The Isolation Or Erosion Of Orthodox Judaism

Beware lest any man. spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, ajier the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8).

The heart and soul of Orthodox Judaism is its evolutionary ethical character, not its explicit theology. So radical is this process theology that Orthodox Jews believe that God Himself is continually engaged in a study of His own law, in association with the souls of deceased Jews. This goes on in the Academy on High - a concept so preposterous that modern Jewish scholars downplay it, describe it as merely a metaphor, and refuse to consider the possibility that Jews once took the Talmud and the Old Testament as literally inspired. (Liberalism of ancient texts and ancient religious beliefs is simply not permitted to the founders of still-existing Western religions by those who still want the prestige, communal stability, and tenured security provided by the skeptical heirs of these still-literalistic religions.) The uninitiated — a very important word — cannot easily understand this commitment to process. Rabbi Louis Finkelstein was the head of the Jewish Theological Society of America. In his 1961 introduction to the reprint of Solomon Schechter's Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1901), he writes:

The view that inquiry into the nature and requirements of

Torah is more than a human need, being a cosmic process, is even more difficult to communicate to the uninitiated. Doubtless that is why Schechter did not include in his book any discussion of the fundamental Rabbinic concept of the Academy on High. The' belief that study of the Torah is one of the Deity's main concerns, and that God Himself is each day expanding the scope and insight of Torah, engaging in this labor in association with the souls of the saints who have departed mortal life, is a theological metaphor; but for the Rabbinic scholars the metaphor represented reality - the profoundest of all realities.

That the Torah is at once perfect and perpetually incomplete; that like the Universe itself it was created to be a process, rather than a system - a method of inquiry into the right, rather than a codified collection of answers; that to discover possible situations with which it might deal and to analyze their moral implications in the light of its teachings is to share the labor of Divinity — these are inherent elements of Rabbinic thought, dominating the manner of life it recommends. ]

Judaism is a religion that historically has spent very little time on systematic theology and philosophy. "Inherent logical unity can be forced on Judaism only at the cost of distortion," writes Finkel-stein.2 It is a religion that spends very little time on theology and philosophy. Maimonides in this sense was a self-conscious excepto this tradition. This is one reason why Orthodox Jewish scholars have been nervous about Maimonides from the beginning: Guide of the Perplexed has always been perceived as just too philosophical for comfort, too Aristotelian for reliability, however tight a grip his Strong Hand has maintained on their thinking.3 This, despite the fact that he warned the reader, "I adjure - by God, may he be exalted! — every reader of this Treatise of mine not to comment upon a single word of it and not to explain to another anything in it save that which has been explained and commented

1. Louis Finkelstein, "Introduction to New Edition," Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (New York Schocken, 1961), pp. xix-xx.

3. For example, Maimonides insisted that "this divine science cannot become actual except after a study of natural science." Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, 2 vols. (University of Chicago Press, 1963),5% I, p. 9.

upon in the words of the famous Sages of our Law who preceded me. "4

Judaism is overwhelmingly a religion defined by a system of evolving rules of conduct. Again, Christians have not understood this, for they mistakenly equate Judaism with the fixed rules of the Old Testament. Danby is correct in his evaluation: "The Mishnah is not a finally authoritative corpus of the beliefs and practices of Judaism: it is of the nature of Judaism that it can have no such thing. 'The Law', which alone is Jewish doctrine, has in it an inherent principle of development which, while holding fast to the foundations laid down in the Mosaic legislation, makes it intolerant of dogmatic definition or set credal forms."5

Evolving Ethics and Cultural Suicide

It is this anti-dogmatism and anti-credalism that is the inescapable fact of Judaism's history, which today threatens to overwhelm mainstream Judaism, just as a very similar theological relativism has very nearly overwhelmed mainstream Christianity. But Christianity has always had an institutional advantage over Orthodox Judaism: it is both credal and judicial, both dogmatic and ethical. Its doctrine of the covenant proclaims fixed biblical laws at its third point.6 The revival of Christian casuistry that is presently taking place7 proclaims self-consciously the authoritative character of the Old Testament's ethical principles and, as my economic commentary on the Bible indicates, the contemporary applicability of the letter of Old Testament law as well.

The evolutionary judicial character of Judaism has led to the near-destruction of Orthodoxy's influence in Western Judaism. The dual social forces of Western capitalism and secularism estab-

5. Herbert Danby, "Introduction," The Mishnah (New York: Oxford University Press, [1933] 1987), pp. xv-xvi.

6. Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987),ch, 3.

7. Irefer here to Christian Reconstruction or theonomy.

institutional and philosophical foundations that have steadily undermined Talmudic religion and culture. The more ethically evolutionary any particular worldview has been, the more rapidly it has succumbed to this powerful pair of social forces. Judaism was especially vulnerable.

The factor that most threatened Orthodox Judaism was industrial society's growing toleration. In the mid-nineteenth century, when Jews in Western Europe and the United States began to enter the new industrial capitalist world, they found that the older discriminatory legal barriers had been progressively weakened by the new forces of economic competition. An individual's economic productivity in an open ("impersonal")8 competitive market is judged apart from considerations of his religious affiliation. To the extent that non-market forms of racial or religious discrimination persist, those who discriminate against economically efficient employees or suppliers (or - much more rare - buyers) must pay a price for their actions: reduced income because of reduced efficiency.9 The free market penalizes economically all those who discriminate on any basis except price and quality of output. Price competition has always been fundamental to the spread of free market capitalism, 10 and Jews became masters of competitive pricing. " Jews began to move out of the ghetto. The ghetto's walls, both literal and figurative, came tumbling down.

Jewish legal scholar Menachem Elon has argued that it was

8. On the proper and improper use of the term "impersonal" to describe market economies, see Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (2nd cd.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), pp. 9-11.

9. "The least prejudiced sellers will come to dominate the market in much the same way as people who are least afraid of heights come to dominate occupations that require working at heights They demand a smaller premium." Richard A. Posner, Economic Analysis of Law (Boston: Little, Brown, 1986), p. 616.

10. Max Weber, General Economic History, trans. Frank H. Knight (New York Collier, [1920] 1966), p. 230.

11. The common phrase, "he Jewed me down," points to this phenomenon of the Jew as a price-cutter. If one were to say, "he Jewed me up," it would make no sense. The Jew as the price-cutting haggler is universally recognizable, but not the Jew as the price-gouger. He is resented by people in their capacity as producers and retail the Jews' system of separate civil courts that was crucial to the maintenance of the autonomy of Jews as a people. When judicial emancipation began in eighteenth-century Western Europe, this autonomous character of Judaism began to erode. Jews were increasingly entitled to civil justice in secular civil courts, and they took advantage of this revolutionary development. Jewish commercial law and other areas of "secular world" law began to This secularism began to undermine the foundations of Orthodox Judaism12 - a term which itself was the product of the process of change.13 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch asked the key question which most Jews have refused to face: "What would you have achieved if you became free Jews, and you ceased to be Jews?"14 Nevertheless, his own efforts to integrate the techniques and findings of modem science and philosophy with Judaism eventually led to a reduced resistance of Orthodox Judaism to secularism, as surely as Aquinas' analogous efforts had done for Christianity seven centuries earlier.

The Faustian Bargain

From the New Testament period to the present, the lure of pagan philosophy has proven irresistible to Jews, as it has also for Christians. Out of Greek philosophy came Hellenism, and Hellenism's influence on early rabbinic Judaism was very great. 15 Never sellers, not as consumers. Gentiles are always looking for the elusive "Jewish brother-in-law deal."

It is not random that the four ethnic groups that are thought of as price-cutters have had decidedly biblical backgrounds: the Dutch ("Dutch treat" dates are those in which the girl pays), the Scots, the Armenians, and the Jews.

12. Menachem Elon, "Introduction," in Elon (cd.), The Principles of Jewish Lou) (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975),col. 35.

13. It was Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch who accepted the term "Orthodox" which had been used as an epithet by secular Jews in the mid-nineteenth century. I. Grunfeld, Samson Raphael Hirsch - The Man and His Mission," in Judaism Eternal: Selected Essays from theWritings of Samson Raphael Hirsch (London: Soncino Press, 1956), p. xlvii.

15. Martin Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenic Period, 2 vols. (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1974).

theless, the impact of pagan philosophy in Judaism was less direct in the Middle Ages, probably due to the isolation ofJews from the surrounding gentile Christian culture. It is not surprising that the path of Greek philosophy into late medieval Judaism, and then into Christianity, was by way of Islam, especially through Maimonides. Aristotle came to Paris through Cairo and Spain.

For centuries, Talmudic Judaism resisted the rational categories of pagan wisdom, despite The Guide of the Perplexed. But with S. R. Hirsch in the mid-nineteenth century, the epistemological barriers began to break down.16 This process of cultural and intellectual assimilation accelerated rapidly in twentieth-century America, especially after the Second World War. The most prestigious American universities opened their doors to all those who could compete academically, and Jews surely could compete. They at last gained equal access to the professional schools — law, medicine, architecture — as well as to the Ph. D-granting graduate schools. The price they were asked to pay, however, was very high. Too high. The universities offered a Faustian bargain to Jews (and also to Bible-believing Christians): "You may go as high as your brains can carry you, just so long as you leave your religion off campus. " Most academically oriented Jews could not resist this offer.17 Intermarriage with the gentiles whom they met on campus was also nearly inevitable. Cohen's remarks are on target: "The Jew, in joining the West, no longer joined a Christian West, for he did not join a church wedded to a society. . . . The Jew joined an already de-Christianizing West, and as part of the bargain he agreed — foolishly — to de-Judaize. " 18 What Nazi Germany's poli

16. I. Grunfeld, "Samson Raphael Hirsch - The Man and His Mission," in

Judaism Eternal.

17. A very effective presentation of this post-1940 transformation of Judaism is found in the Chaim Potok's novel and the movie based orT it, The Chosen. In the early 1960's, Potok served as editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America' translation of the Hebrew Bible. Potok, "The Bible's Inspired Art," New York Times Magazine (C)ct. 3, 1982), p. 63.

18. Arthur A. Cohen, The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (New York Schocken, 1971), p. 186.

tics had not achieved in the 1930's, Prussia's earlier export of the academic state certification system did achieve: the suppression of traditional religion through the enthusiastic co-operation of the suppressed. Secular education is the humanist world's hoped-for "final solution" for both orthodox Christianity and Orthodox Judaism.

In the twentieth century, the tide has rapidly flowed against Talmudic Judaism; first the Nazis and then secularism uprooted Orthodox Judaism. Higher criticism of the Bible has produced the same bitter fruit of skepticism and liberalism in Jewish circles that it has produced in Christian circles. 19 There was not only bitter fruit but also forbidden fruit to be eaten. By the millions, they have feasted on this forbidden fruit. Schechter was correct: biblical higher criticism was in fact the "higher anti-Semitism," for it obliterated the official foundation of the Jewish experience.20 But this was a case of the hermeneutical chickens coming home to roost, for Judaism had long undermined this original foundation through its ever-evolving traditionalism.

Traditional Judaism's ethical rules began to change, and there

19. The Jewish scholar most responsible for the introduction of higher criticism into Jewish curricula was the extraordinary linguist, Julian Morgenstern, who also served as president of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, after 1921. Born in 1881, he was still writing scholarly essays in the mid- 1960s in the Hebrew Union College Annual {"TheHasidim - Who Were They?" HUCA,XXXVIII, 1967.) Indicative of his extent of his life's work was his four-part study, "The Book of the Covenant." Part I appeared in the 1928 issue; Part II appeared in 1930; Part III in 193 1-32; and Part IV in 1962. He was elected president of the American Oriental Society in 1928-29 and president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 1941. "Morgenstem assumed a position of pre-eminence as a philosopher and theoretician of Reform Judaism. . . . Modem developments, he showed convincingly, are only the latest manifestations of the adjustments that have taken place over and over whenever Judaism has come into contact with a superior culture." Morris Lieber-man, "Julian Morgenstern - Scholar, Teacher and Leader," Hebrew Unwn College Annual, XXXII (1962), p. 6. Morgenstem was a dedicated humanist and internationalist. Cf. Morgenstem, "Nationalism, Universalist, and World Religion," in Charles Frederick Walker (cd.), World Fellowship, Addresses and Messages by Leading Statesmen of All Faiths, Races and Countries (New York Liveright, 1935). This was his address to the second Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1933.

20. Cohen, Myth of Judeo-Christian Tradition, p. xviii.

fore the whole religion had to change. Reform Judaism launched a successful intellectual attack on Orthodox Judaism in the early decades of the nineteenth century, leading to the steady isolation of the defenders of old Pharisee tradition, and in the twentieth century, secular Judaism and Conservative Judaism have become the dominant traditions. Orthodox Judaism today retains very little influence outside of the state of Israel. Reform Judaism and conservative Judaism are overwhelmingly dominant in the West. Secular Jews seem to be the norm today, as far as gentiles can discern. (The most memorable description I have ever read regarding the outlook of secular Jews regarding Judaism is Lis Harris' description of her family, "fires whose home team was the Jews.")21 Anti-credalism giveth, and anti-credalism taketh away.

The Crisis of Modem Judaism

The crisis of modem Judaism is today the crisis of humanism. Rushdoony identified the underlying problem a generation ago: "Judaism grew out of the rejection of Jesus Christ and steadily became humanism, and the Talmud is essentially the exposition of humanism under the facade of Scripture. There is thus actually no true theism, or worship of the absolute God, apart from orthodox Christianity."22 Thus, when humanism offered Jews the visible blessings of increasing their participation in secular culture, very few Jews resisted. They already shared too many of the presuppositions of the humanists: dialecticism, evolutionary ethics, the open-endedness of scholarly debate, and the need for an educated elite for social advancement.

We all need to remember that the first full-scale move to emancipate the Jews politically came during the French Revolution. This was an aspect of the French religion of democracy; it was also part of the revolutionaries' war against the church. It was an aspect of French political messianism, to use J. L. Talmon's

21. Lis Hams, Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family (New York: Summit Books, 1985), p. 17.

felicitous phrase.23 It was also, again citing Talmon - part of the origins of totalitarian democracy .24 How could the Jews be left outside the democratic process? Their messianic exclusivist could not be allowed to resist the all-encompassing process of absorption into the universal classification of "citizen." Rosenstock-Huessy is on target: "The national messianism of the French had to outbid the messianism embodied by the Jews themselves. The French could not bear that any nation should be more messianic than their own."25

The sweeping victory of revolutionary ideas in Western Europe under Napoleon and after made the emancipation of the Jews inevitable. But there was the quid pro quo: "The process of the assimilation of the Jews followed upon their emancipation: it was their grateful answer to the emancipation. . . . The emancipation of the Jews was a stroke of the pen on the part of the respective legislators; the assimilation of the Jews was their attempt to answer this opening of the doors of Europe. Most of them simply entered the doors of modern Europe. . . ,"26 It was this which made the Jews the allies of liberalism,27 an alliance which still persists in the

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