Rome and Jerusalem/Eighth Letter

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Eighth Letter[edit]

The Neo-Hebraic literature-Luzzato, Rappoport, Frankel, Krochmal, Sachs and Heine on Judah Halevi -Mendelssohn and the Modernists-Schorr-Sectarians without sects-Salvador-Fusionists and Freemasons-Hirsch-The pretended calling of the Jew in exile.

You are certainly in error, dear friend, when you believe that only our progressive Jews have acquired the mastery of modern culture and science and that orthodox Jews are still steeped in Egyptian darkness, a condition which is as detrimental to the renaissance of our nation as is modern indifference. Since I have devoted myself to the cause of my people, I have, partly through personal contact and partly through their writings, come to know many orthodox Jews of the old as well as of the younger generation and especially of the latter, who do not fall behind the enlightened Jews, in scientific and literary education. These scholars have, at the same time, a more thorough understanding and conception of the past as well as of the future, than those enlightened minds who lack the philosophic and historical sense.

Orthodox Jewry everywhere, in England, France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Bohemia, has its literary and scientific representatives who are as worthy as those of enlightened Jewry. Newspapers, magazines and even philosophical books, permeated with the same spirit of true humanitarianism as the nation to which they belong, are published by our orthodox brethren in the sacred tongue of their fathers. Hebrew literature, thanks to the works of Luzzato, Rappoport, Frankel and Krochmal, was reawakened to new life, and already a number of educated modern German rabbis conduct their correspondence in Hebrew. Even Holdheim himself did not disdain to compose his swan song in Hebrew; and Schorr, a more violent opponent of orthodoxy than Holdheim publishes his periodical Hachalutz in Hebrew. How great must the influence exerted by National Judaism be, when even its opponents are forced to employ its own medium in order to gain a hearing.

Read the work of Dr. Sachs, The Religious Poetry of the Spanish Jews. This book, written in the finest style, will convince you that educated orthodox Jews exert a far more wholesome influence on Judaism than the reformers. The last only reflect, on the ruins of a fossilized orthodoxy, a cold, borrowed light of a by-gone epoch, without possessing either the light or the warmth of new life themselves. You perhaps know, from reading Heine's Romancero, the tragic end of this great patriot and sacred singer, Judah Halevi who, according to the legend, met his death at the ruins of the Temple at Jerusalem, whither he was driven by his irresistible longing to visit the land of his fathers. You will certainly be interested to learn a few things about the life and character of this pious bard who enriched our prayer book with his beautiful and noble poems. "The one," says Dr. Sachs, "who cannot theoretically conceive the solution of the problem, how a dispersed people may possess a nationality and a homeless nation a fatherland, will find in the personality of this great singer and in his poetry, a practical solution to that problem." I must here remark that the Judaeo-Spanish cultural epoch succeeded in solving one more grave problem, namely, how it is possible to be a good, patriotic, national Jew, in the full sense of the word, and at the same time participate in the cultural and political life of the land to such a degree that the land may become a second fatherland. "The longing for the hour of redemption," continues Sachs, "is the dominant note in the Jewish poetry of the Spanish period. With many, it was the oppressive conditions of existence that called forth that irrepressible longing. But with Halevi, this longing is a pure, loving desire, which possesses, on the one hand, the simplicity and naivete of childhood and; on the other, the glow of a mighty passion. The energy and vividness with which he expresses his confidence in the redemption of his people is only the more gripping, because of the fact that in his poetry there is no trace of the gloomy present, and his hope of the future does not appear to be the result of a daring escape from the dark environment which surrounds 'him, into the shining regions of phantasy. He is confident of his cause and the joy of his belief intoxicates and inspires him."

This confidence and joy of belief remind me vividly of my pious grandfather. Whenever they spoke to him of plans for the future, he always objected to making such plans, remarking that we Jews, being in exile, have no right to plan for the future, as- the Messiah may suddenly arrive. My grandfather was neither a poet nor a prophet; he was only a plain business man, who in the daytime attended to his routine work, that he might support his family and in the night devoted himself to religious and scholarly studies. After the dispersion, study became, as you can find again in Sachs, an essential and inseparable part of the national cult. "The house of study," he says, "became the only central point of an independent, free life, and the teachers were the bearers of all ideals which were typical and characteristic of national Judaism." The Synagogue was rather a schoolhouse than a house of prayer. Even to the present day, it is still designed, by the German Jews, as "Schul." The typical national cult, finding its expression in the study and in the minute observance of thousands of precepts with which Judaism fenced itself around in order to preserve its integrity in dispersion, is misconceived by our enlightened Jews. These legal and religious precepts and commandments, which permeate the whole life of the Jew, are condemned and mocked at by blockheads, who have not the least conception of the patriotic significance of these precepts and who consider themselves progressive only because they have turned their back on the traditions of their people. It is the same tendency which came to the front immediately after the appearance of Mendelssohn and which caused Mendelssohn himself pain and aggravation. During the life of Mendelssohn, there emerged those "Modern Jews" who measure the degree of enlightenment and education one possesses by the amount of his disregard for Jewish customs, and who finally graduated into State service by presenting a conversion certificate as their diploma. They relate an anecdote which originated during that first epoch of Jewish enlightenment and which is characteristic of that period. A Jew came to Mendelssohn and boasted of his son's philosophical ability. When the great Berlin philosopher asked the father wherein the philosophical acumen of his son consisted, the happy man replied, "Why my son has not put on his tephillin [phylacteries] for months."

You know that the use of phylacteries on the forehead and the hand originates in a Mosaic command. It is prescribed in the Pentateuch, that in order to remember the divine teaching, we should inscribe the words of God's law on the doorposts of our houses, and symbolize that teaching by wearing fringes on our garments, binding the phylacteries as a sign upon the arm and as frontlets between the eyes." We find pictures of garments with such fringes on the old Egyptian monuments, which proves that this custom is a very ancient one. But even assuming with Schorr that the custom of putting on phylacteries is not as old as that of wearing fringes on the garments, the results of Schorr's investigation were not known to that "enlightened" son and his happy father; just as they were unknown to the Berlin philosopher, who conscientiously put on his tephillin every day and observed all the Jewish customs. The enlightened epikoros could by no means understand Mendelssohn's conscientious attachment to traditional Judaism. His relation to orthodox Judaism was not, as Mendelssohn persuaded himself, a logical result of his rationalism, but was a natural expression of his true Jewish spirit. His fine sense of religiosity told him, that when a man turns his back on tradition, he really severs himself from Judaism itself and from its national essence. It is one thing to restore Judaism, through unbiased historical criticism, to its origins; it is quite another to discard it and belittle it through indifference and imitation. You, who declare the teachings and ordinances of our sages to be foolish inventions, pray to tell us what would have become of Judaism and the Jews if they had not, through the institutions of the Talmudic sages, thrown a protecting fence around their religion, so as to safeguard it for the coming days? Would they have continued to exist for eighteen hundred years and have resisted the influence of Christian and Mohammedan civilization? Would they not long ago have disappeared as a nation from the face of the earth, had they not, after they were driven out of their own land, created out of the confines of their own life, a sacred territory for their existence and a soil on which they could thrive?

To those who lack the historical sense, the existence of one nation more or less is of little importance for the historical development of humanity. The great organic creation of Jewish literature which, for the last three thousand years, was a gradual growth out of the national essence of Judaism, seems to the spiritual dwarfs, the rationalist, to be no more than an unnecessary growth which, even in our age of enlightenment, has not been sufficiently eradicated. These pygmies, who are living in an age of giants, do not realize that their very existence is an anachronism. As a precursor of the French Revolution, in the century of The Critique of Pure Reason the existence of rationalism was justified. But to-day, when the shackles of dogmatism have long been shaken off, we feel more the need of creating new values, and for this purpose utilize the creations of all ages, than the continuation of mere negative criticism which has, at present, but little value for us. The desire to create new values is felt even by those who are unable to discern the creative ability in the expressions of the Jewish spirit, and are thus unable to utilize the previous creations of Judaism as a basis. But in their ignorance and mental helplessness, they turned, in their desire for creation, to external, artificial means, which do not spring from the deep well of our people's life.

In Jewry, as well as in the entire modern world, there are to be discovered at present, two main tendencies which, though diametrically opposed to each other, still originate from the same course, namely, the need of objective religious norms and the inability to create them. One tendency, as a result of the above-mentioned cause, expresses itself on the part of some people in turning back to the old uncritical belief which, however, with them, lost its naive and true character. In their despair, which arose as a result of the dominant nihilism, they insist on a conscious contradiction to all reason. This desperate reaction, which defies the results of criticism and spiritual revolution, is known in the Christian world as Supernaturalism. In the Jewish world, it is represented by Hirsch, of Frankfort AIM, and other less gifted spirits, as well as by a host of ignoramuses and hypocrites, whose association with it really lessens its dignity. As an antidote against this reaction, the negative reform aspirations may possess some justification, even though, from the point of view of reason, they did not succeed in creating any stable solid life norms. The characteristic trait of the negative spiritual tendency, which labored in vain to create something of a general Jewish value, is its extreme individualism and incoherence. The modern religious reformers are sectarians without sects. Each of our Jewish Protestants has his own code. Out of this chaos of opinions there will undoubtedly in time develop a new Jewish life. But this new life, the beginnings of which are already noticeable in the activities of the younger generation of Jewish scholars, will bring entirely different results from those hitherto expected in the liberal circles of German Jewry.

French Jewry, also, within which there is not as yet, and perhaps there never will be, any cleavage on the lines of reform and orthodoxy, is not free from the traces of a tendency which strives after a fusion of all historical cults into one, and which endeavors to reach its aim by removing from the various religions their historical and characteristic traits, retaining only their common elements. You have certainly heard of Joseph Salvador, the author of the work entitled History of the Mosaic Institutions and of the Hebrew People. This same author recently published a work entitled Paris, Rome and Jerusalem in which he clearly shows that even among our enlightened brethren, there are dreamers who wish for a rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem. But he attaches to this rebuilding conditions that are acceptable neither to pious nor to progressive Christians and Jews. If I understand the author correctly, he expects his New Jerusalem to become the world capital of the fusionists. Salvador, furthermore, seems to cherish the curious idea that the Jews ought first to turn Christians, so that they may be the better able to convert the Christians afterward to Judaism. This work is, in reality, not as new as Salvador thinks; it began eighteen hundred years ago. It seems, however, that the Judaism of which Salvador is thinking is as new as his Christianity.

More reasonable are the attempts of those fusionists who, like my friend Hirsch, of Luxemburg, are utilizing freemasonry as a means to amalgamate all the historical cults into one. The Luxemburg Rabbi, the antipode of his namesake, the Frankfort Rabbi Hirsch, developed the idea of fusion so thoroughly in the excellent lectures which he delivered at the Luxemburg Lodge, and later published under the title Humanity as a Religion, that, according to him, the matter may be considered closed, All that remains for the rabbis to do is to close up their reform temples and send the school children to the Masonic temples. In truth, the logical consequences of reform have long since led those who took the sermons of the reform rabbis seriously, toward making such a step; as you, being a resident of Frankfort, well know. In vain did they afterward ornament their fusionist sermons with Talmudic quotations. It was too late and they had to be satisfied to preach to empty pews.

Jewish rationalists, who have as little reason to remain within the fold of Judaism as have Christian rationalists for clinging to Christianity are, like their Christian friends, very energetic in discovering new grounds for the existence of a religion which, according to them, has no longer any reason to exist. According to them, the dispersion of the Jews was merely a preliminary step to their entering upon their great mission. What great things are the Jews in exile to accomplish in their opinion? First of all, they are to represent "pure" theism, in contradistinction to Christianity. In the next place, tolerant Judaism is to teach intolerant Christianity the principles of humanitarianism. Furthermore, it is the function of exilic Judaism to take care that morality and life, which in the Christian world are severed from each other, should become one. And lastly, the Jews must also act as industrial and commercial promoters-be the leaven of such activities among the civilized nations in whose midst they live. I have even heard it remarked quite seriously, that the Indo-Germanic race must improve its quality by mingling with the Jewish race!

But, mark you, from all these real or imaginary benefits which the Jews in dispersion confer upon the world, none will be diminished even after the restoration of the Jewish State. For just as at the time of the return from the Babylonian exile not all the Jews settled in Palestine, but the majority remained in the lands of exile, where there had been Jewish settlements since the dispersion of Israel and Judah, so need we not look forward to a larger concentration of Jews at the future restoration. Besides, it seems to me that those benefits which the Jews in exile confer upon the world are exaggerated, "for the sake of the cause." I consider it an anachronism to assign to the Jews those missions which they certainly performed in antiquity, and to some extent also in medieval times, but which, at present, no longer belong peculiarly to them. As to affecting the unity of life and theory, it is only possible with a nation which is politically organized; such a nation alone is able to realize it practically by embodying it in its institutions.

Again, what section of world. Jewry is to teach the Christians tolerance and humanity? You will surely say the enlightened Jews. But is not the enlightened Christian entitled to repeat to the enlightened Jew the words which Lessing, in his Nathan the Wise) puts into the mouth of the liberal Christian in his answer to the liberal Jew: "What makes me a Christian in your eyes, makes you a Jew in mine."

Or, on the other hand, should the enlightened Jew say to the orthodox Christian, "Your beliefs are mere superstitions, your religion only fanaticism," may the enlightened Christian not turn to the orthodox Jew and make similar remarks in defense of his own religion? Our cultured Jews who accuse Christians of possessing a persecution mania, reason as fallaciously as does Bethmann Hollweg when he charges the Jews with the same trait. History can neither be explained nor changed in its course by such explanations.

From the viewpoint of enlightenment, I see as little reason for the continuation of the existence of Judaism as for Christianity. It is better for the Jew who does not believe in the national regeneration of his people, to labor, like the enlightened Christian, for the dissolution of his religion. I understand how one can hold such an opinion. But what I do not understand is, how it is possible to believe simultaneously in "enlightenment" and in a Jewish Mission in exile; in other words, in the ultimate dissolution and in the continued existence of Judaism at the same time.