Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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— Y
eh e z k e l
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wrote many incisive essays, some of monograph length, on the
problems of contemporary Jewish existence. A collection of his
social and political essays was published in 1936 in
Behevle ha-
(In the Throes of the Age); penetrating appraisals of
modern nationalist ideologies in
Ben Netivot
(Among Paths) in
In his quest for understanding the motives of Jewish history
Kaufmann was led back to the biblical age, for it was there that
the unique character of Judaism was rooted. Beginning in 1937
he began to publish his monumental
Toldot ha-Emuna ha-
(History of Israelite Religion), the eighth and last
volume of which appeared in 1956. In this great work Kauf-
mann planned to trace the evolution of the monotheistic idea
in Israel to the end of Second Temple times; he succeeded in
bringing the account down to the start of the Hellenistic age
before his death.
surveys the character of Israel’s religion and con­
trasts it with other world religions. It establishes the dating
and composition of all the elements of biblical literature—this
by way of groundwork for Kaufmann’s new comprehensive ac­
count of the development of Israelite religion. He had a genius
for perceiving the grand movement, the major stages of this de­
velopment, as well as an unequalled power of synthesis. With
his vision of the whole he was able to assign to each element its
proper role. In his account the authors of the Bible attain an
individuality that shows clearly their particular role in the prog­
ress of Israel’s thought.
The Thesis of Kaufmann
Kaufmann’s thesis is that the religion of Israel, unlike every
other religion, was from the first a monotheistic, folk religion.
Arising in the spiritual revolution of Moses’ time, it parted
ways with the pagan religions. Although sharing forms with
paganism, it entirely tranformed the content of these forms.
This religion was not the possession of a small spiritual elite but
of the people of Israel at large, the seedbed of the national
culture, the inspiration of its every aspect. In maintaining this
theme Kaufmann collided with most major currents of contem­
porary biblical scholarship. His work is permeated by an exten­
sive polemic against opposing views.
The surveys of every major position of biblical criticism are
an education in themselves; but the trenchant critiques of these
positions, followed by profoundly original reconstructions, con­
stitute the most far-reaching overhaul of biblical scholarship of
our time. In 1960 an English abridgment of the first seven