Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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deal of the spiritual unease in our community has come from
the collapse of our old rationalist styles of understanding our
Jewishness and our resistance, for all our talk of person, free­
dom and self-fulfillment, to replacing them with patterns of
Jewish existentialist thinking.
Such cultural lag, however, is not the most significant mood
among us. What has surprised and delighted our community in
the past couple of years has been the sizable minority of Jews,
particularly young Jews—the ones we always worry are lost to
us—who are now, quite self-consciously, trying to live as Jews.
Many factors have contributed to this return: the State of Is­
rael and the Six-Day War; anti-Semitism and the loss of confi­
dence in secularity; the ethnic revival in America and the posi­
tive effect of Jewish schools and camps. But underlying all these
I see the triumph of the existentialist way of looking at being a
Jew. When, as the rationalists used to say, the essence of Juda­
ism is its ideas, one could see one’s Jewishness largely as proper
thinking or the pursuit of culture. But when being Jewish is
primarily a matter of where one grounds one’s self, then Jewish­
ness is involved in all one’s life and surely requires explicit, par­
ticular expression in much of it. So I see Jewish existentialism
over the past 25 years as having raised Jewish consciousness to
the point that some of us now consciously will, from the depths
of our being, to be Jews, and thus to find ways to live as Jews.
It is for such people that one creates
The Jewish Catalog
to offer
to the Jewish will the many options available in traditional and
modern ways of expressing one’s Jewishness.
I rejoice in this new Jewish style. It has secured for us a new-
old meta-halachic stance, a faith that motivates us to Jewish liv­
ing. With some touch of grace, the forms which will result, if
we can have some social stability, may become the accepted forms
of American Jewish doing which will be our sort of “halachah.”
But, as I said, I share two reservations with the rationalists
about some manifestations of the present existentialist turn. The
first has to do with our continuing commitment to ethics. My
joy at our new, healthy concern with Jewish interests is marred
by seeing how many Jews argue, often with texts which assume
a pre-democratic social context, that Jewish duty is largely ex­