Page 53 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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BOROWITZ / THE CAREER OF JEWISH EXISTENTIALISM
45
this I see a reflection of their Jewish authenticity. Yet Buber
and Rosenzweig were considered
epikorsim
most probably be­
cause, for all their affirmation of humanity’s dignity, they did
not put their ultimate trust in human rationality. They did
want people to be educated and reflective but they could not
rely on culture and philosophy to plumb the depths of human
existence much less those of religious experience.
It was simply impossible for our teachers—as it remains dif­
ficult for the many Jews trained by them—to acknowledge the
limits of rationalism. After all, on the intellectual level, ration­
alism had been the validation for Jews receiving political rights
and social equality. If, so the reasoning went, one was a person
by virtue of having a mind and being able to think, then Jews
too, for all that they seemed to be sub-human and illiterate in
the 18th century, must be considered persons. And if all persons
had a right to be citizens, then Jews, for all that they were con­
sidered through much of the 19th century in Europe as Oriental
aliens, had a right to be citizens. Besides, it has turned out, Jews
have great aptitude for rationality. Their culture has condi­
tioned them to prize it and to acquire its skills. What happened
then when the Talmud
kop
arrived at the university is now so­
cial history and a small human miracle. Thus, ethics and self-
interest—a wondrously strong combination—joined to make ra­
tionality seem the necessary foundation of Jewish equality. This
made any talk of a Jewish existentialism seem hideously regres­
sive.
TH E ANT I-EX ISTENTIAL IST A TT ITUD E
I now also see in this anti-existentialist attitude a variety of
German cultural bias. Despite the fact that almost all the lead­
ing Jewish teachers of a generation ago had East European back­
grounds, they learned their Western scholarly skills at German
universities and adopted German models for modern Jewishness.
In part, this Germanic outlook remains a source of our intellec­
tual strength. T o this day in Jewish scholarly circles no amount
of research or substantiation ever satisfies our demand for manu­
script comparisons and philosophical analysis. The combination
of
Litvishe masmidus,
Lithuanian scholarly devotion, and Ger­
manic meticulousness has created extraordinarily high criteria
for Jewish scholarship.