Page 86 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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other religion and over-simplifies the essence of Christianity. The
fact that Christians today consider it an important work is an
indication of the concern and insight to be found in the work.
Walter Kaufmann, who is both critic and admirer where Baeck
is concerned, finds this essay on
Romantic Religion
an important
text for our time.
In the concentration camp, Baeck wrote one more classic: a work
in which he looked beyond the faith and to the people. The first
work, dealing with the essence of the faith, in the end brought one
closer to the people professing it. The final work began with the
people:
This People Israel: The Meaning of Jewish Existence
(1955). Is it too facile to note that Baeck began with
essence
and
ended with
existence?
I do not think so. No claim is made placing
Baeck firmly into the line of existential philosophy. He remains
too much the rabbi and the German philosopher. But that the
emphasis did in the end move towards existence, in a text rising
out of the darkness of the camps, is a reality not to be ignored.
A Rabbi—First and Foremost
How shall we understand the real Baeck, a hundred years after
his birth, seventeen years after his death? First and foremost, as
a rabbi. He inherited far more from the teachers of the midrash
than from the German professors. Those who point to the ethical
rigorism of his writings and see this as a neo-Kantian phenome­
non would be advised to look at the rabbinic texts of the first and
second centuries, the texts which were closest to Baeck and which
permeate his thinking. The rabbis who lived after the destruction
of the Second Temple lived in a world which resembled that of
Leo Baeck in countless ways. He belongs with them; in the end,
that is why he belongs to us today.
Leo Baeck is automatically considered as a member of that
group of great German Jewish teachers who have been decently
interred into our history books: Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosen-
zweig, Martin Buber, and Leo Baeck. Buber escaped the fate
assigned to him. The world recognized his talents and his poetic
vision. And so, reluctantly, the traditionalists who dislike much
of Buber are compelled to honor him. Thoughtful Jewish scholars
will gladly accept the fundamental insights: in the field of epis-
tomology, of education, of Bible, and of literature as well. It is
no disparagement to Buber if we note that most of his teachings
are of a general nature and not specifically Jewish. Cohen—perhaps
the greatest of the group—is forgotten. And Rosenzweig is not yet
understood. Baeck falls between this group. He was partially
understood; and he has been partially forgotten. But Leo Baeck,