Fleg, Edmond

views updated


FLEG, EDMOND (originally Flegenheimer; 1874–1963), French poet, playwright, and essayist, whose outstanding works deal with Judaism and the Jewish people. Fleg's parents were prosperous and moderately observant Genevan Jews, but their religious compromises, together with his own secular studies, soon combined to weaken young Fleg's Jewish allegiances. He went to live in Paris, where he became a theater critic and a successful playwright. His plays included Le Message (1904), La Bête (1910), and Le Trouble-fête (1913), and French versions of Goethe's Faust (1937) and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1938). He also wrote the libretti for Ernest Bloch's Macbeth (1910) and Georges Enesco's Oedipus (1936). Fleg's dramatic return to Judaism, in the full sense, dates from the spiritual turmoil engendered by the *Dreyfus Affair (1894–1906), and the first three Zionist Congresses (1897–99), He was also impressed by the English author Israel *Zangwill, an early supporter of Zionism. Abandoning the path of easy success, he devoted himself to the study of Jewish history and thought, seeking reasons for the modern intellectual's remaining Jewish. His task was interrupted by World War i, in which he served in the French Foreign Legion. Thereafter, throughout 40 years of untiring activity, Fleg presented to the French reader the manifold aspects of Judaism in a style that shifts effortlessly from simple narrative to lyrical grandeur or brilliant psychological analysis. One of the most significant works was his Anthologie juive des origines à nos jours (1921, 1961; The Jewish Anthology, 1925). This discriminating and wide-ranging selection of Jewish writing down the ages constitutes a valuable introduction to Judaism.

Edmond Fleg's writing may be divided into three main categories: religious poetry, biographical works, and autobiographical and other essays on Jewish themes. He is perhaps best remembered for his verse cycle Ecoute Israël, a Jewish counterpart to Victor Hugo's Légende des siècles. The cycle comprises Ecoute Israël (1913–21), L'Eternel est Notre Dieu (1940), L'Eternel est Un (1945), and Et Tu aimeras l'Eternel (1948), the titles of which were taken from Deuteronomy 6:4. In 1954 the four parts were collected in one volume, starting with the creation and spanning the whole of Jewish history down to the era of the reborn Jewish State. Fleg's lyrical themes include the Jewish people's mission, messianic yearnings, and unswerving faith in humanity despite atrocities and persecution. From the Midrash, which he knew mainly from German translations, Fleg drew material for his legendary biographies Moïse raconté par les Sages (1928; The Life of Moses, 1928) and Salomon (1930; The Life of Solomon, 1929). Moved by ambivalent emotions of fascination and fear stemming from his childhood, Fleg also wrote Jésus, raconté par le Juif Errant (1933; Jesus, Told by the Wandering Jew, 1934), using quotations from the Hebrew Bible, talmudic literature, and the Gospels. Although Fleg presented a Jesus who was neither God nor Messiah, his sympathetic treatment of the Christian savior made a dubious impression on the Jewish reader. Of his essays, the most remarkable is probably Pourquoi je suis Juif (1928; Why I am a Jew, 1929), which was translated into English also by Victor Gollancz in 1943. A subtle and moving analysis of a young agnostic's spiritual progress and eventual return to Judaism, it also demonstrates Fleg's belief that the French genius owes much to the inspiration of Israel. The portrait of Fleg himself in Pourquoi je suis Juif may be regarded as a continuation of the one he painted in L'Enfant prophète (1926; The Boy Prophet, 1928). This romanticized account of a boy estranged from Judaism and rejected by Christian society tells how the child glimpses through the gloom of the Church a Jesus who is at once victim and persecutor, and how he at last seeks to revive his old faith through messianic expectation. Messianism also provided the theme of two early plays, La Maison du Bon Dieu (1920) and Le Juif du Pape (1925), the latter based on the encounter of Clement vii and Solomon Molcho. It continued to be a keynote of Fleg's writing over the years, as in Ma Palestine (1932; The Land of Promise, 1933) and Nous de l'Esperance (1949), which, together with Pourquoi jesuis Juif, was collected in Vers le Monde qui vient (1960). In La Terre que Dieu habite (1953; The Land in which God Dwells, 1955) Fleg recorded the saga of the Zionist pioneers and his hopes for Israel's spiritual revival in the new Jewish State. His other works include translations of Shalom Aleichem and the Passover Haggadah (1925) and selections from Maimonides' Guide and from the Zohar. Fleg was an active member of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and of the French section of the World Jewish Congress. In Israel, a forest was dedicated in his honor in 1952.


Laurencin, in: Revue de la pensée juive, 2 (Jan. 1950), 6–88; E. Fleg, Pages choisies (1954), introduction; Neher, in: La Vie juive, 45 (June 1958), 23–26.

[Jean Poliatchek]