Delivered before the annual assembly of the Central Conference
of American Rabbis in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 16, 1965
should be obvious to us that we have been living in an age of
political reaction ever since the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
There is less liberty today for small states, less respect for
the sanctity of the individual and his personality. When I think
of what happened in Germany during the 1930's and 1940's, I
am almost inclined to believe that the period between the French
Revolution and World War I was only a brief modern interlude
and that medievalism is still very much alive. Our present-day
world, however, is different because there have been great technological
"advances"a revolution in com-munications and
transportation, for instancewhich make it possible to
wage total war throughout the whole earth. Speedy accessibility
easily enables great empires to rise and confront each other.
Thus, two colossal states are at this moment arrayed against
each other, the United States and the Soviet Union. For the
first time in its history, our republic is faced with a serious
foreign threat to its way of life. In order to save itself,
it is compelled to consolidate all its forces against the enemy.
In a somewhat similar situation, the Syrian Empire of Antiochus
Epiphanes sought to integrate all its religio-ethnic elements
when it found itself menaced by the emergent Romans.
Our fear of the Russians and the hostility of almost two billion
Asians toward America explain, in part, the rise of an ecumenical
movement among the Christians. It is an attempt to save the
Judaeo-Christian way of life with all of its social, economic,
and religious implications. The success of this ecumenical movement
is fraught with important consequences for us. It may, for the
first time in history, bring Jews and Christians together in
an almost messianic sense. On the other hand, however, if it
succeeds in uniting all Christians, the end result may well
be a de facto establishment of Christianity in this country.
We ought not to forget that the first time Christianity became
the monopolistic faith of a great empire that was in
the fourth century Roman citizens who happened to be
Jews found themselves after two centuries second-class subjects
of a medieval state.
These possibilities should lead us to reflect. We already are
an apprehensive people. The anti-Semitism that arose in this
country during the 1920s and the German Holocaust that
followed drove American Jews to recreate for themselves a medieval-type
community. Some call it Jewish suburbia; I call it a postprandial
physical and psychological haven where we can enjoy the security
of our own philanthropic, medical, recreational, vocational,
and educational agencies. We can even look forward or
backward to our own all-day schools in the two great
megalopolises which will extend from Baltimore to Boston and
from San Diego to San Francisco. The Christianization of these
United States will only immure us the more firmly though
comfortably enough behind our unwalled ghettos with their
automated bowling alleys and their kosher snack bars.
Fortunately we live in two worlds. The one I have just described
is the Jewish ethnic community; the other is our American world.
Most of us, even rabbis, are really more Americanistic than
Judaistic. The result of this double impact is that, ever since
the gates of immigration were closed, there has been emerging,
out of the welter of a dozen different Jewries on this soil,
the typical new Jew of tomorrow. He represents a fusion of much
that is good both in Judaism and in American culture.
With apologies to Crèvecoeur I ask: "What then is
the American Jew, this new man?" Through intermarriage
and the physical environment, he no longer looks Jewish
whatever that is. He is a college graduate who has about fifteen
times as many chances as his Gentile neighbor to win a Nobel
Prize in the sciences. If he is an ambitious layman interested
in Jewish life, he will attempt to secure control of his communal
and synagogal apparatus and rival the rabbi as the town's representative
Jew. The Jew of tomorrow will be a white-collared, self-employed
business or professional man. Politically he will be a "democrat"
with a small "d" wary of any attempt to modify
the American Constitution in the direction of the Christian
state. Jewishly, his intelligent child in the religious school
will know more about the development of Jewish history and Judaism
than even the medieval Rashi or Maimonides could have known.
In his evening ethnic enclave, our typical Jew will toler-antly
accept every other Jew all the way from the ear locked
Hasid to the inverted Marrano, all the way from the pietist
for whom the Baal Shem Tov still walks the earth to the man
who, though overtly a Jew, is at heart a Christian without the
courage to secede from the Jewish community. Because of his
religious education, his participation in a host of Jewish activities,
and his immersion in a Jewish world, his sense of kinship for
Jews will be a universal one. As a cultured, liberal-minded
gentleman, he will have a profound concern for all peoples and
their problems in every corner of the world. At the risk of
being accused of filiopietism, I would venture the statement
that there will be no more civilized human being than the typical
American Jew of tomorrow.
But what of religion? The new Jew will belong to a synagogue
which he will join because of the imperative demands of the
American ethos. Still there is always the hope and the
chance that those who join perfunctorily will remain
to pray. Orthodoxy in the generations to come will decline;
Classical Reform, too, will become a minority viewpoint, and
the typical American Jew, whether he calls himself a NeoReformer
or a Conservative, will gradually evolve a common type of practice
and belief. The religious service will be characterized by complete
decorum with its Christian sepulchral silences. The Protestantization
of this new American Jewish worship will be documented increasingly
by the use of English, art music, a choir, an organ, the family
pew, and a pulpit facing the audience rather than God in the
ark. Our orientation is anthropocentric, not theocentric. Skullcaps
will be worn in many shrines, but their minuscule size will
document eloquently our advancing assimilation.
But what about theology? How many laymen are even today concerned
about the great issues of God, reward and punishment, and theodicy?
It is sufficient to say that they are all against sin. But rabbis
are concerned with theology, and the new homogenized faith of
the next generation will reflect itself in the English prayers,
translations, and paraphrases that will confront the Hebrew
side of the liturgical page. On the whole, the new Jew will
find himself committed to a broad humanitarian universalism
of the highest ethical character.
And now, for a minute or two, let me throw away the historian's
hat and speak simply for myself. What do I want for Reform?
I want it to continue to be what it is: the largest truly liberal
religious movement in the world today. If I may parody a phrase
of Sir Walter Scott, I am proud of the fact that the sun never
sets on a Reform Jewish congregation. Yet today we are no longer
in the van of progress. We have made a religious truce with
the Jewish masses for fear of offending them. Conformity is
the order of the day; the spark of an evangelical fire has almost
died. Many Reform Jewish leaders honestly believe that Orthodoxy,
Conservatism, and Reform are equally valid, but I do not believe
in a triple truth, in a triune Judaism. Our attitude toward
the basic sources of our faith must be reverential, but always
critical. The Bible, the Talmud, the great codes like the Shulhan
Aruk reflect, in large part, primitive cultural and economic
backgrounds in which illiteracy was the rule not the exception.
Jewish tradition must be a quarry out of which we will carve
new truths, not millstones.
What do I want? I want Reform to stop thinking in terms of expediency,
to remember always that its obligation is to be true to itself.
I want it to reject the concept of the static, the authoritarian,
the mechanical performance of obligatory traditional forms.
I want it to emphasize constantly the spiritual and the ethical.
Our American Jewish faith is and should remain a unique combination
of piety, learning, modern western culture, and selected elements
of traditional religious practice freely chosen by the individual.
I want every Jew to continue to write his own Shulhan Aruk,
to help develop a faith that will appeal through its rationality,
its humanity, its beauty, in an age of reaction, fear, and panic-stricken
surrender of man's faith in himself. I still believe in man,
who, I was taught, is but little lower than the angels. The
challenge to us as Reformers is once more to turn our faces
to the future, to liberalize American Jewry, and to attempt
to win for our cause every synagogue in these United States.
I am tired of belonging to a minority. I want Reform to become
the Judaism of this land, the majority movement. It can be done:
all it requires is imagination, indomitable courage, and a sincere
belief in the validity and primacy of one's own cause. So much
for Marcus and his antediluvian liberalism.
Let us return now to the realm of history. Will our grandchildren
survive as Jews? We are daily increasing in numbers. That is
incontrovertible. Of course we are intermarrying and converting
out, but there are compensations through the children of those
marriages who remain with us, and proselytes to Judaism are
by no means uncommon. Ultimately, in a generation or two, I
expect, we will begin to decline numerically, but that should
not disturb us. Numbers are not vital: the numbers game is the
American idolatry. How often have we been a majority in the
past? No period ever nourished a more desperately devoted Jewish
people than the Dark Ages when we were but a pitiful handful.
German Jewry, numbering less than one percent of the population
in the century before the Holocaust, contributed more to Jewish
learning than any Jewry of the last two thousand years. It is
quality that counts.
Ours is a great Jewry, one destined to become even greater.
We American Jews manifest our interest in our fellow Jews in
a fashion unparalleled in all Jewish history. We spend one billion
dollars for Jewish communal services every twenty-one months.
In the last fifteen years, we have sent one thousand million
dollars across the seas. All things considered, this is the
greatest philanthropic feat in all history. We have developed
a network of schools, teachers' colleges, seminaries, universities,
and yeshibot. We have created museums, tremendous libraries
of Hebraica and Judaica, newspapers and magazines, Hillel Foundations,
and youth camps. The Jewish education of each successive generation
is improving steadily even in the area of Hebrew. At this moment
there are greater Talmudists in New York City than there are
in Jerusalem. I was shocked recently to walk into a Reform congregation
in Texas deep in the heart of assimilation and
to hear the religious school children read the weekly portion
from the unvocalized Scroll. I was also gratified. I want more
Hebrew, much more, but may I remind you that the most important
book in all Jewish life, the Talmud, was written in the vernacular
- and - parenthetically, the Bible, too, was written in a vernacular.
There is no magic in Hebrew itself; if there were, every Haifa
stevedore would be a potential Isaiah, and I have my doubts.
There has never been any land in the world where adult education
has flowered as it has on these shores in this very generation.
Every year dozens if not hundreds of books are rolling off our
presses in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. From the vantage point
of my ivory tower, I can see a tremendous efflorescence of Jewish
culture. We have already entered into a Golden Age. The American
Jew of the next generation will survive to be enriched by our
comparatively free society; he will be more generous, more tolerant,
more educated, and in Jewish terms more broadly
knowledgeable than his grandfather.
In the days of our grandfathers, there was a Cincinnatian who
once owned a horse, a buggy, and a farm. His name was Isaac
Mayer Wise, and he was president of the Hebrew Union College.
When he drove back to his home in the country, the journey might
well have taken an hour. In another ten or twenty years, we
who are here today will travel from Los Angeles to New York
in that same space of time. It is obvious that, when all American
Jewry is but an hour or two apart, a nationally organized community
will ensue. Since the 1920's, we have been developing nationwide
over - all agencies for social welfare, education, fund raising,
religion, recreation, newsgathering, and the defense of our
civil liberties. There is as yet no waad hamishim arazot, no
American Jewish assembly to coordinate all work on a countrywide
scale, but it will come to pass. It is imperative; it is inevitable.
A group of men in the past few years has effected a union of
American Jewish national organizations to work solely for Israel.
This also happened in a somewhat similar fashion during World
War I and World War II in the guise of an American Jewish Congress
and an American Jewish Conference. If a Conference of Presidents
of Major American Jewish Organizations is permanently established,
I hope that our representative leaders will employ it as an
instrumentality to aid all Jews in all lands and also to help
us solve our problems here.
When I lived as a teenager in Farmington, West Virginia, I,
too, drove a horse and buggy, but now I travel by plane. In
1962, on returning from a trip to Israel, I left Jerusalem one
morning and slept in my own bed in Cincinnati that same night.
(May I interject parenthetically that I still do not believe
that Elijah ever went to heaven in a chariot!) This annihilation
of space and time, I have already intimated, will have tremendous
consequences for all peoples and for us, too, of course. If
the United States is being internally integrated and fused,
it is the better to protect itself here and to further itself
abroad. An empire's backyard may be six thousand miles away.
This country is being driven by the dynamism of its very nature
to make a thrust for power in Latin America, and in the Afro-Asian
complex of lands. It is a new form of Manifest Destiny which
one may well call the Pax Americana, the compulsion and the
need of this Empire to maintain international stability in order
to survive and to salvage its cherished values. The Jews of
these United States, like all groups in America whether
they be ethnic, economic, or religious are employed,
wittingly or unwittingly, as instruments to implement the Pax
Americana. They are lending themselves to this end, for, as
they help our country to reach its international goals, they
seek at the same time to bring authority, harmony, and order
into World Jewry. Let us constantly bear in mind that we are
the largest, wealthiest, and most cultured Jewry in the world,
and the exercise of hegemony by one Jewish settlement over others
has been typical in Jewish life for almost two thousand years.
Noblesse oblige. It is our responsibility to assume leadership,
and indeed we have not evaded this obligation.
It is fascinating to peek at history and to watch it at work.
In this effort to provide world leadership and to exercise control
from the vantage point of this land, various American Jewish
agencies are reaching out politically, philanthropically, and
religiously into Europe and the rest of the world. The American
Jewish Committee has created an international consultative council.
The Zionists, the American Jewish Congress, and the Bnai
Brith have united in a rival World Conference of Jewish
Organizations (COJO); the Reformers, the Conservatives, and
even the Orthodox are establishing international denominational
unions. In 1492, as the Jews fled from Spain, they were robbed,
killed, raped by their cruel hosts, and rejected heartlessly
even by some Jews to whom they had appealed for help. Today,
however, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with
branches in a dozen countries has salvaged over two hundred
thousand Jews in Egypt and Algeria alone.
This work of American Jewish organizations abroad reflects more
than American political imperialism and the proud exercise of
our spiritual hegemony over other Jewries. I am convinced that
American Jewish societies working abroad are, perhaps subconsciously,
probing and preparing the way for the rise of new Jewish settlements
that may be needed someday to sustain and lead the Jewish people.
American Jewry is studying South America and its opportunities.
If the future lies with the Brown Peoples, then some sort of
pied-à-terre must be found in the Far East. If civilization
in the Atlantic Basin is declining and I do not say that
it is then it can shift only to the Pacific, which embraces
a billion human beings. Los Angeles, then, with its hundreds
of thousands of Jews, with its Jewish religious seminaries and
colleges, will have a great future on a coast that faces Asia.
American Jewry has established a Standing Conference on European
Jewish Community Services. Do we sense, then, with our delicate
historical antennae, that a United States of Europe may yet
arise, powerful enough to maintain the values of a Jewish-Christian
civilization and to act as a buffer against the bronze new world
of two billion Marxists and other non--Christians, who have
dedicated themselves to emancipation from the West and also
perhaps to the ultimate subjection of the white peoples of Western
Europe and the Western Hemisphere? And, if this powerful new
Europe comes into being, shall we return to Germany, that land
of scientific geniuses and moral monsters? Yet we returned,
did we not, to France and to England, whose cruelties in the
Middle Ages can be paralleled only by the horrors and inhumanities
of a modern Germany. A great new European Jewish cultural center
is well within the realm of probability.
But why should we probe for new centers in other lands? Have
we not Israel, the second largest free Jewry in the world today,
colossus-like astride the Asian and African continents, facing
both East and West? It is for us, in one respect, the most important
of all countries, for it is the only place in the world where
a Jew may go as of right. The gates of these United States,
the "haven and asylum for the oppressed of all the world,"
were closed in 1924, and our people were left to perish by the
millions in the European furnaces. In effect, these gates remain
closed. The land of Israel, this city of refuge, must be helped
and maintained at all costs. The help I have in mind is not
merely monetary; I am thinking of the general educational level
of its masses. No Jewish community can rise above its own secular
academic background, and there are thousands upon thousands
of untutored Asians and North Africans in the Promised Land.
As religionists, as liberals, as Western intellectuals, we cannot
submit ourselves spiritually to the Israelis at this hour. We
dare not be assimilated by them. I hold it irrational for American
Jewry to submit voluntarily to a culture that is not yet developed
in a state that may not survive, a state kept alive by a coldly
impersonal American government, which uses Israel as a pawn
for American purposes in the eastern Mediterranean and as a
sop to an aroused American Jewish electorate. Israel must be
exposed to our concept of Diaspora religion. We, not they, are
in the mainstream of Judaism. Our religion, for two thousand
years, has been a Diaspora faith; we have as great a claim as
theirs perhaps a greater claim to the inheritance
of Poland, Spain, Babylon, and even Palestine. With the passage
of the years, the new Israeli republic will of ineluctable necessity
develop its own national ethos. Even if as I hope, its culture
rises above the parochial, I, as a historian, must reckon with
the possibility that Israel will at best fashion a secular humanistic
faith rooted in traditional folkways. Such a faith cannot be
ours. Certainly it is not my intention to dismiss as trivial
the achievements of the Israelis, but the new Jewish state cannot
speak for us, dream for us, or contain us religiously. We are
a kingdom of priests who have never abdicated. We do not believe
in a vicarious Judaism. No land, not these United States, not
Israel, not any country, can sum up all of our hopes for humanity.
I am tired of being the eternally Wandering Jew. Can I not hold
onto this little plot of ground that we call Israel? Do I not
have an everlasting heritage in this good and fair land that
history knows as the United States of North America? If not,
then what have I left? You all know the answer as well as I.
There are no guarantees of permanence or prosperous viability
for any Jewish settlement, not for Israel and not for this great
Jewry of ours on these Western shores. Great empires rise in
a generation and fall in a generation. In our own day, we have
seen the decline and even the annihilation of nearly every Jewry
on the European, African, and Asian continents. Some were a
thousand years in the making. Chariots cannot save us, horses
cannot save us, Israel cannot save us, unless the whole tiny
contracting Jewish world becomes one Israel. The only Israel
upon which we can lay all our hopes is Kelal Yisrael (the Whole
of Jewry). From the vantage point of our own American republic,
we Jews here must respond to the challenge of historical circumstance
we must reach out to exercise hegemony over World Jewry
and at the same time prepare new homes for our people. Ultimately
every Jewry meets its fate; this is the inexorable law of history.
But there must always be a new spot somewhere else in the world
where Torah, learning, tradition will live on this earth as
long as one single Jew survives. To provide for it, to prepare
for it, is our most sacred obligation to our deathless people.
Our only salvation as a religious community lies in our omniterritoriality.
The Talmud and Rashi made this crystal clear: "God so loved
the Jews that he scattered them among the nations that they
might not all be destroyed at one time" (Pesahim 87b with
And yet our kingdom is not of this world. It lies not in any
physical state, not on any Mount Zion. Yet Zion is salvation:
it is the next hill across the horizon. "I lift mine eyes
unto the hills." What is Zion? It is the will to survive:
"I shall not die but live and declare the works of the
Lord." Zion is the dogged determination to help every Jew
everywhere: to teach him our ancestral way of life, to emphasize
our age-old heritage, our respect for learning, our common faith.
It is the determination to give him the best of what we have
inherited and to pass on this new American Jewish culture that
it may become another link in an unending chain of Jewish tradition.
But Zion is even more than all this. It even towers majestically
over the Jew and the Jewish people and dwarfs their petty historical
aspirations. When the last word has been said, it is an irrepressible
faith in the future of a divinely inspired world where every
human being, black and white, Jew and Gentile, is entitled to
a place in the sun. It is the trumpet of truth for a kingdom
of priests who are no hireling ministry. It is a ringing prayer
and a fervent hope that a day may yet come when they will not
hurt nor destroy in all this holy mountain, for the earth, the
whole wide world, with its love and hates, its joys and tragedies,
its laughter and tearful sobs, will yet be full of the knowledge
of God as the waters cover the seas.