LIBERAL JUDAISM AND THE FUTURE OF THE JEWS
Israel Mattuck, 28 October 1916
"...And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed".
The future condition of the Jews must for us be the subject of much earnest and anxious thought at this time, when the future of nearly everything has become vague and uncertain. And when special circumstances make that vagueness in the case of Jews full of anxiety. The lot of the Jews in some parts of Europe which is responsible for this anxiety is too well-known to require further emphasis. The circumstances of the lot have been so often depicted in the past, that there is no need of repetition. But though thought of the Jews in these countries is the first to come into our minds when we think of the future of the Jewish People, it must be realised that any particular effect the war may have upon Jews will not be limited to those countries, but will work for good or for evil, in other countries too. The problem, therefore, of the future of the Jews is not local but universal. It involves more than the lot of one section of Jerry but indirectly that of all Jewry. And even directly, the problem may arise where it does not now exist, or become aggravated where it is now only slight.
We, here, must look at the problem from a specifically Liberal Jewish point of view; for there is, I think, such a point of view distinguishable from others. Liberal Judaism is distinguished from orthodox Judaism by its teaching, among others, about the destiny of the Jewish people. Orthodox Judaism, takes the present condition of the Jews, their dispersion throughout the countries of the world as a temporary condition, as a time of punishment for past transgressions and of chastening to prepare for the future restoration to their own land. Whatever ideas orthodox Jews might hold about the position of the Jews in the immediate future, the instruction of their creed is plain, that the ultimate future of the Jewish people will be in Palestine, and then would be the time of great glory and of recompense for all that Israel has endured and endures. The first adherents to this teaching, therefore, look upon the present miseries with an attitude akin to the stoic. These things must be now. They must be because the people Israel have merited punishment for their failure to serve God aright when they were in their own land; it must be because through the sufferings and chastisements of the people God is preparing them for a return to a sanctified existence in their original home. And such sufferings were even to be welcomed as the chastisements of love. They present no problems; and they call for no efforts to remove them, God would do that in His own good time.
This attitude was responsible for what to come normally or worldly minded people seemed a great contradiction, an opposition of some - one might venture to call them the more strident - orthodox Jews to the Zionist movement. They looked upon it in an attempt to hurry, Providence, and even as a reflection upon the divine wisdom. But the Zionist shares with the traditional Jew the belief that the dispersion of the Jews is or should be only temporary, their destiny requires a future restoration of their political [missing] Palestine. Both these sections of Jewry have, therefore, their respective solutions for the problems presented at the same time about the future of the Jews. Their solutions are yet the same except that one waits for God to bring about the desired result; and the other lays upon human shoulders the work for its achievement.
Liberal Judaism cannot, look for its answer to the question about the future of the Jews in the same direction; because Liberal Judaism accepts the present dispersion of the Jews as a permanent fact. It even rejoices in it, for it recognises in the scattering of Israel among the nations a means for the fulfilment of Israel's destiny. In one way, therefore, the attitude of Liberal Judaism to the present life of the Jews is akin to that of orthodox Judaism, that is, in recognizing a specific divine purpose in the dispersion; but the two differ, about its duration and place in Israel's history; and both together differ from Zionism by the refusal to make of this condition merely a quite ordinary and common-place fact in the life of a smaller nation. To both the servant of God of whom Deutero-lsaiah speaks is Israel; and the explanation there given of the servant's sufferings in true; and the purpose there assigned for the servant's work and life is real.
Liberal Judaism teaches that the time when Israel lived as a nation in Palestine was only a time of preparation for a great mission the performance of which required that the people go out into a larger world. The national existence was only a preparation for the dispersion. The aim of the Jews' existence, indicated from the very beginnings of their life, is the development and spread of the religious ideas which have been entrusted to them. For a time, in the early part of their existence, the working out of this destiny could best be in a sort of national easing Under the protection of national organisation; but Israel Is life and religion were not meant to be for all time limited to the boundaries of nationality, but to be lived and revealed throughout the world. The presence of Jews in the various countries is not an accident, but in accord with Israel's destiny. It is not a misfortune, but a means for the performance of Israel's divine task, the spread of the faith which Israel's prophets and priests first I earn t and taught.
It is this attitude of Liberal Judaism which makes it impossible for Liberal Jews to be adherents of Zionism in the fullest sense or aims of that movement. There are, it is true, some who are both Liberal Jews and Zionists, but such a reconciliation of two contradictory ideas must involve some sacrifice or weakening do the part of both ideas. The universal hopes of Liberal Judaism and the national hopes of Zionism are opposed to one to another; they may, it seems be reconciled but they cannot be the same. I am not now speaking of that form of philanthropy which seeks the return of none of our brethren in faith to Palestine that they might be relieved from the burden of misery and oppression laid upon them in the countries where they now live. Zionism, however, is a much deeper and far-reaching matter than one of philanthropy. It is an interpretation of Jewish history and of Jewish life, and an estimate of Jewish destiny. It says that the great value of Jewish life is in its national aspect, that the meaning of Jewish history is to be sought in the national life of the past, that Israel's destiny is a national one, that the present is a time of bitter exile, and that Israel can have no dignity or worth until restored to national existence in Palestine. So great is the stress which some Zionists lay upon this national interpretation and evaluation of Jewish life and thought that they are prepared to exclude for themselves and others all purely religious ideas from the content of Judaism, even the belief in God.
And we perceive in Zionism grave danger, danger to the Jewish people, danger to the Jewish religion. It may, unwittingly, supply Israel's enemies with fuel for their fires of blind prejudice. It lends itself all too easily for arguments about distinction in national between the Jew and non-Jew; the words of the ancient enemy of the people, Haman, have been uttered by many after him. And Jews as when as non-Jews are in danger of being misled in this way. It would seem that the sacrifices which Jews, as others, have made for their respective countries would be an eloquent and abiding testimony to their nationality; so that any -whether Jews or non-Jews - who in the past had been ignorant or uncertain would now definitely know, and be guided by that knowledge, that for each Jew there is only one national loyalty. He is an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a Russian, or a German, and he has proved it by his life-blood. And if there are those among Jews who, even like those enemies of our people, who are filled with a burning ignorant hatred against us, refuse to learn and to apply the lesson taught by the Jewish soldiers and sailors, they are a source of grave danger to our people, and at some future time may have to answer for such harm which through them may be wrought.
There is, however, much more involved that mere physical well-being; the persistence of its religion, and therefore the destiny of Israel would be endangered by the achievement of the aims of Zionism. Let us suppose for a moment that the re-establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine were within the range of practical politics. What would be the effect upon the Jewish religion? It is not, I think, difficult to foresee. Some few millions out of the many millions of Jews would establish a Jewish life in Palestine, a small national existence. Judaism would become altogether a national religion with its sphere of its influence a very tiny corner of the globe. And the force which now keeps the Jews all over the world loyal to their faith, the consciousness that they are a body to the soul of Judaism, that in then and in each of them inheres its power, that upon them depend the continuance of its existence and the revelation of its glory, would vanish. With this force gone, the number of Jews in the world outside of Palestine, would steadily decrease until adherence to Judaism would be practically confined to those who were nationally Jews, who I lived in Palestine. Our faith would be awakened and its testimony to the world practically destroyed, and the spiritual influence of the Jewish people over the rest of the world gone, and the destiny of Israel reduced to that of a small nationality in a tiny corner of the earth.
Liberal Judaism has high ambitions for the Jewish people. Above all it seeks to preserve the Jewish religion in full beauty and power, and to extend its workings to a sphere co-extensive with the universe of men.
Are Liberal Jews then content to let conditions go on as they are and to look to a future for the Jews marked by an indefinite prolongation of misery and suffering and oppression? We have seen the answer that the orthodox Jew gives, we have also noted the solution for which Zionism strives, - and undoubtedly many have become adherents to the latter, especially recently, because it seems such an easy way out of our trouble, and because it is so concrete and it seems near at hand. Now, Liberal Judaism, because it insists that the dispersion of the Jews is a permanent fact associated with Israel's divine mission, requires that any solution of the Jewish problem must be based upon the acceptance of that dispersion. Not by moving the Jews from one country to another should the question be solved, but by finding a solution in each of the countries in which the condition of the Jews presents a special problem. This is not an easy task, but high destiny never presents easy tasks and the roads which lead to it are not soft and smooth; yet it is infinitely better to strive for the fulfilment of this higher destiny despite them greatest of difficulties, than to be deflected from it for the sake of finding an easier way.
There are, I think, two main lines of action to which Liberal Jews must direct their attention in their efforts to help establish, from their own point of view, the future of the Jews upon a better foundation, with lees circumstance of evil and more of good.
The first of these is to give non-Jews a knowledge of Jews and Judaism, and the second to give Jews instruction in the spiritual and moral ideals of their own religion and in the means of expressing them.
In the western world there is some prejudice against the Jew which has no other foundation than ignorance as to what Jews are and shy they are a separate people and what Judaism is. It is perhaps a natural ignorance, especially since for many centuries much teaching has been given which tended not only to establish such an Ignorance but to do even what is worse to give a perverted view of Jews and their religion. But if that ignorance persists and continues to be a source whence evil flows against the Jews, unless we strive to do something towards its banishment, towards a substitution of knowledge for it, then we shall ourselves not be without blame for the evil consequences. We must strive that non-Jews learn to know what Judaism is. And Liberal Judaism is best fitted to do this work. Its interpretation and expression of Judaism are such that all can understand, being on the one hard free from obscuring accumulations and, on the other, being directed toward universal aims.
Word instruction, however, will not be enough; there must be instruction from practical living expressions of Judaism. Jews must strive to live up to the best and highest spiritual and moral ideals of our faith, for by such effort they will indicate the meaning of their faith, prove it to be of significance in the life of the world, and justify their separate existence. And that involves the second line of action, teaching Jews the meaning of their religion. They must learn that loyalty to our faith consists not in the observance of this and that or the other custom, though they may continue to observe those customs indefinitely if they Iike, but in adherence to the higher spiritual and moral teachings of our faith. I need not dilate upon this point to prove the necessity of driving it home; those familiar with Jewish conditions know only too well how great that necessity is.
What effect, we might well ask, would such efforts have on the future condition of the Jews in the countries where they are now oppressed? In the first place there would be some indirect effect. The world will issue out of the present struggle with a greater degree of solidarity between some nations, if not ultimately between all nations. That will mean an increased influence of one nation upon another, and the attitude of the one people towards the Jews will have an effect upon the attitude of others. A completely understanding attitude, in England or France, toward the- Jews will produce an effect for good in remoter lands. Furthermore, why may not these efforts at instruction be made even in the countries where the lot of the Jew is hardest? It does not perhaps seem very practical or promising. But that may be because no such efforts have here before been made. Liberal Judaism is comparatively young, and it has not been ready to undertake this work. But its special efforts toward the solution of the Jewish problem must be in these directions. The education of Jews unto a better understanding of their religion, and therefore unto a truer loyalty to it and a clearer expression of it, and the education of non-Jews, as far as can be, in the knowledge and teachings of our faith and the reason for Jewish separatism, these things will make the future of the Jew better than his past, and at the same time will be in the direction of the fulfilment of the task for which he lives. And we may hope that the aim of these efforts will be supported by the progressive tendencies of our age and by the spread of liberalism which is expected to follow this gigantic upheaval.
From the Liberal Jewish point of view, then, no solution of the difficulties in the position of the Jews can be acceptable unless it recognises the permanence of their present homes, that we are scattered throughout the world to fulfil a religious mission, which alone gives reason and meaning to our existence. It is only because of their religion that the Jews must live; without it, they might as well not be. And the life which their religion demands is not one of national dimensions, but universal. Even as Israel's first ancestor was commanded to Ieave his home that he might go out into the world and there be a blessing, so, that in him 'all the families of the earth shall be blessed', even so was Israel commanded to leave his country and make the universe his home, that in him all the nations of the world shall be blessed with an increase in the knowledge of God and righteousness.