16 AUGUST 1957, Page 23

An Old Controversy

Israel Zangwill. By Joseph Leftwich. (James Clarke, 21s.) THE publishers claim that this is the first biography of Zangwill. It is not a good one. It lacks method and continuity, it is parenthetic and allusive, and it does not, in the end, provide that sharp and clear picture of a man and his works which We are entitled to expect from a biography; and there is no index: Yet the reader who persists will find the book interesting, for it manages to raise an issue of some importance.

Towards the turn of the century, when Zang- will's reputation as a writer stood at its highest, the Jewish community in England was being radically transformed by the onrush of refugees fleeing the pogroms organised by the Russian Government. Mr. Leftwich describes the con- troversies and questionings which these events aroused among Jews and non-Jews in England, concerning the fate of Judaism and the position of Jewry among the nations. The Jews of Eastern Europe coming to England found a tolerance and a largeness of opportunity not known in their former abodes; but also a society organised in such a way that the traditional practice of their religion was becoming difficult and impracticable. Zangwill was much preoccupied with these issues.

Today, after Hitler's massacre, and the estab- lishment of the State of Israel, these issues have lost none of their sharpness; but there is no Jewish writer of Zangwill's reputation or standing to dis- cuss them. For this there are many reasons. Religion as a rule of life evokes infinitely more in- difference now than fifty years ago; and Judaism, like Christianity, has greatly felt the effects of this. Also, since the Balfour Declaration, the arid debates of Zionist and anti-Zionist have concen- trated attention on a marginal issue of colonial

politics which, whatever the outcome, could affect little the practical problems of the many Jews who have never seriously considered settlement in Palestine. Further, the very excesses of the Nazis seem to have somehow inhibited free and critical discussion of such matters, and a certain deadness reigns. It is therefore exciting to see this book record, for instance, the robust and open controversies between Jews such as Zangwill and those who, like Chesterton. and Belloc, nursed some grievance against the Synagogue, and con- sidered all Jews, ipso facto, as aliens.