Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

Basic HTML Version

46
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
But the models have also had a bad effect, particularly on the
effort to do contemporary Jewish thought. German Jewish schol­
arship honored only two types, the historian and the philoso­
pher. So, by derivation, these disciplines have been the only ones
acceptable in American Jewish intellectual circles. I do not deni­
grate either of these noble enterprises. But surely, it is one thing
to be expert in tracing the history of an idea and quite another
to analyze whether we ought still to believe in it. We respect
the historian for he studies our tradition. But he studies it in
quite an untraditional way. Hence his very discipline is in need
of external Jewish authentication. For that as well as for ques­
tions of contemporary belief, the Germans turned to rationalist
philosophers, like the great Teutonic geniuses Kant and Hegel,
and the schools derived from them. (Much of the attention paid
to Rosenzweig was due to the splash made by his early work on
Hegel. His
Star of Redemption
was largely unread while Buber
was generally ignored.) Moreover, the German thinkers who had
sought to go beyond rationalism, like Nietzsche, appeared to
have given encouragement to German romanticism which, in
turn, had been the seed-bed of Nazism. This surely helped to
make our teachers adamantly anti-existentialist.
Today, the American Jewish community has come to a new
and healthier self-respect for its East European origins. One
might then think that these German intellectual presumptions
would have largely faded from our psyche. I do not find that
to be true with many Jews older than me or of my generation.
They still seem to think that Judaism must essentially have to
do with ideas or concepts, much as Hermann Cohen interpreted
it half a century or so ago. They are puzzled if not disdainful
when one tries to speak of Jewishness, as I have done in
The
Mask Jews Wear
in terms of the ground of the self.
Though I can sympathize with them in two respects, it is now
clear that the rationalist style of understanding Judaism has lost
its hold on our community. Here a comment attributed to Franz
Rosenzweig is in order. The German universities had a so-called
academic quarter hour. Students had to wait at least 15 minutes
after class time if the professor was late in arriving. The Jew­
ish community, Rosenzweig said, has an academic quarter cen­
tury. I t generally gets to know the ideas of its intellectuals about
25 years after they have begun being discussed. I suggest a good