Commentary Magazine


“Northrup” Judaism

To the Editor:

“Northrup’s” version of Judaism (“Judaism in Northrup,” by Evelyn N. Rossman, November) is the result of five causes: criticism (philosophic and scientific criticism of Judaism, leading to rejection); conditions (conditions rendering Jewish living difficult, so that one becomes conditioned to regard it as unimportant); confusion (confusion about principles and practices, resulting from ignorance and misinformation about Judaism); conformism (the tendency of a minority group to conform directly to the ways of the majority, or to adopt a negative attitude to its own culture because of a conscious or subconscious feeling of inferiority); and complacency (the product of a materially sated society, the members of which tend to . . . adopt the path of least resistance, spiritually and intellectually).

The first cause should have been the most important, and perhaps to a few it is, but for most, including intellectuals, it is not the cause. Judaism is not a collection of customs and folkways which should be perpetuated in order to keep the Jewish people alive; but rather the Jewish people should be kept alive in order to perpetuate Judaism. For Judaism is a way of life which aims to make its adherents aware of the purposefulness of the cosmos and the sanctity of life, not solely through teaching and believing but through living.

. . . Many Jewish intellectuals did not trouble to discover a mature version of the essential truths of Judaism because they, too, were afflicted with ignorance of Judaic thinking and with an inverted conformism. They found escape from their minority status by becoming . . . members of an intellectually or socially “liberated” majority.

. . . When Jews are not complacent, they will seek knowledge and challenge. Such Jews will have no difficulty in discovering that a Judaism whose teachers included Moses, Isaiah, Hillel, Maimonides, Israel baal Shem, and Rabbi Abraham Kook, a Judaism which teaches that the world has a purposeful Creator, that man has a moral duty to battle hopefully for righteousness, and that we must sanctify our life through our senses, has at least as much to offer as any other possible alternative. “Northrup” Jewry is no worse than the generations of the prophets. By constant appeal and challenge to the hearts and minds of their contemporaries, the prophets ultimately succeeded in building a spiritually and intellectually alert people. We can do the same, not merely by analysis and disparagement but by challenge and work.

We have tried to do this in our small community of one hundred fifty families. After eight years of effort we are still far from the ideal community, but we have a number of families who are eager to grow—and are growing—out of “Northrup” Judaism. Aside from our three week-end services, two monthly cultural groups . . . and a comparatively good school, something has happened recently which indicated definite Jewish growth. We had discussed the COMMENTARY article on “Judaism in Northrup.” The discussion brought out that the solution to “Northrup Judaism” was education and a more positive Jewish home life. One member suggested, and all agreed, that we extend our forty minutes of Sunday round table by one-half hour. Then the president of the Men’s Club, which sponsors the Sunday morning program, stated that what we need is a program of basic Jewish living, which they should and could follow. Accordingly, a committee consisting of the writer and two religiously-minded and informed lay members was appointed to draw up the requested program. . . .

Judaism is not to blame for “Northrup.” The causes transcend the Jewish community. Only persistent, challenging, and hopeful appeals to the hearts and minds of our Jewish people will cause the majority to become positive Jews again and complete human beings.

(Rabbi) Nathan A. Barack
Congregation Beth El
Sheboygan, Wisconsin

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