Rome and Jerusalem/Third Letter

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Third Letter[edit]

Immortality -Rabbi Jochanan -Nachmanides-Messianic travails-Pater noster-Solidarity-The call of France and the rumbling of the reactionaries.

You wonder why it is that there is no mention of the doctrine of immortality in the Old Testament. The Agadic [Jewish Legend] interpretations of verses, as well as the manipulations of certain Biblical passages by modern Jewish and Christian exegetes, which tend to infer from these verses and passages the belief in immortality, do not satisfy you, and rightly so. You argue, that if Moses and the Prophets had believed in a life beyond the grave, in the Christian sense, they would have stated the fact as explicitly as did the writers of the New Testament, and would not have limited reward and punishment to the life of this world alone. I do not deny the fact that there is no mention of immortality in the Old Testament. But if you reproach our Holy Scriptures for passing over such an important doctrine in silence, you forget the viewpoint of the genius of the Jewish nation which produced these Scriptures. You overlook the point of view of our sacred history, namely, the genetic conception which never separated the individual from the race, the nation from humanity, and the created world from the Creator. You forget that the part of the Sacred Scriptures wherein there is no mention of immortality was written at a time when the Jewish nation was still in existence, and therefore there was no need of a belief in a resurrection. The Jewish belief in immortality is inseparable from the national-humanitarian Messianic idea. "It is only with the coming of the Messiah and the establishing of the Messianic kingdom that the purpose of creation will be accomplished," says R. Jochanan, one of the leading Amoraim [Jewish scholars of Talmudic Law] . In another statement, he adds, that "all the beautiful visions of the Prophets refer only to the Messianic reign; but as regards the world to come, its character and nature is known to God alone." Even in later Rabbinic Judaism, the Rabbis never separated the idea of a future world from the conception of the Messianic reign. Nachmanides insists; in contradiction to Maimonides; upon the identity of Olam Habbo, " the world to come," with the Messianic reign.

There was no necessity for Judaism to emphasize the eternity and indestructibility of the spirit, for its own history is nothing but the embodiment of this idea. It was only when Judaism was threatened with the possibility of national destruction, as early as the end of the period of the first Temple that along with the idea of national destruction and the hope of a national rebirth, there arose also the idea of the immortality of the individual. The Prophet Isaiah already draws a sharp line of distinction between those nations which are doomed to eternal death and Israel who is destined to be resurrected. The momentary death of Israel, the people of the spirit, is only the preliminary stage for a future eternal life. (Isa. xxvi, 14-19.)

Even in primitive Christianity, as long as it did not separate itself completely from Judaism and the historical cult, the Jewish conception still survived, according to which resurrection, the "Kingdom of Heaven," and the "world to come," are identical with the Messianic age, the rebirth of the Jewish nation. The coming of the reign of the spirit is heralded in the Gospels, and also in the famous prayer of Jewish origin, "Pater Noster," "Our Father," as a definite event in the history of the Jews.

Even the latest expression of the Jewish genius concerning life and death, namely, the teaching of Spinoza, has nothing in common with the sickly atomistic conception of immortality, a conception which dissolves the unity of life either in a spiritualistic way or in a materialistic manner, and whose highest religious and moral principle is the egoistic maxim, "everyone for himself." No nation was ever so far from this egoistic principle as was the Jewish people. With the Jews, solidarity and social responsibility were always the fundamental principles of life and conduct.

In the Sayings of the Fathers, the rule of bourgeois morality-"everyone for himself"-is severely condemned, and is declared to be a wicked rule of conduct. In the teaching of Spinoza, as in the teaching of the Jewish saints, the individual is not treated as a separate entity, but as a part of a whole. According to Spinoza, eternity does not begin with our death, but always exists, is always present even as God himself.

Very few, indeed, possess the noble spirit which animated the Jewish saints. Most people are anxious to secure as much immortality as possible for themselves, and for themselves alone. True it is that the "end of days," when the knowledge of God will fill the earth, is still far off; yet we firmly believe that the time will come when the holy spirit of our nation will become the property of humanity and the earth will become a grand temple wherein the spirit of God will dwell. In the Bible, the reign of the spirit is declared to be a future event, and even long afterward people relegated these prophetic visions to the realm of the world to come-"Olam Habbo" and did not connect them with the present life. Spinoza was the first to conceive the reign of the spirit as an existing thing, as a factor in the present life. It is true, the reign of the spirit exists already, but only as a germ of spiritual light. To develop this germ to its fullest possibilities, so that it will create social values, there labor, along with the Jewish people, the most intellectual, moral and creative of modern nations, namely Germany, France and England. These three nations have contributed greatly to the store of civilization, each its distinctive share. Germany has built the road to philosophy France has thrown open to all nations the way to social and political changes and improvements, and has also blazed the path of progress for the natural sciences. England, like Germany, has followed, slowly but surely, her own lead, namely, that of the progress and development of industry.

The Jews felt long ago that the struggle for regeneration waged by the nations, together with France, is their own cause, and have therefore everywhere joined, enthusiastically and voluntarily, the ranks of the followers of the political-social movements. "The time has arrived," says a well-known French democrat to the Jews, "when you should think less of others and more of yourselves, and commence to work for your own regeneration. The latter, however, does not exclude the former. When I labor for the regeneration of my own nation, I do not thereby renounce my humanistic aspiration. The national movement of the present day is only another step on the road of progress which began with the French Revolution. The French nation has, since the great Revolution, been calling to the other nations for help. But the nations have turned a deaf ear to the voice from the distance and have lent a not unwilling ear to the tumult of reaction in their own midst. To-day, this roar deafens only the people in certain parts of Germany, those who, by dint of political trickery, are aroused to the pitch of enthusiasm for the kings and war lords. But the other nations hear and follow the call of France. The call has reached also our ancient nation, and I would unite my voice with that of France, that I may at least warn my racial brothers in Germany against listening to the loud noise of the reactionaries.