Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

Basic HTML Version

hausted in duty to Jews alone. Self-interest is where our obli­
gation begins. But when, effectively, it stops there, when there
is no concern for minorities other than the Jews, when there is
little interest in the general welfare of the United States, when
international problems are reduced to the needs of the State of
Israel, when we show little involvement in the problems of hu­
manity as a whole, then we have lost a dimension of our Jew­
ishness that our rationalist thinkers rightly showed was implicit
in our tradition and necessarily explicit in any modern state­
ment of it. Commitment to Jewish faith, they taught, does not
delimit conscience but expands it, for it links the strength of
our ethnic particularity to the grandeur and worth of universal
goals. When existentialist Jewishness is used by some people to
validate Jewish being without simultaneously creating a fresh
and broad outreach to all other people in their particularity,
then it demeans the word Jew and diminishes the image of the
God who cares for
though choosing the Jews as a special
Of lesser concern, but still significant to one who, like me,
values thinking though conscious of its limits, is the mindless­
ness of some of what passes for existentialist Jewishness. I sup­
pose every movement deserves to be judged by the sort of vul­
garity it generates, providing, of course, that it is not contrasted
to the best types created by other movements. The worst of the
new Jewishness is its abandonment of learning and analysis to
whatever feels good Jewishly—the classic aberration, momentari­
ly, being Jews who become fundamentalist Christians. True, the
numbers involved are small, despite the extensive publicity. Still
they are symptomatic of a desire to stop thinking after the first
few steps have been taken. I continually run across people who
talk about I-thou relationships who stopped reading Buber’s
classic when he started talking about responsibility and do not
want to hear that he spent his life in detailed philological study
of Jewish and other religious texts, and in confrontation with
the best philosophic and social thinkers of his time.
For the masters, existentialism did not mean less ethics and
undisciplined thinking. Hence, if only to counteract misunder­
standings, we still need a full-scale statement of existentialist
Judaism, the sort that learns from Buber and Rosenzweig, yet
goes beyond them to meet the problems their success and our