Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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o n v it z
— H
a l l e n
the Jews of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, or the Jews in Yemen.
These may bear ou t the judgment of Toynbee (which he has
recently modified) tha t the Jews are a fossilized people. But the
mainstream of Jewish life has no t stood still, nor has it been
cut off from other peoples. Jews have survived as Jews because
they have refused to let themselves be placed behind a Chinese
Wall of a fixed style of life, feeling, thought, and beliefs.
“T h e history of the Jewish people,” Kallen has written, “re-
cords a continual contact with the external world which definitely
effects an alteration of the original core of belief and behavior.”
T h is contact with the outside world is not a passive one; it is
no t merely tha t the outside world acts upon Jews, as a hammer
acts upon a nail. I t is a creative one; the relations with other
cultures and civilizations are like those of a child to his brothers,
sisters, and friends. T he contacts are organic and internal. They
involve selection, giving as well as taking; and what is taken
comes into the culture not as a stone when thrown into a well,
b u t as bread tha t turns into muscle, blood, bone, feeling and
thought. Thus, Kallen’s Judaism not merely accommodates itself
bu t is ever receptive to all tha t is true, beautiful, and good
in all cultures and civilizations, which in the process of assimila-
tion may come in as Greek bu t becomes Jewish. “Borrowings
in religion,” George Foote Moore observed, “at least in the
field of ideas, are usually in the nature of the appropriation of
things in the possession of another which the borrower recognizes
in all good faith as belonging to himself, ideas which, once they
become known to him, are seen to be the necessary implications
or complements of his own.” Only Kallen would no t speak of
“borrowings” or “borrowers,” for in cultural and spiritual matters
there are no property rights and no “Do Not Trespass” signs.
Each nation helps itself as it pleases, and the only guiding
principle is that, if there are property rights, “We are the children
of God; and if children, then heirs.”
Selection and Creativity
Kallen extends this principle of Hellenization to the Jewish
past as well. For our own past must be treated as another culture,
toward which we must act selectively and creatively. Unless we
bring to it the principle of selection and of creativity, the past
we inherit is only a dead weight. Even as it makes us, we make
the past; and we make it in the present and in the future. I t is
we, and only
we who are alive this day,
who can give any
significance to the past which, w ithout us, is only darkness and
death. T h e dead writers, T . S. Eliot has said—echoing Emerson—
“are tha t which we know.” T h e past—trad ition—cannot be in-
herited as a son inherits a piece of property from his father. As