Because storytelling is practiced mainly in the family and synagogue, it too has become a perpetuator of ethnic and family identity.
THe SYMBIOTIC relationship between folklore and literature continues to be of interest for both folklorists and literary critics. Axel Olrik's epic laws, Vladimir Propp's plot elements, and Antti Arne and Stith Thompson's talc types and motifs are not only found in legends, magic tales, and the fabliaux, but similar elements are also parts of novels, short stories, and even film. One particular culture that for centuries has woven the lore of the storyteller between the pages of the written text is that of the Jews. As Raphael Patai remarks in his engaging study, On Jewish Folklore:
The Jews were throughout their long history a literate people, who developed at an early date the habit of committing to writing whatever they regarded as important in their oral traditions. As a result, the history of Jewish folklore is characterized, in each epoch, by a continuous process of lifting out considerable bodies of folklore from the stream of oral tradition and freezing them in writing. (38)
It thus seems plausible to assert that upon close examination of Jewish texts, both the folklorist and the literary scholar would need to recognize the importance that both the oral and written traditions have had on the creation and preservation of Jewish culture and identity. Patai notes that each epoch exhibits the inclusion of oral tradition into written works. The nineteenth century, in particular, was marked by an increase of literature written by European Jews.
The Age of Enlightenment had mildly improved conditions for Jews in most areas of western Europe. Napoleon, seen by many as the liberator of the Jews, opened the doors to education, employment, and military service among other filings to European Jews, who had been oppressed for centuries. It should be noted, however, that a number of Jewish intellectuals later found Napoleon's policies problematic. The exiled German-Jewish poet and journalist, Heinrich Heine, who had earlier seen Napoleon in a positive light, denounced him on numerous occasions. Meir Goldschmidt, perhaps Denmark's most widely read Jewish author, also discredited Napoleon's actions in his first novel, En Jode (1845/1852). (1) As if to enlighten his readership on Napoleon's later betrayal of the Jews, Goldschmidt juxtaposes the French commander with the Jew Eleazar.
The Bendixen family sits together during the Sabbath exchanging stories. Philip, Jacob's father, has just finished recounting the engrossing tale of the legend of the Lemberger Rabbi and his creation of the Golem. (2) Jacob is intrigued and frightened by this fantastic tale, but his father assures his son that "den troende Jode behover Inter at frygte" (29) [the devout Jew need not be afraid of anything] (26). The discussion then turns to historical events. Philip criticizes Napoleon for encouraging rabbis to reform the Jewish religion and attributes the decimation of the entire French army in Russia by the harsh winter to this betrayal. He continues,
Saalonge han var Tyrk iblandt Tyrkere, Jode blandt Joderne og Kristen blandt de Kristne saalonge gik det ham godt, og Herren var med ham i Slagene ... lad os se, hvor lenge han holder ud endnu, nu da Zions Gud har vendt sig fra ham. (29) (As long as he was Turk among Turks, Jew among Jews, and Christian among Christians, he prospered and the Lord was with him in battles ... [but] let's see how long he still holds out now that the God of Zion has turned away from him. )
Jacob insists that Napoleon was a great hero, "storre end baade Jacob og Abisai" (greater than both Joab (3) and Abisai (4)), but the father instills Jewish pride in the young boy asserting, "Nej, store var Joden Eleazar! Han var ogsaa Kriger; men han opofrede sig selv og stak Elefanten ihjel for at draebe den onde Konge, der vanhelligede Templet, skjont han selv maatte do, naar Dyret faldt" (30) [the Jew Eleazar was greater! He was also a warrior; but he sacrificed himself and stabbed the elephant to death to kill the evil king who desecrated the temple, although he himself had to die when the animal fell] (27). He declares, "Min Son, bensch hver Morgen Dine Zizis, paa det at Du maa vaere Gud velbehagelig" (30) (5) [My son, bensch every morning your zizis that you may be pleasing to God] (27). Philip's seeks to encourage his young son to find pride in Jewish heroes and not to rely on the loyalty of non-Jews to end their people's oppression.
Goldschmidt employs similar biblical legends as an educational tool for young Jacob. (6) These tales can be considered among the many folkloric legends in the Jewish Aggadah, which David Goldstein explains were
intended primarily to draw the Jew nearer to the sacred text of Scripture by planting within his heart, through story and interpretation, a love of the personalities of the Bible, a greater realization of the nature, ways and teaching of God, and a deeper understanding of the destiny of Israel. (12)
Goldstein continues, they are "appreciated primarily for their entertainment value. But most of them contain basic moral and theological ideas" (12). In the act of telling such tales, the storyteller will often create his own Midrash (interpretation). In Philip's case, he uses the story of Eleazar to make a distinction between Jews fighting for Jews and a non-Jew, in this instance Napoleon, feigning solidarity with the Jewish struggle for his own gains.
Philip's message to his son proved to be an important reminder to Jews and non-Jews of the dangers to which such confidence could lead, for although Danish-Jews were, for the first time, granted equal rights in March of 1814, Mogens Brondsted elucidates the obstacles Danish-Jews still had to face (18). This triumph of 1814 for Danish-Jewish communities lasted only five years, for the majority of the non-Jewish population found the lifting of restrictions too liberal. In concurrence with the 1819 pogroms in Hamburg, Germany and in reaction to the Jews' newly acquired rights, similar pogroms began in Copenhagen and slowly filtered into the provinces (Brondsted 19).
Goldschmidt incorporates these pogroms into En lode. The Bendixen family learns early of the pogrom in Copenhagen; shortly thereafter it filters into their provincial town. One Jew is murdered by a mob; Jacob, the child protagonist, stabs a farmhand to death. This scene foreshadows the difficulties Jacob will have in the Christian world, as his uncle laments, "nu er der Blod mellem ham og de Kristne" (73) [now there is blood between him and the Christians] (74).
Not only was there controversy among the Danes regarding the Jewish situation, however. There was also dissent among the Jews. M. L. Nathanson, influenced by "radical German-Jews;' sought to reform Danish Judaism, but his ideas were too far-reaching for the ciders (Brondsted 20). He had his son baptized and encouraged others to do so, in order that their children would have more opportunities in an increasingly divided society. With a Christian baptismal record, one had better employment opportunities at the university, in the military, and in politics. This period of Danish-Jewish history is also depicted in Goldschmidt's novel. Goldschmidt later remarked that the novel was based, "ikke efter dens virkelighed, men efter dens sandhed. At were jode er at baere folkets historic i sig" (19) [not on reality but on the truth. To be Jewish is to bare our history within ourselves]. Kenneth H. Ober holds that En Jode "stems from pent-up bitterness over Goldschmidt's personal experiences with what the Danes call the `little anti-Semitism'" (18). As a child Goldschmidt experienced Danish-Jews' anxiety; not until 1849 did they acquire a real sense of safety and equality in Denmark (Brondsted 19). For the most part, Brondsted asserts, "isolationen var og blev jodens lod" (21) [isolation was and remained the lot of the Jews].
Perhaps as a means of escaping this isolation, Jewish writers began to record their experiences as did many other European Jews-often in the language of the host culture. In her comprehensive work, A Measure of Memory: Storytelling and Identity in American Jewish Fiction, Victoria Aarons explains that Jewish writers in the early years of the nineteenth century shied away from writing in Yiddish; only in the later half of the century did Jews begin to write in their vernacular (20). In the introduction to an anthology of Jewish ghetto stories, Jost Hermand reveals that many of the early stories were actually written for non-Jews (14). In an attempt to create an authentic portrait of Jewish-European life, the authors often interspersed their novels with Hebrew and Yiddish words, which were subsequently explained in footnotes (14). Leon Israel Yudkin identifies Jewish writers as fixed between two worlds--the world of Jewish tradition and the world of the host country. In his study, Jewish Writing and Identity in the Twentieth Century, he writes:
In so far as [the author] was Jewish he might self-identify with the Jewish group and aim at his Jewish …