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Potok: Current Creative Work Alien to Jewish Tradition

Chaim Potok, the noted author, touched off an animated debate today at the American-Israel dialogue, an annual event sponsored by the American Jewish Congress where U.S. Jewish and Israeli intellectuals meet, when he asserted that works of the aesthetic imagination were “alien” to the Jewish tradition.

“The true artists of the Jewish past,” he said, “were the halachists and lawmakers. Their material or clay was the Jewish people. Their product was the Jewish way of life.” His remarks drew lively response from the 50 participants in the dialogue, the theme of which is “The Sources of Jewish Creativity.”

Potok told of his own conflict as an Orthodox Jew between “the immutable values I was trained to accept and the new areas of experience and new aesthetic forms I sought to use as a novelist.” Potok is the author of “The Chosen,” “My Name Is Asher Lev” and many other books on American Jewish life.

Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, past president of the AJ Congress, disputed Potok’s view that Jewish tradition lacked aesthetic forms. He cited the books of Ruth, Jonah and Amos as artistic as well as prophetic. Potok conceded that aesthetics were not absent totally but maintained that they were “not central” to Jewish sacred texts. A leading Israeli writer, Aharon Megged, also disputed Potok’s view. Hugh Nissenson, the American short story writer, said the central conflict lay in “the Orthodox Jewish belief that God creates and the artist’s belief that man–as artists–create.”

AJ Congress president Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, agreed with this approach, adding: “The classical Jewish view has been that to dethrone God and become God the creator yourself–as the artist does–is to create a tower of Babel. In Jewish tradition man cannot be the center of things. In modernity, man is. Thus there is ultimately no harmony between Judaism and the modern temper.”

The West German Foreign Office declared today that reports concerning the early release of Herbert Kappler, the only remaining Nazi war criminal in prison in Italy, were unfounded. It was learned that the legal authorities in Rome have rejected repeated and renewed requests from the West German Foreign Office, the Justice Ministry and political parties for his release on humanitarian grounds.

The National Insurance Institute in Israel will pay a husband whose wife dies in childbirth a monthly sum of some IL 300 to help him get a nurse for the infant. The payments will continue for two years providing the infant remains in Israel during that period.

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