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|Author: Moses Hess|
The noble representatives of the German spirit - Patriotic Jews - The historian Graetz - Mercier's Essai sur la Litterature Juive - Autumn and Spring equinoxes of universal history and its storms - Sabbatai Zevi Chasidim - Natural and historical religion - The Jewish Mother - Victor Hugo - Boerne, Baruch, Itzig.
You think my judgment in regard to the relation of the Germans to our brethren, as well as of the progressive German Jews to the Jewish people, too severe and dogmatic. You say that there are many noble spirits among the Germans who have banished from their hearts every trace of race prejudice and are permeated with the spirit of justice and humanity. And as for the progressive Jews, you think that many of them have always displayed a fine spirit of self-sacrifice when the honor of their religion or the welfare of their brethren called for it; and that those noble spirits came principally from the ranks of those who distinguished themselves in the field of science, or commerce, or industry, and thus acquired high positions in society. To these just strictures I willingly subscribe, for I admit that my judgment was too general in its character, and it can only be justified by the fact that it was written under the influence of the Damascus affair. To-day I would hesitate very much before subscribing to it. It cannot enter my mind, at present, to deny the Teutonic race, and especially the German people, whose mental power I esteem so highly, the ability to rise, by means of progress, above race prejudice. The German spirit has other representatives than patriotic Romanticists and philosophic book-dealers. A nation that produced men like Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Hegel, Humboldt and many more champions of humanity, must certainly possess the ability to rise to the heights of spirituality and idealism.
It occurs to me, in connection with what was said before, to relate a story, which will demonstrate the ability of the German spirit to overcome race prejudice. It was told to me by Ludwig Wihl. You have certainly heard of Hecker, who played such an important role in the political affairs of Baden in the forties, and even as late as the famous revolutionary year, 1848. A pure German.' of noblest birth, he began to attract attention in Baden by his much-heralded liberalism, immediately after the year of the Damascus affair. But do you know against which of the "hereditary enemies" this knight of German liberalism directed his attacks? Against the French, you will say? No, this hereditary enemy was rather harmless at the time, and under the leadership of Guizot and Louis Philippe. Was it against the Russians? Not against them. The hereditary enemy, in the attack against which Hecker won his spurs, was none other than the terrible and mighty people, the Jews. Hecker published a series of anonymous articles in the Frankfurter Journal against the emancipation of the Jews. A few years afterward it was this same Hecker who addressed a memorial, on behalf of Baden, to the Berlin Landtag of the Confederacy, favoring the emancipation of the Jews. And when people reproached him for his former opposition to the Jews, he openly confessed, that for a long time he had been unable to overcome his antipathy to the Jews, but that finally the principle of justice and humanity had triumphed in him.
The democrats of 1848 undoubtedly fully demonstrated their superiority over the demagogues of the "War of Liberation," the Romantic lads of the Jahn and Arndt type, whom they left far behind on the road of progress. And yet, on the basis of my long experience, I feel inclined to assert that Germany as a whole, in spite of its collective intellectuality, is in its practical social life far behind the rest of the civilized nations of Europe. The race war must first be fought out and definitely settled before social and humane ideas become part and parcel of the German people, as was the case with the Romance peoples which, after a long historical process, finally defeated race antagonism.
Willing as I am to correct my judgment in regard to German Anti-Semitism, I am still more willing to alter my former opinion, in accordance with your strictures, of our progressive Occidental Jews, and especially those of Germany. Of late there is to be observed in Judaism a wholesome spirit of reaction against the once dominating tendency of cosmopolitan philanthropy, that vague form of humanity which, as Jean Jacques Rousseau aptly remarked, professes to love men in general, so as not to be burdened with the immediate duties of benevolence to the individual. Signs of endeavor to introduce into Judaism a more healthy and natural spirit, I notice everywhere: in America, where new Jewish communities are founded and synagogues built every year; in France, where an attempt was made to found an Alliance Israelite Universelle, which may become an important factor in Jewish life, provided it be animated by a thorough Jewish national spirit; in the German and French literatures, where writers like Kompert, Strauben,
Weill and Bernstein have portrayed Jewish life faithfully and beautifully, and with no small measure of success. But most of all is this tendency to regeneration prominent in the literature devoted to the science of Judaism, which, since the publication of the epoch-making History of the Jews, by Graetz, has developed such force that it will soon be able to overcome the nebulous Christianizing spiritualism of the assimilators.
Still earlier, Gabriel Riesser, one of our most progressive German Jews, had the courage to name his magazine, devoted to the interests of our political and civil rights, The Jew Dr. Ludwig Philipson, also, did not hesitate to call his spiritual child by the name Israel. Again, among the lyric poets, we have Ludwig Wihl who uses his muse to sing of the great memories of our immortal nation. It is certainly a sign of the times that Ludwig Wihl's Westostliche Schwalben, which for the last fifteen years hardly made any impression in Germany, was recently translated into French, with an introduction which attracted the attention of the French press to the Jewish people. Pierre Mercier, the French translator of the Schwalben in his Essai sur la Litterature Juive, an essay on Jewish Literature, expresses his opinion of this literature in a way which I cannot fully endorse. He views Judaism in the same way that Jesus did, namely, from the narrow and one-sided point of view of spiritualism. Yet his conception of the spirit that dominates the Torah is, in spite of its defects, vastly superior in its depth of historical understanding and broadness of sympathy with the Jewish genius, to those of the German historians who carry their Jew-hatred even to the Bible.
More interesting is his judgment of modern Jewish literature, which he considers an antidote against the modem decadent romantic literature. But he errs when he thinks that the wholesome source of this modem Jewish literature is Jewish spiritualization. Jewish life was never wholly spiritualized. Even the Essenes, who flourished among the Jews at the time of the birth of Christianity and to whom Christianity owes its origin, were not a thoroughly spiritualistic sect, and not even the primitive Christians can be considered as such. When the Essenic sect finally did become spiritualized through Christianity, it severed its relations with Judaism, and not even a trace of it can be found. Almost every. important point of departure in the history of the development of the great historical nations was accompanied by movements within that nation which is the bearer and creator of historical religion. The passing from antiquity into the Middle Ages, this autumn equinox of humanity, was heralded by great and stormy disturbances within Judaism which gave rise to Christianity, on the one hand, and to those sects within the pale of Judaism itself, on the other. But the sects were not of an enduring character; as soon as the crisis passed, they disappeared without leaving any traces behind. Also to-day, during the spring equinox of humanity, will the glorious future to which we strive be heralded by movements in Judaism. And although the world has not taken any cognizance of these stirrings in Judaism as yet, they are not therefore of less value than those that took place at the transition period from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Already at the beginning of the modern period, a Messianic movement, such 'as never occurred since the destruction of the Jewish State at the time of Bar Kochba, took hold of Eastern as well as Occidental Jews, a movement the false prophet of which was Sabbatai Zevi, but whose true prophet was Spinoza. Our modern Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes, also I mean the reformers, the rabbinists and the Chasidim will disappear from Jewish history after the crisis has passed, the last crisis in universal history, when all ,the nations, and with them the Jewish people, will have awakened to a new life. Judaism does not allow either spiritualistic or materialistic sects to exist in its midst. Jewish life, like its divine ideal and goal, is undivided, and it is this Monism of Jewish life which acts as an antidote against modern materialism, which is only the reverse side of Christian spiritualism. I do not speak here of philosophical systems or of religious dogmas, or of life conceptions, but of life itself. Life is a product of the mental activity of the race, which forms its social institutions according to its inborn instincts and typical inclinations. Out of this primitive life-forming source springs later the life-view of a race, which in its turn influences life or rather modifies it, but is never able to alter essentially the primal type which continually reappears and takes the ascendancy.
It was the German race that endowed the Christian world with the double aspect of spiritualism and materialism. The author of the Essai sur la Litterature juive is right when he says that we are exceedingly generous in giving the entire credit for the modern love mania to Christianity. It is rather due to the medieva l feeling of chivalry. The circumstances which produced this romantic sentimentality arose, not from the influence of Christianity alone, but from the combination of Christianity with old Germanic traditions. Without the contribution of the race genius of the Northern peoples, Christianity would have never occupied that position in universal history which it has occupied for centuries. Had it not been for those brave adventurers, the Teutonic knights of the Middle Ages, whose personal life oscillated between the two opposite poles of gross sensualism and the most abstract mysticism, Christian dualism would never have succeeded in impressing modern life so thoroughly and deeply. Thus it is not theory that forms life, but race; and likewise, it is not doctrine that made the Biblical-patriarchal life, which is the source of Jewish cult, but it is the patriarchal life of the Jewish ancestors that is the creative basis of the religion of the Bible, which is nothing else but a national historical cult developed out of family traditions.
Before the appearance of the Germanic races, there were only two forms of religion, the natural and the historical. The first found its typical expression in Greece, the second in Judaea. Just as the Greek cult had brought to light the perfection and charm of Nature, so Judaism revealed to us the force of the divine law in history. With the entrance of the Germanic race, both natural and historical religion lost their hold over the human mind and their influence was replaced by an apotheosis of the individual. Christianity found among the Northern races a natural inclination for that which in Christianity itself was only a result of the decay of the ancient nationalities, namely, that view of life which sees neither in Nature nor in history the unified divine life, but only the isolated existence of the individual.
As long as the Germanic race dominates Europe, there can be no development of national life. The "religion of love," separated from natural and historical life, had only the salvation of the individual soul in view. The apotheosis of the individual terminated finally in a sentimental, feminine cult, which even to the present day possesses great attraction for our romantic Jews and inspires in them a sympathy for Christianity.
"Love," says Mercier, "was glorified and extolled, in all forms, as the noblest aim in life. The virtue of women, and even their vice, assumed an undue and all too important place in life, so that woman herself came to believe that the fate of the world depends upon her fidelity or infidelity. She therefore shared the fate of all those whom fortune has fondled too excessively, namely through undue flattery she became corrupted. And so it happened that love absorbed all social forces, all family tradition, and finally dissolved itself into sentimentality.
The Jews alone had the good sense to subordinate sexual to maternal love, Alexander Weill puts the following words in the mouth of a Jewish mother: "Should a true Jewish mother care for love? Love is a wicked form of idolatry. A Jewess must love only her God, her parents and her children. ..." The little old grandmother in Komper't's story says: "God cannot be present everywhere at the same time; He therefore created the mother..." Maternal love is represented in the Jewish novel as the basis of family life, as its passion and mystery. It is .the same type of the Jewish mother which is repeated in all Jewish novels. There rises before me the picture of the Jewish mother, her face serene but pale, a melancholy smile plays around her lips and her deep, penetrating eye seems to gaze toward the distant future."
When you read these words of Mercier, you will certainly be reminded of your own mother, to whom this description aptly applies. There arose before me, also, on reading this description of the Jewish mother, the image of my own mother, whose features I still remember. I lost her in my youth at the age of fourteen, but till recently she appeared to me almost every night in my dreams, and I remember her words, as if they were uttered but yesterday, which she spoke to me when she visited me in Bonn. We were already in bed and had just finished the evening prayer. Then, speaking in an animated voice, she began: "Listen, my child, you must study diligently. Mohrich was one of my ancestors, and you are fortunate that you are studying under your grandfather. It is written that 'when grandfather and grandchild study the Torah together, the study of the divine Law will never more forsake the family, but will be handed down from generation to generation.'" The words of my mother must have impressed me deeply, for I still remember them distinctly, although I have never since heard nor read about the legend in regard to grandfather and grandchild.
Thus the thought of his children constitutes the central point around which the life and love of the Jew moves. Love is too strong an emotion in the Jewish heart, too Vast, to spend itself in sexual attraction and not embrace in its depth the generations of the future. And because of the fact that the eye of Jewish love is turned toward the future, the Jewish people has produced so many holy seers. A childless union is nowhere so much deplored as among the Jews. According to the rabbis, a childess man is like unto the dead. Only the Jews could heartily join the great French poet, Victor Hugo, in his prayer:
Preserve my loved ones, Lord, I pray,
My kith and kin, my enemies spare,
That never in the evil day
Our summers may of flowers be bare,
Our cages lacking trilling key,
Our honeycombs devoid of bee,
Or childless house to ever see.
I close with the above verses cited by Mercier, a subject which we discussed at some length, but in the interests of the national regeneration of our people, it must be constantly emphasized. If it is gratifying to see that inspired poets and writers champion the cause of our nationality, it is still more fortunate that the loyalty to a people, with whose help the oppressed nation will reawaken, was not unknown among the Jews. What would this people, I mean the French, think of us, when during the springtime of nations, the daybreak of the French Revolution, not a sound of loyalty and sympathy was heard in the midst of our nation? But thanks to the French translator of the Schwalben" the stain was removed from our name. Although neither Wihl nor the other Jewish writers and poets have expressed themselves for our own political regeneration, they have, at least, shown to the world that progressive Judaism also cherishes patriotic memories, and that through some stimulus this poetic and ideal patriotism may be converted into a strong and mighty force of action. And, therefore, I do not doubt, that from now on, progressive Jews will labor for the political regeneration of our people with the same energy that other Jews, in other times, have labored for the emancipation of the Jews in the lands of exile. The springtime of nations which is about to merge into the fruit-ripening Summer, will not pass without leaving a lasting impression upon our Occidentat brethren. Among the Jews, also, Spring will quietly fructify the buds, and the bloom of a new life will suddenly surprise every beholder. The young Jewish generation, sensitive to every high and noble ideal, will enthusiastically join the Jewish national movement; and once the young branch turns its growing force in that direction, even the barren trunk will soon be covered with leaves and flowers that will be an ornament to Israel.
Till now, however, beloved friend, the barren wood preponderates in Occidental Judaism. Most of the German Jews, as soon as they come in contact with European civilization, begin to feel ashamed of their religion and descent. The Germans have so frequently and thoroughly demonstrated to us that our nationality is an obstacle to our "inner" emancipation, that we have finally come to believe it ourselves and, giving up our Jewish culture and denying our race, have made every effort to be deserving of the "blond" Germanism. Yet in spite of the excellent mathematicians among them, our Jewish Teutomaniacs, who bartered away their Judaism for State positions, grossly miscalculated their chances. It did not avail Meyerbeer that he painstakingly avoided the use of a Jewish theme as the subject of any of his operas; he did not escape, on that account, the hatred of the Germans. The old honest Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung seldom refrained, while mentioning his name, from remarking parenthetically, "Jacob Meyer Lippman Beer." The German patriot Boerne, likewise, did not gain much by changing his family name, Baruch, into that of Boerne. He admits it himself. "Whenever my enemies founder upon the rock of Borne," he writes, "they throw out, as an anchor of safety, the name Baruch." I have experienced it personally, not only with opponents, but even with my own party members. In personal controversy they always make use of the "Hep" weapon, and in Germany it is always effective. I have made it easy for them to wield their weapon by adopting my Old Testament name. Moses. I regret exceedingly that my name is not Itzig.
The Reform trick and the uncritical reaction - Luther and Mendelssohn - The rationalistic double - The key to the religion of the future - The three epochs in the development of the Jewish spirit - Restoration of the Jewish State.
The question you asked me, the answer to which constitutes the most difficult problem of Nineteenth Century Jewry, shows me that you have finally begun to interest yourself in Jewish affairs. You have, then, nothing against the attempt to raise the Jews once more to their former place in universal history. But you believe that this aspiration is merely a desire, and that at the present time, world Jewry consists only of a number of scattered and dispersed Jewish families, but is not a nation. The religious tie, which till now has bound the scattered members together and united them into a single entity, is now severed through the participation of Jews in the general cultural life. True, the reformers have tried to mend the situation, but they have succeeded only in widening the breach. And with barren orthodoxy and the uncritical reactionaries-those who still believe that the Polish fur cap is a law given orally to Moses on Sinai and handed down by the sages-it is useless to argue.
The inevitable result of this situation is, you think, indifference and severance from Judaism. Nobody can be held responsible for this precarious situation, for it is not the arbitrariness of man, but the force of circumstances that has dissolved the unity of orthodox Judaism. Which community, you ask, which synagogue, shall one who is still attached to his people, join? Again, you call out maliciously, shall we condemn our Jewish scholars for their attempt to give us, in lieu of the "externally shattered" hard shell of Rabbinism, the light of Science?
No, my dear friend, we will not hold anyone responsible for a crisis, though a dangerous one, but one which is, after all, wholesome and necessary. No human power could have avoided it, but its gravest symptoms are gradually disappearing and we have no fear of its repetition. Judaism, which in its first contact with modern civilization was threatened with dissolution-we say it without fear of being contradicted by history-has successfully withstood this last danger, perhaps the greatest that ever threatened its existence. Judaism, at present, expect$ no antagonism either from science or from life, but only from those who pose as its representatives without having the right to do so.
Far be it from me to minimize the untiring labor of the Jewish scholars to whom our present Jewish generation owes its education, social position, and mental and moral progress, and whom alone we have to thank for the fact that in the midst of an almost universal social disintegration the Jewish family still serves as a model of moral conduct. These scholars and teachers are the successors of the ancient rabbis, who were the support and stay of Judaism during the long two thousand year exile, and who, nevertheless, never formed themselves into a caste.
Yet even they, like our poets, are so much engrossed by the general current of life, that they hardly devote any time to thought about our national regeneration. And as with the Jewish scholars, so is it with the young generation; they need some external stimulus to rouse their dormant national feelings, so that they will proclaim themselves openly as Jewish patriots. The threatening danger to Judaism comes only from the religious reformers who, with their newly-invented ceremonies and empty eloquence nave sucked the marrow out of Judaism and left only its skeleton. It was not enough for them to aspire to spread and develop Jewish study on scientific principles, nor were they satisfied with a regulated, esthetic form of our ancient Jewish cult. Their religious reform was inopportunely borrowed from a foreign religious denomination, and has no basis or justification either in the conditions of the modern world or in the essential teachings of national Judaism. I do not deny the justification of the Christian Reformation at the time of Luther, nor of the Jewish reform movement at the time of Mendelssohn. The latter, however, was more of an esthetic than a religious or scientific reform. Those reformers keenly appreciated the historical basis of a religion and knew well that the old basis cannot be arbitrarily replaced by a new one. Our reformers, on the contrary, attempted to reform the basis itself. Their reforms have only a negative purpose-if they have any aim at all-to firmly establish unbelief in the national foundation of the Jewish religion. No wonder that these reforms only fostered indifference to Judaism and conversions to Christianity. Judaism, like Christianity, would have to disappear as a result of the general state of enlightenment and progress, if it were not more than a mere dogmatic religion, namely, a national cult. The Jewish reformers, however, those who are still present in some German communities, and maintain, to the best of their ability, the theatrical show of religious reform, know so little of the value of national Judaism, that they are at great pains to erase carefully from their creed and worship all traces of Jewish nationalism. They fancy that a recently manufactured prayer or hymn book, wherein a philosophical theism is put into rhyme and accompanied by music, is more elevating and soul-stirring than the fervent Hebrew prayers which express the pain and sorrow of a nation at the loss of its fatherland. They forget that these prayers, which not only created, but preserved for millenniums, the unity of Jewish worship, are even to-day the tie which binds into one people all the Jews scattered around the globe.
The efforts of our German Jewish religious reformers tended to the conversion of our national and humanitarian Judaism into a second Christianity cut after a rationalistic pattern, at a time when Christianity itself was already in a state of disintegration. Christianity, which came into existence on the graves of the ancient nations, had to withdraw from participation in national life. It. therefore must continue to suffer from internal dissensions arising from the constant clash of irreconcilable principles, until it is finally replaced among the regenerated nations by a new historical cult. To this coming cult, Judaism alone holds the key. This "religion of the future" of which the eighteenth century philosophers, as well as their recent followers, dreamed, will neither be an imitation of the ancient pagan Nature cult, nor a reflection of the neo-Christian or the neo- Judaism skeleton, the specter of which haunts the minds of our religious reformers. Each nation will have to create its own historical cult; each people must become like the Jewish people, a people of God.
Judaism is not threatened, like Christianity, with danger from the nationalistic and humanistic aspirations of our time, for in reality, these sentiments belong to the very essence of Judaism. It is a very preva lent error, most likely borrowed from Christianity, that an entire view of life can be compressed into a single dogma. I do not agree with Mendelssohn that Judaism has no dogmas. I claim that the divine teaching of Judaism was never, at any time, completed and finished. It has always kept on developing, its development being based upon the harmonizing of the Jewish genius with that of life and humanity. Development of the knowledge of God, through study and conscientious investigation, is not only not forbidden in Judaism, but is even considered a religious duty. This is the reason why Judaism never excluded philosophical thought or even condemned it, and also why it has never occurred to any good Jew to "reform" Judaism according to his philosophical conceptions. Hence there were no real sects in Judaism. Even recently, when there was no lack of orthodox and heterodox dogmatists in Jewry, there arose no sects; for the dogmatic basis of Judaism is so wide, that it allows free play to every mental speculation and creation. Differences of opinion in regard to metaphysical conceptions have always obtained among the Jews, but Judaism has never excluded anyone. The apostates severed themselves from the bond of Jewry. "And not even them has Judaism forsaken," added a learned rabbi, in whose presence I expressed the above quoted opinion.
In reality, Judaism as a nationality has a natural basis which cannot be set aside by mere conversion to another faith, as is the case in other religions. A Jew belongs to his race and consequently also to Judaism, in spite of the fact that he or his ancestors have become apostates. It may appear paradoxical, according to our modern religious opinions, but in life, at least, I have observed this view to be true. The converted Jew remains a Jew no matter how much he objects to it. At present, there is but little difference between the enlightened and the converted Jew. My friend, Armond L---, whose grandfather had already been converted, is more interested in Jewish affairs than many a circumcised Jew, and he has preserved his faith in Jewish nationality more faithfully than our enlightened rabbis.
The Jew was not commanded to believe, but to search after the knowledge of God. Belief is a matter of conscience, for which we are not accountable to anyone but ourselves. It is impossible to give it to another. It is .very easy, indeed, for false rationalism, just as for blind faith, to drawl forth its creed. But real religion, which grows out of the innermost life of the soul, develops with the individual. Humanity cannot be formulated completely and embraced in a set of articles of creed. On the wide, dogmatic basis of Judaism, many and various views of life were able to develop. But for creative Judaism itself, these various views of life were only passing phases, the result of internal and external experiences; and in spite of this multiplicity of forms of development, the original type never disappeared, but was constantly reproduced as the ripe fruit of the tree of life.
The noble Jewish spirits and the great thinkers of Israel understood this peculiar character of historical Judaism. They did see in every modification of the view of life a new religion, and never persuaded themselves that they could reform the historical basis of our religion. Saadia and Maimonides, Spinola and Mendelssohn did not become apostates, in spite of their progressive spirit, though there were many fanatics who wanted to exclude them from Judaism, or, as in the case of Spinola, had him excluded. Our modem rationalists would excommunicate from the Synagogue Jews who declare themselves Spinozists, if they only had the power.
Dissatisfied with reform and repulsed by the fanaticism of the orthodox and heterodox, you ask me, with which religious faction should one affiliate with his family in these days? I know only one religious fellowship, the old Synagogue, which is fortunately still in existence and will, I hope, exist until the national regeneration of world Jewry is accomplished. I myself, had I a family, would, in spite of my dogmatic heterodoxy, not only join an orthodox synagogue, but would also observe in my house all feast and fast days, so as to keep alive in my heart and in the heart of my children, the traditions of my people. If I had influence in the synagogue, I would endeavor to beautify the religious worship. Above all, I would see to it that scholarly Jewish teachers and preachers should assume their proper positions and be reverently respected. I would then turn my hand to other reforms, if you care to call them such, but of a different kind than those spiritless and empty reforms favored by our religious reformers. No ancient custom or usage should be changed, no Hebrew prayer should be shortened or read in German translation. And, finally, no Sabbath or Festival should be abolished or be postponed to the Christian day of rest. The Hazan and singers should not be mere soulless singing machines. The prayers and hymns should be read and sung by pious men and boys, who are not only versed in music, but also in religious matters. The house of prayer is not a theater and the cantor and singers, as well as the preacher, should be something more than mere comedians. What does not come from the heart can never affect the heart. Prayers, songs and sermons, which treat our holy national worship as an antiquated institution, cannot exalt the soul; they always arouse in me an unconquerable aversion. In a word, I would favor everything which would contribute to the elevation and education of the congregation, without, at the same time, undermining our ancient worship. And in my own family circle, also, I would carefully see that the traditions of our people are strictly observed.
If people were to follow the policy outlined above, peace would reign in Jewish communities, and the religious cravings of every Jew, no matter what view of life he holds, would be better satisfied than they are with the reforms that every intellectual bungler fashions after his own individual pattern. These unsystematic reforms only terminate in a meaningless nihilism, which brings in its train desolation of spirit and a continual estrangement from Judaism on the part of our young generation.
We really confer too much honor upon reform when we call it a free, intellectual movement, in the higher sense. True, in a negative sense, we may call rationalistic criticism a free tendency, for the negation of antiquated principles is the first step toward freedom. But positive freedom is an autonomous development, and when rationalistic reform denies the essence of Judaism, namely, its nationalism, it cannot become a creative factor, and consequently cannot be said to be free in the higher sense. Its services on behalf of negative criticism are very slight; and these, as you rightly remarked, are for the most part, due to the circumstances and conditions of a revolutionary age for which the reformers can hardly be held responsible.
Modern social life, the outcome of the revolution, is regenerating in its nature; it does not occupy itself solely with tearing down the old, but is mainly busy with creating new forms. At the basis of every creation, however, there is something of the old, for ex nihilo nihil (out of nothing, nothing can be created.) The national-humanitarian essence of the Jewish historical religion is the germ out of which future social creations will spring forth. As long as Jews misconceive the essence of the spirit of modern times, which was originally their own spirit, they will only be dragged along involuntarily by the current of modern history, but will not participate in its making. In order to be influenced by modem life, there was no necessity for rationalistic reform. Such countries as the Rhine provinces and France clearly demonstrate this. In these countries the current of modern life is at its height, yet rationalistic, religious reform has hardly appeared there. It is in these countries, too, that religious indifference has been brought about without the help of a reform movement. Even orthodox Jewry itself, in modern Europe, is gradually being carried away by the current, as can be seen by the fact that the most important function of Rabbinism, namely, its jurisdiction, has disappeared, without the slightest protest on the part of orthodoxy. Reform has only gone a step further-to raise this groundless negation to the rank of a principle, or, as remarked above, has sanctioned unbelief. We could well afford not to begrudge the reformers their laurels, had they not persuaded themselves that they had created something positive. Imitating Christian reformers of an earlier age, they set up the Bible, in contradistinction to the Talmud, as the positive content of regenerated Judaism, and by this anachronism, which was merely an imitation of a foreign movement, they only made themselves ridiculous. It is, in reality, a narrower point of view than that of orthodox Judaism, to declare the living, oral tradition to be a "human fiction," and because it was written down at a later time, to discard it, while admitting the law of the Bible to be divine. This view is also unhistorical. Everything tends to show that until the Babylonian exile, or even still later, until the period of the Sopherim, no distinction was made between the written and the oral laws, as is the case to-day. It is only after the time of the Sopherim that this distinction was made. Until then, tradition was neither exclusively written nor exclusively oral. How this separation was effected has not yet been clearly demonstrated by critical historians. But one thing is firmly established, namely, that the spirit which at the time of the restoration inspired the Sopherim and the sages of the Great Synagogue, was freer, holier, and more patriotic, than the spirit which inspired Moses and the Prophets. Every liberation from a politico-social slavery is at the same time a liberation of the spirit and serves as a means of fertilizing the national genius.
There are two epochs that mark the development of Jewish law: the first, after the liberation from Egypt; the second, after the return from Babylonia. The third is yet to come, with the redemption from the third exile. The significance of the second legislative epoch is more misunderstood by our reformers (who have no conception of the creative genius of the Jewish nation), than by our rabbis, who place the law-givers of this period even higher than Moses, for they say: "Ezra would have deserved that the Torah be given to Israel through him, had not Moses preceded him." In the form in which we possess it to-day, the Torah was handed down to us directly through the men of that epoch. These same men, living at the same time, utilizing the same traditions, and in the same spirit, collected both the written and the oral law, which they handed down to later generations. Nothing entitles the written law to a holier origin than the oral. On the contrary, the free development of the law by oral tradition, from the time of the return from the Babylonian exile, was always considered of greater importance than the mere clinging to the written law. The reason for this is quite evident. The national legislative genius would have been extinguished, had the sages not occupied themselves with the living development of the law. It was to this occupation that Judaism owed its national renaissance after the Babylonian exile, as well as its existence in the diaspora. It was through this, that the great heroes who fought so bravely against the Greeks and Romans, rose in Israel. And, finally, it is to this oral development of the law that Judaism owes its existence during the two thousand years of exile; and to it the Jewish people will also owe its future national regeneration.
The rabbis were justified in their long struggle against writing down the oral law. Had they kept on teaching and developing the law orally in the schools, Judaism would never have been threatened with the loss of its national legislative genius. But they were compelled to reduce the law to writing, in order to avoid a still greater danger, namely, its being entirely forgotten, especially in the diaspora. To-day, we have no reason to fear the latter danger. But we can escape the former, only if we set up the spirit of criticism against barren formalism and dissolving rationalism and revive in our hearts and souls the holy, patriotic spirit of our prophets and sages. We have to restudy our history, which has been grossly neglected by our rationalists, and rekindle in the hearts of our young generation the spirit which was the source of inspiration to our prophets and sages. Then, also, will we draw our inspiration from the deep well of Judaism; then will our sages and wise men regain the authority which they forfeited from the moment when, prompted by other motives than patriotism, they estranged themselves from Judaism and attempted to reform the Jewish law. We will then again become participators in the holy spirit, namely, the Jewish genius, which alone has the right to develop and form the Jewish law according to the needs of the people. And then, when the third exile will finally have come to an end, the restoration of the Jewish State will find us ready for it.
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