Page 52 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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The Career of Jewish Existentialism*
a m
g r a t e f u l
t o
t h e
ju d g e s
for granting my book
The Mask
Jews Wear
this National Jewish Book Award. Each year there
are many fine books and worthy authors but only one award in
the field of Jewish thought—and that is guarded by judges as
demanding as they are distinguished. I express, therefore, my
deep appreciation to the judges for complimenting my work
with this favor, to the Cohen family for establishing it and to
the Jewish Book Council of the National Jewish Welfare Board
for supporting it. Thank you, all.
I should like to see in this honor a sign that, after 25 years
of labor, the existentialist interpretation of Judaism has become
accepted among American Jews.
was a young graduate student when I first discovered that
my vague groping for a post-rationalist, post-naturalist way of
thinking about Judaism had some connection with the broad-
scale literary, philosophic and theological currents loosely united
under the term “existentialist.” In those days the academy and
the synagogue were quite hostile to Jewish existentialism, so
much so that in my six years of study for the rabbinate not one
of my philosophy or theology teachers ever mentioned the names
Martin Buber or Franz Rosenzweig. The same was true at the
few other schools where these subjects were deemed worthy of
inclusion in the curriculum. We were not told about them not
because our teachers feared the insidious influences of the athe­
istic philosophic existentialists, like Sartre and Heidegger, or
those of the Christian existentialists, Kierkegaard and Bulti-
mann, or, in his own unique way, Karl Barth. For the truth is,
as I am sure our teachers knew, that Jewish existentialism is
quite different from its philosophic and Christian cousins. Buber
and Rosenzweig have a far more positive doctrine of human­
kind and its capacities than do any other existentialists and in
* Address delivered at the presentation of the Jewish Book Council’s Na­
tional Jewish Book Awards on May 5, 1974.