Page 85 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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r ied lander
— L
a e c k
: C
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7 5
cerned himself with those Christians who had inherited a Jewish
fate from one grandfather. It is strange and yet not so strange:
political and religious fanaticism divided inmates of the camp
up to the very end. Baeck's refusal to become involved upset some
of his colleagues. Yet, as Hugo Adler, an eye-witness, reports:
“Baeck knew that he was a witness to the fact that there still
had to be a different world from this ‘ghetto’. Incorruptible,
he saw weakness and corruption in his surroundings. He
exerted his influence against them, particularly through the
purity of his own example. . . . He was a shining beacon in
the salt tear ocean of despair.”
Is it any wonder that German Jewry saw and sees itself sym­
bolically represented by this man? But, because he became the
symbol, he was either idolized and permitted no mistakes or
imperfections, or he was attacked by those who wanted to criticize
German Jewry. Some thought German Jewry had been too assimi­
lated; and so Baeck was attacked as a figure of assimilation.
Others viewed German-Jewish thought as too much influenced by
the Germany philosophers and theologians of the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. Baeck was cited as a prime example of this,
often by men who could not match his knowledge of midrash
and of the early Jewish mystic texts. His language does resemble
that of his teacher, Hermann Cohen; and there is a neo-Kantian
aspect to his writings often cited by those who feel that this phase
of philosophy has had its day. They are right in their way: Ger­
man idealism is no longer relevant to the world after Auschwitz.
But they are wrong in assuming that Baeck is to be read as an
example of pre-World War I thought. Once again, the preoccu­
pations build a wall around the real person and his teaching.
The fact that Baeck’s major book,
The Essence of Judaism,
published in 1905 seems conclusive to those who consign his
teachings to the past. But this text, particularly after the revisions
made by Baeck in the 1920s, cannot be dismissed that easily. The
insights of Judaism as a dynamic, revolutionary faith with absolute
ethical demands to be realized by the individual and the com­
munity continues to be a classic statement of Jewish faith. And
Baeck’s later writings help us to see the depths of this early work.
His emphasis on Mystery and Commandment, the Divine encoun­
ter which must lead to ethical action and the ethical action which
brings one to God are already noted as the paradox of Jewish faith
The Essence of Judaism.
Baeck’s later challenge of Christianity
as the romantic religion of sentiment compared with the classic
Jewish faith of reason is a logical continuation of the first book.
It is also one of the great challenges to Christianity in our time.
It is a flawed polemic in that it overstates the case against the