Apologia for a Confirmation Text
It is unusual nowadays for serious thinkers of any kind to address themselves directly to an audience of children, but it is perhaps even more surprising to find a Sunday school text being written by a leading Jewish religious thinker. Consequently, when Paths to Jewish Belief (Behrman House, 157 pp., $2.75) was published, we asked its author, EMIL L. FACKENHEIM, if he would discuss in an article for us why he undertook to write such a book and what kinds of problems he encountered in trying to explain difficult religious concepts to children.
Another new work by Dr. Fackenheim, of an altogether different order, Metaphysics and Historicity, has just been issued by Marquette University Press; the substance of the book was originally given as the 1961 Aquinas Lecture at Marquette. Dr. Fackenheim-who was ordained a rabbi in Berlin in 1939-has taught for many years in the philosophy department at the University of Toronto; he is now an associate professor. Over the years he has been a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, his last previous article (October 1960) having dealt with “The Dilemma of Liberal Judaism.”
IN THE NOT SO distant past, after lecturing at the university all week, I used to spend Sunday mornings teaching a confirmation class in a Liberal synagogue. My practice invariably was to open the first session of these confirmation courses by asking whether anyone present was prepared to state a Jewish belief to which he subscribed. A lengthy silence was apt to follow, until finally one student might volunteer some such answer as “one God,” or “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” or simply “the brotherhood of man.” Upon being asked why he believed as he did, the volunteer would reply, “That’s the way I was taught.”
“Then how about people who believe differently?” was my next question, and again came the unhesitating reply: “Why, they believe as they were taught!” At this point I would raise my voice, in what I hoped was a dramatic manner: “Then who is right?” And the response to that was usually a dead silence.
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