THE MIDDLE GATE by Joseph Patai


An Hungarian Jewish Boyhood
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 A didactic account of the author's first year of Talmud study, originally published in Hungarian in 1927 and posthumously translated. Born Joseph Klein in 1882 in the small Hungarian village of Pata, Patai (who renamed himself after his hometown) was raised in the strictly Orthodox Jewish tradition. He wore sidelocks and fringed garments, observed all the rituals, and studied the Talmud in cheder (Hebrew school) before he ever learned to read Hungarian. This study captivated him. In his chronology of a year in and out of cheder, Patai intersperses idealized memories of learning with starry-eyed recollections of Jewish life in Hungary at the end of the 19th century. He remembers the thrill of first being allowed to look into the large volume of the Talmud and then finding out what lay within: the debates, the stories, the glory, the riches of his Jewish ancestors. He glosses over the poverty and anti-Semitism that his family endured--for Patai, everything else was obscured by his passion for the magnificent old text. He tries to impress the reader with the wonder of the Talmud by describing his own awe, supplying numerous illustrations from the text itself, and telling stories of the sages with examples of their erudition, wisdom, and piety. All of this, however eloquently expressed, only gives the reader the briefest glimpse of what Patai feels for the Talmud. The effect is not so much emotional as instructional: Seen in the context provided by the author's son, Raphael Patai (The Jewish Alchemists, p. 533, etc.), in his biographical introduction to the volume, this memoir is but one of many efforts to reacquaint a nation with what Patai perceived to be its dying culture. In this, the poet, author, and editor typifies the Eastern European Haskalah, or Jewish Renaissance, which sought to revive the golden age of Judaism by recovering its heroic past. A highly romanticized paean to the Jewish tradition of learning.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8276-0517-X
Page count: 140pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994