3. The Assimilationist
NATURALLY enough, the modern heathens have above all risen against religion. They deny that there is any real difference between G-d, gods, and idols. All forms of faith, all religious creeds, have come to be considered lifeless and useless vestiges of antiquity; and the denial of faith has been made the condition of admission to the circle of the "educated". As a result, every immature youth, every ambitious jack-of-all-trades, every addle-brained follower of the latest political fads, has learned to impress upon his religious friends that he is "past such things as faith"; he all too often confesses or pretends envy at the others' good fortune in being able to "believe"—whilst an arrogant and derisive smile rests on his face.
And some of our Jews? Their people, happy
in its knowledge of G-d, has overcome the doubts
of the skeptical human mind throughout the ages.
Yet these modern Jews allow themselves to be
confused by people who do not believe in G-d
for the simple reason that they cannot put their
hands on Him. Judaism appeared in history as a
radical innovation, challenging ancient paganism
and decisively influencing the rise of its monotheistic
daughter-religions; but today it is declared to be
just one of the manifestations of old-fashioned superstitious backwardness—sometimes
it is even considered the poorest of all. Thus Jews have joined
the most arrogant among all the detractors of religion, and the most fanatic of its enemies. They
pride themselves on being enlightened, even as
they turn blind; they glory in taking the "logical"
step from one G-d to none—whilst in reality it
is they themselves who are thus turned from something into nothing.
HOWEVER, the pagan rebels cannot free themselves altogether from the spirit against which they have risen in revolt. Hence those pitiful compromises which alone they think they can afford. They "seek" G-d, without truly daring and wanting to find Him and to hearken to His voice. Or else they create an image of Him to suit their fancy: a G-d who cannot and will not do anything, and is weaker than the lowliest worm on earth; or one who has no power over the physical universe but has reserved a certain authority in the world of human conduct; one, finally, who is nothing but an impersonal moral law, whose existence we recognize though we do not know the reason for it; or one who merely represents the reflection (megalomanically enlarged) of their own untamed personality.
And some of our Jews? Their people long ago realized that G-d, the master builder of the world and the guide of human ways, is the supreme force in the universe, source of religious guidance and, in particular, of the moral law. Yet these Jews have become adepts at playing at religion: in their hours of penitence "seeking" G-d, like a sensation, or glorying in the invention of a substitute deity.
THE pagan rebels are the sworn foes of religious organization. After all, their this-worldly minds consider man as merely a "political animal" and therefore see meaning only in political ties. They also proffer a religious argument for their view; true religion, they claim, is a purely spiritual attitude, reverence for the ultimate and unexplorable—rigid religious doctrines and groupings are alien to it . . . .
And some of our Jews? Their people received
and proclaimed the idea of a "community dedicated
to G-d" (which should not be confused with the
pagan conception of theocracy). Yet these modern
Jews have no understanding for the miraculous way
in which religiosity, and indeed all culture, is
born from the depths of religious community life.
The criticism of religious organization, to which
they blindly subscribe, may be justifiable in the
case of creeds in which the conflict between pagan
inheritance and Jewish influences has produced
imperfections. But only sheer ignorance and lack of
insight can explain the application of this criticism
to Judaism itself—particularly since this is the only
one of all religious organizations which has the
specific function of holding together one certain
people for a unique life of boundless spirituality.
THE pagan rebels, rejecting religious system and organizations, necessarily also condemn religious ceremonies and symbols. Those who have no religious sentiment at all, appeal to "healthy common sense": "To believe in G-d, well, . . . but to stick to forms?" Others tell us that every religion really consists of two: a formal, visible, earthly one, and an invisible, spiritual one. The former they consider useless and meaningless—or would at least like to adapt it to the demands of modern comfort. The very least which our pagan rebels insist on is the right of every man to be the judge of the various religious forms and symbols, and to choose whichever he feels acceptable. After all (it is said) it is the piety of the human heart, or good deeds, which count; but not ceremonies which can be observed thoughtlessly, or else may be considered by the "pious" to make up for more serious transgressions of the moral law. In proof of this critique of ceremonies the great religious personalities of history are adduced—including the Jewish prophets.
And some of our Jews? To their people the "Law" has never been a formality but, above all, a divine commandment to undertake a lonely pilgrimage of suffering and honor, through the tumult of the nations, to the goal of human perfection. As the Jew has discovered, the discipline of its Law has been the condition for the religious development of millions of individual souls. It produced a multitude of greater and lesser personalities whose religious strength, fervor and devotion, pure simplicity and profound piety, transcended that of men in general. The discipline of the Law turned the potentialities of the Jew into active virtues which put his vices into the shadow. We need only remember his absolute peacefulness, the like of which no pacifist theories or mere ideals of brotherly love have ever produced. Yet children of such a people allow themselves to be fooled by the modem (yet ever so old) error of denying the immense importance of communal religious discipline for the purification of the individual—an illogical conclusion from the undeniable fact that men are apt to abuse symbols and ceremonies.
These modern Jews consider a lack of understanding for religious ceremonies the highest wisdom of their revolutionary spirits; whilst it is in reality due to the uncertainty and weakness of their religious experiences, and to a bourgeois disinclination to sacrifice their comfort to the service of an all-demanding G-d. Many of them do look for spiritual salvation; but they hope to find it in meaningless religious anarchy. A strange contradiction is evident here: on one hand, they reject ceremonies as immaterial, and on the other hand they insist that these ceremonies be modified in order to fit their spiritual content and give better expression to religious sentiment. These religious reformers apparently do have an inkling that forms are the means of expressing eternal ideas; but they do not stop to realize that they cannot, then, be dependent upon the transitory circumstances of life: like their eternal contents, and acting as its tools, they must rather reshape these circumstances and force them into its service. Idea and form are, in fact, inseparably dependent on one another; and the spirit will only break its outward forms when entire nations are suddenly faced by ideas new to them—as in the case of the European peoples challenged by the idea of Judaism (in its Christian garb) .
The fact is exaggerated that man, in his imperfection, often provoked and frightened by the enemies of the ceremonial, has sometimes become too preoccupied with ceremonies to think about their contents. It is forgotten that forms have never killed the spirit if (as in Judaism) they both stem from one origin and were created for one another. The attacks upon the life in the Law come mostly from people who are much too dominated by worldliness to grasp the volcanic religiosity of the observant Jew. These people pour scorn over the all-embracing minutiae of the Law—the steps by which a deeply longing humanity ascends to the divine; yet the same people gladly accept the thousand and one odd and petty conventions of social life.
In reality the structure of Judaism possesses such an inner symmetry and harmony that we cannot let every superficial outsider, every prosaic work-a-day soul, introduce the reforms which comfort and utility suggest to them. Only if there is a spirit of absolute loyalty to our religious inheritance, and the will to maintain it in its entirety, in form and spirit—only then may efforts be made to enrich it by making new contributions to it. What has thus been done in former times by divinely inspired prophets and sages –and endorsed by the community of the faithful– cannot be left today to the arid imagination of those who deny G-d, or to the vapid sentiments of those who "seek" Him. A meaningful judgment on the Jewish inheritance, a real contribution to its enrichment, can only be rendered by those who truly understand the Law because they live in loyalty to it.
Those who do not? The young heathens in modern Jewry, in surrendering to the pagan revolt, have squandered the superior wisdom, the life-pervading love, the well-founded beauty of their inheritance, in exchange for the emptiness, the illusions, the fashionableness of those whom they ape. I see them stare at an empty, meaningless, despiritualized world with a dumb gaze which reveals their own inner nervous, jittery and luckless emptiness—no matter whether they engage in commerce or culture, or both at the same time. I see them hunting for an alien skin in which they might hide; for prestige and recognition in the wide world. I see journalistic nervosity and literary sterility devastate their ranks, losing count of the pitiful victims. I see a cheap kindness which does not oblige, and a cold exercise of charity which drives the poor into a desperate loneliness never known in old Israel. I see sterile political excitement, fashionable snobbery, a sticky cabaret atmosphere, dominate their social life. I note the two-children habit and other pagan customs in this sphere of life.
Not all of these aberrations have affected all pagan Jews to the same degree. More or less secretively, certain virtues have survived among most of them; and in some outstanding personalities, through the force of circumstances, other virtues have even attained a brilliant, if strangely one-sided radiance. Yet on the whole it would seem to me that these modern Jews have found it easy and comfortable to succumb to alien lures—which have done greater harm to them than the pitfalls in Jewish life itself ever did to their forefathers. To forsake one's native inheritance is a dangerous thing; it explains, in a way, why the Jewish pagan has surpassed his non-Jewish models in many respects: he does not share in whatever spiritual capital these still possess . . . and he has wasted his own. He is the perfect rebel, then; and the irony of fate wills it that he has therefore attracted the contempt even of his non-Jewish fellow-rebels—not to speak of the hatred of those Gentiles who are eager to save the Jewish spark in Western society against a pagan reaction. Such a state of affairs has, of course, been exploited by evilness, ignorance, and selfishness, for their anti-Semitic goals—a consequence of his conduct which the heathen Jew does not like to face.