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“Is Saul also among the prophets?” With my mental ear I hear thus exclaim those in whose view the teller of tales stands immeasurably higher than the rabbi, minister, preacher, scholar, or whatever else may be called he whose vocation it is to disseminate Hebrew religion and wisdom, when they see that one of the latter class has dared to intrude among those who take fiction as their exclusive and legitimate field, and has also ventured before the public with a book of tales. “What would the priest in the house of graves (cemetery)?” I hear, on the other hand, indignantly ask those who deem the wisdom of the Torah alone worthy of attention, and who think it degradation and sin to turn away even for a moment from the study and the teaching of Holy Writ and the words of the sages to waste time with the telling of empty tales. Both agree in their application to the present case of the Latin and English proverb “Ne sutor ultra crepidam” (“Let the shoemaker stick to his last”); and that they are not
right is not for the one who is responsible for the present effort to say, but must be left to the decision of an impartial public, which will not fail to tell truthfully whether it has found aught of pleasure or profit in the stories of Jewish life hereinafter contained. But it may be permitted to the writer to say that, in his humble opinion, both of the criticisms quoted above are based on erroneous conceptions. The telling of tales is neither independent of nor contradictory to the Torah; that is to say, it may be a most excellent method of inculcating pure and noble lessons, and has always been used for such purpose by the great teachers in Israel.
Indeed, the putting before the world of truthful pictures of Jewish life is in itself a good and useful work. It is extraordinary, considering that the Jews have lived in the midst of all civilized peoples for almost twenty centuries, what ignorance concerning the teachings of their religion and their characteristics as a people still prevails. They have sojourned in the midst of mankind and have wandered from land to land, stamped everywhere with the seal of mystery, looked upon by all not of their creed and kin as a “peculiar,” enigmatical, incomprehensible people. The fact that their Book, which most thoroughly reveals their innermost spirit, has
become the cherished property of the world, should have made such misconception impossible; but it has not done so. Whatever, therefore, helps to show Jewish life in its true aspect, to reveal the poetry and the romance, the sorrow and the wretchedness, but also the joy and the beauty, the glory and the heroism of Jewish existence even in the unheroic present, performs a most useful, truly religious work. Nothing can do this more effectively than fiction, which appeals to multitudes to whom works of formal learning, of profound and scholarly research, could never find access. This is the excuse of the writer for departing for a time from those domains of Jewish learning which should, perhaps, more properly employ his energies, and becoming, in a measure, a rival of those who have in recent years tilled the field of Jewish fiction. In a ministry now of many years’ duration he has naturally had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with many interesting types of Jewish character, and with many incidents which speak eloquently of the trials and tribulations which still form a part of Jewish experience, of the evils and good which result therefrom, and of the influence of Jewish teachings working under such conditions. It has seemed to him desirable to present
some of these to the world in this easily grasped and popular form in order to assist in the attainment of that comprehension of the Jews and their life which is so necessary, if they are ever to cease from their present abnormal state of mystery and be recognized in their natural relation to the general life and religion of mankind. Whether he has performed his task properly his readers shall judge.