From Mr. SAMUEL GRASSE, M.A., BSc., LLB.
To the Editor of THE JEWISH CHRONICLE
SIR,—The Chief Rabbi’s second sermon on the affirmations of Judaism has been quite disappointing, and in many respects even objectionable. Many, as you expressed it in an Editorial note, have been looking to the Chief Rabbi to show “how orthodox Judaism is in no sense Inconsistent with the circumstances and conditions of modern life,” and there are those who have been looking to be shown – as it can be shown – that the fundamentals of Judaism have gained and not lost by the progress which mankind has made in the domain of positive and experimental science. So far, it cannot be said that the expectations of either have been satisfied.
The Chief Rabbi has chosen to postulate as a test of Judaism not only the actuality but also the historical actuality of the Revelation at Sinai. Is such dogmatism really necessary? And in what respect can the authority or validity of Divine inspiration be affected by the extraneous and adventitious circumstances of time and place?
There are many Jews to-day who accept unconditionally the moral and ethical principles of Judaism as being absolute and God-inspired truths; but who, nevertheless, keep a reserved and open mind in regard to the chronicled version of the Revelation. The Chief Rabbi would apparently exclude these from the fold of orthodox Jewry. Many – and not the least reflecting or orthodox of Jews – will prefer to differ from the Chief Rabbi.
Even more unacceptable are the Chief Rabbi’s ideas on the circumstances attendant on the Revelation. The Talmudists, our post-Biblical religious authorities par excellence, have long ago settled the matter of Biblical phraseology. They said: [Hebrew letters] – “The Torah has employed language in terms of human expression.” Such interpretation is not only logical, but alone consistent with the Jewish conception of God. To adhere to a literal rendering of colloquial language or to descend to an argument as to whether God can or cannot speak must sound irreverent to Jews – orthodox or “liberal” – who conceive of Him as the Supreme Intelligence, Infinite and Absolute in all His Attributes, Spiritual and Incorporeal.
May I suggest that the quarrel which orthodox or traditional Jews have with the so-called “Liberal” sect lies mainly in a direction other than that of abstract theological principles. Felsenthal, whom the Chief Rabbi quotes in a foot-note, rightly says that: “Judaism is the composite of the collected thoughts, sentiments and efforts of the Jewish people and is the sum total of all the manifestations of the distinctively Jewish national spirit.” One might add that these thoughts, sentiments and efforts of the Jewish people have found expression in distinctive customs, practices and habits of life; that they have clustered and arranged themselves round events and associations of national interest, and have become hallowed by usage, tradition and the Jewish national consciousness. In shedding, as “Liberal” Jews have shed, this national element of Judaism, they have cut themselves not from the God of Israel – who is the God also of mankind and of the Universe – but from the House of Israel. Whither this severance will ultimately lead them the Chief Rabbi has conclusively shown in logic as in history.
This is the true level upon which the quarrel between Traditional and “Liberal” Jews rests. To force the issue to a higher level is not only unwarranted by the circumstances of the case, but also involves an element of danger as leading to superfluous dogmatism and the consequent encystment of the broader and more universal aspects of Judaism.—Yours faithfully,