularists are right. The problem that no secularist has been able to solve is how to pass on Jewish knowledge outside the Jewish religion to very many Jews of the next generation.

Jonathan said...

Dr. Meyers,

You wrote: "What never occurred to him is that a generation might arise without a similar knowledge of Jewish tradition."

I'm reminded of a comment you added to a discussion somewhere that Cynthia Ozick's writing may prove difficult for non-Jews - precisely for this reason. (I'm second-guessing my memory at the moment, but think I'm correct. Yes?)

Yet Ozick has written much in such a society - where knowledge of Jewish tradition cannot be assumed. While it didn't occur to Brundo, is this perhaps why Ozick has infused her writing with the tradition? The effect, in her case, matching the conception.


panavia999 said...

Very interesting article and an area I have not looked at. I've been sick, so read lots of fun novels in the last week - John Buchan adventures. This would be a good novel to get "back in the saddle". I found your blog due to a plug in the Wall Street Journal. Do you find you have more readers?