||Limited edition of Hayyim Nahman Bialik’s classic essay on the Hebrew book. First written in 1913, Bialik, one of giants of modern Hebrew literature, set forth his views and basic ideas on selecting and collecting the best of classic Jewish literature. Ha-Sefer ha-Ivri was one of a series of essays written between the years 1907 and 1917 which secured Bialik's place as a distinguished essayist. In it he charts the course of modern Jewish culture: the state of Hebrew literature, the condition of Hebrew journalism, the development of language and style, the existential function of language, and the role of authority in culture. This facsimile edition, beautifully reset, is a collector’s edition.
Hayyim Nahman Bialik, (1873–1934) was the greatest Hebrew poet of modern times. He was an essayist, storywriter, translator, and editor, who exercised a profound influence on modern Jewish culture.
Bialik's literary career is a watershed in modern Hebrew literature; when he arrived on the scene, Hebrew poetry was provincial and by and large imitative. It could not free itself of the overwhelming biblical influence which had dominated it for centuries and, except for the poetry of a few, the stylized florid biblical melizah (ornate phrase) had a stifling effect on the creativity of the Haskalah poets. At the same time most of these poets slavishly imitated in subject and in genre the European models – mainly German romantic poetry. Bialik, who more than any other Hebrew poet since R. Judah Halevi had a thorough command of Hebrew and the ability to use the many resources of the language, forged a new poetic idiom which enabled Hebrew poetry to free itself from the overwhelming biblical influence and yet, at the same time, retain its link with "the language of the race." While his Hebrew remained learned and "literary," he anticipated the conversational verse which was to become the hallmark of the Palestinian poets (e.g., in his folk poems and children's verse). Not an experimenter, Bialik nevertheless opened new vistas when on rare occasions he abandoned the accepted accented syllabic meter for purely biblical cadences, or when he developed the Hebrew prose poem. While he wrote his serious verse in the Ashkenazi accent, he was among the first to try out the Sephardi accent in his children's verse. He freed Hebrew poetry from its didactic and propagandistic tendency. Although his works are often filled with fervent Jewish hopes, memories, and ideals, content is always subordinate to aesthetic criteria. Early Bialik criticism invariably reads all his poems as expressions of national ideas, but many of his poems are purely lyrical and have been misinterpreted by critics whose love of ideals exceeded their literary taste. Lyric poems like "Zanah lo Zalzal" or "Im Dimdumei ha-Hamah" are among the finest in Hebrew literature. Bialik's dominant theme is the crisis of faith which confronted his generation as it broke with the sheltered and confined medieval Jewish religious culture of its childhood and desperately sought to hold on to a Jewish way of life and thought in the new secularized world in which it found itself. He adopted the ethico-humanist reading of Judaism which was proffered by Ahad Ha-Am, but as Kurzweil has pointed out, he often had grave misgivings as to its efficacy in bridging the traditional and the modern. His doubts find conscious and unconscious expression in his writings. Despite his moments of despair, Bialik did not completely abandon the Ahad Ha-Amian hope of reconciling modernism with tradition within the context of a new national Jewish culture (Kurzweil's view on this is to the contrary).
Bialik's poetry, growing out of the cultural milieu of Eastern European Jewry in a particular area, is in a sense regional, but because of its great artistic merit has become the concrete expression of the general crisis of faith which faced an entire generation of Europeans. His poetry can be read on three levels: the individual, the Jewish, and the universal. As an individual, the poet emerges as a sensitive artist who seeks to preserve the purity of his "calling" in the face of the materialism and the erotic drive of modern man. He loses his purity as he leaves the security of his childhood Eden and vainly attempts to recapture it. At times he is not sure whether his preoccupation with society, with his people and its ideals, may not actually hinder his self-fulfillment as an artist. On the Jewish level, the poet becomes the spokesman of his generation. Born in the pious world of the East European Jewish town, he is cast into a secular materialist world which questions the old values. He strives to reconstruct a way of life in which he can survive as a Jew and thus fulfill Judaism's historical mission. On the universal level, the poet, a product of a preindustrial rural world, is driven into the secular city, driven out of the Eden of good order and faith. He is left to agonize about his loneliness, his barrenness, and his ultimate death.
Searching out new and further vistas yet rooted in the rich Jewish heritage, Bialik is both the product and the dominant motivator of the cultural revolution of his age, embodying its very essence – to carve out of the past the foundation on which the people might build with dignity in the future. In answering the silent cry of a people needing articulation in a new era, he has gained its permanent recognition. As a poet his genius and spirit have left an indelible imprint on modern Hebrew literature.