BLTC Press Titles

available for Kindle at

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Jacob Emden

by Mortimer Joseph Cohen


Herbert I. Bloom. Kingston, N. Y. \. ^c . \ -., V , ,


COHEN, MORTIMER J. Jacob Emden: a Man of Controversy. Philadelphia. The Dropsie College. 1937. Pp. 336.

Dr. Cohen has undertaken to write a type of biography without precedent in Jewish literature. His approach is a combination of the Ludwig-Maurois type of literary biography, of the Freudian examination of hidden motivations, and of the Marxist class-struggle background. Even those who distrust this combination and feel that its underlying philosophies are mutually exclusive, will welcome such a fresh approach to Jewish biographical writing, especially in the field of rabbinic and kabbalistic literatures. It can only accrue to the benefit of Jewish historiography, if many revered personalities of the past are brought down to earth and shown as living beings, with all their strengths and weaknesses, against the background of deep social conflicts, rather than if they remain shrouded in the conventional mist of idealization. The author is equipped for such a task by a good command of both Hebrew and English which enables him 484 JEWISH SOCIAL STUDIES

to examine the original rabbinic-kabbalistic sources and to present his finding in a vivid, well-readable account. It is, therefore, with keen disappointment that the present reviewer has found a deplorable gap between the author's laudable intention and its highly unsatisfactory realization.

Even a literary biography cannot escape dealing with the main factors in the life of its subject. Jacob Emden was primarily a businessman and a scholar. As a businessman he was engaged in all sorts of commercial undertakings with varying success, mostly with little success. As a scholar he produced a stupendous amount of juristic, exegetical, moralistic, and kabbalistic writings which reveal not only his great familiarity with the traditional literature, but also a frequently independent approach and vigorous, though sometimes confused, thinking. Dr. Cohen dismisses all of Emden's mercantile endeavors in a brief paragraph and a note (p. 67 and p. 288, n. 23) and limits his discussion of Emden's works, apart from those referring to the controversy with Eibeschuetz, to a few casual remarks (p. 74; p. 289, n. 39; p. 329, n. 1, etc.) Most of Emden's writings enumerated in the bibliography are not even mentioned in the text. To write the biography of an author by placing exclusive emphasis upon one great quarrel in his life, with whatever passion it may have been fought out, naturally gives a completely distorted picture. It is like writing the biography of Abraham Geiger by telling the story of his controversy with Tiktin, without any examination of his achievements as a rabbi, reformist and scholar. The sympathizers with the author's Marxist approach, too, would have learned much more from him had he described the fairly typical business career of this merchant-scholar, and its influence upon the latter's basic attitudes to life and society.

The Freudian approach to a rabbinic leader is no less justified than that to any other historical personality. The author would have done much better, if he had apologized less frequently for venturing "to discuss a matter that is so personal as the sexual life of a man," and more clearly defined the type of evidence available for such a study and the method pursued in reaching his conclusions. The present reviewer has long been distrustful of the feasibility of reconstructing from autobiographical and other chance records the dark background of the subconscious mind of persons long dead. The extreme difficulties encountered by expert psychoanalysts with establishing the characterological essentials of living patients whom they have under observation for many months in protracted sessions and whose minute reactions, conscious and unconscious, they can watch and often provoke, reveal the practically insurmountable obstacles confronting psychoanalytic research in the careers of great men of the past. Of all the psychoanalytical treatments of biographical data, which he has read, the reviewer recollects only one, A. Allwohn's reconstruction of the married life of the prophet Hosea, which seems to make its case almost plausible. In the present instance, Dr. Cohen has succeeded at best in showing that Jacob Emden was a sex-minded, nearly pathological person, and consequently inclined to pick a fight and to pursue it vigorously and without scruples. Such inclinations, without a Freudian background, have long been suspected by Graetz, Grunwald, Katz, and the other historians of that controBOOK REVIEWS 485

... from the RetroRead library, using Google Book Search, and download any of the books already converted to Kindle format.

Browse the 100 most recent additions to the RetroRead library

Browse the library alphabetically by title

Make books:

Login or register to convert Google epubs to Kindle ebooks



Lost your password?

Not a member yet? Register here, and convert any Google epub you wish

Powerd by Calibre powered by calibre