Commentary Magazine


Jewish Existence and the Living God:
The Religious Duty of Survival

The modern Jew is an enigma to himself. When he reflects on his existence as a Jew, he cannot but be filled with wonder. Other individuals and peoples may wonder how they have come to be what they are; the Jew must wonder why he should exist at all. For if there are laws of historical change, the Jew should, according to these laws, have disappeared long ago. Was there ever another people which continued to exist, under like circumstances, through the centuries? The answer is that there was not. Other peoples require the bond of a common land, or a common language, or a common culture in order to continue in existence. The Jew, for long centuries, has had none of these. Consequently, self-appointed experts in the laws of historical change have been ever quick to predict his impending disappearance. But thus far at least these prophecies have always been confounded. The Jew still exists—a source of wonder both to others and himself.

How is one to account for the continued existence of the Jew? Certainly not in terms of persecution or discrimination. It is true that such forms of hostility may unite their victims, creating in them a group will to survive. They may cling defiantly to the very trait which singles them out for penalty. But they may also do the very opposite, that is, try to get rid of the fatal trait. In the case of the Jew, unlike that of the Negro, this is not impossible. Furthermore, persecution, while frequent, has by no means been constant in Jewish history. There were long periods in which the Jew was invited to participate in the life that surrounded him; and he never showed any lack of eagerness to accept this invitation. The conclusion, then, is clear: it is impossible to account for Jewish survival in such negative terms as persecution or discrimination.

Nor do we fare much better with such positive terms as “love of tradition” or “loyalty feelings to the group.” To be sure, tradition had a strong hold on the Western Jew until the beginning of the 19th century, and on his East European brother until the beginning of the 20th. But this tradition was, for the most part, not static, fossilized, inert; it was fluid. Also, it was frequently exposed to the threat of disintegration. Yet it did not disintegrate; rather, it preserved itself. Why should Jewish tradition have preserved itself rather than disintegrated? To ask this question is to ask the question of Jewish survival all over again. In short, “love of tradition” does not explain Jewish survival; it is an aspect of the very thing in question.

Precisely the same is true of loyalty feelings to the group. No doubt such feelings are, in some periods of history, a powerful force for cohesion and survival. But in the case of the Jew the question is why there should have been such feelings at all among a people which had, for long centuries, neither shared a common land, nor a common language, nor a common external destiny. In the case of Jewish survival, then, “national feeling” or “group loyalty” are not explanations, but again part of the very thing to be explained.

But perhaps collective feelings can exist and survive independently of the experiences which nourish them? Perhaps there are entities such as a “racial will” which are passed on through the blood? We need not waste our time on such fictions. For they exist only in the minds of the demagogues and charlatans of our century.

It becomes abundantly clear, then, that to account for Jewish survival is possible only in terms of the Jewish faith. All the other supposed causes of Jewish survival, such as tradition or feelings of group loyalty, can themselves be explained only in terms of the Jewish faith. It is because of the Jewish faith that the Jew still exists—as we have said, a source of wonder both to others and himself.

This fact places the Jew of our time in a unique position. Like everyone else in the world of today, he is prey to religious doubt. Like everyone else, he is unsure whether, and if so to what extent, he can accept the faith which was handed down to him. But unlike everyone else, he must admit that it is because of that faith that he exists at all.

In current usage, the term “faith” all too often signifies a mere milk-and-water assent to abstract “tenets” and “principles” which are, as a rule, nice, innocuous, and uncontroversial. This is not the kind of faith which can move mountains, or which could be responsible for Jewish survival. The term “faith,” when applied to the Jewish past, signifies total commitment. And the commitment was either to an all-consuming experience in the present, or else to memories of such experiences which had taken place in the past.

Whatever one may think of the Biblical account of Jewish origins—whether one takes it to be literally true or merely mythological—two facts are beyond doubt: first, even if the Biblical account is merely mythological there is an element in it which is true; second, countless generations of Jews accepted it as true. The first fact concerns the faith of the Biblical, the second that of the post-Biblical Jew. The first fact serves to explain how the Jewish people was born; the second, why it survived. The Jew of today must contemplate both these facts: if not in order to learn what, as a Jew, he ought to be, at least in order to understand what, as a Jew, he is.

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II

It is possible to doubt that Abraham, or even Moses, ever existed. One may advance the hypothesis that Israel never stood at Mount Sinai, and that, consequently, the unique divine revelation by which Israel supposedly was constituted never took place. But it is not possible to doubt that the Biblical account of Jewish origins, however mythological, reflects something which did take place. What took place was a succession of overwhelming religious experiences. The presence of the Nameless was felt in experiences which were themselves nameless.

As such, these experiences were not specifically Jewish. To experience the presence of the Nameless is the core, not merely of Jewish, but of all religious life. What distinguishes forms of religious life is the way in which the Nameless, and the nameless experience, are interpreted.

There are, to be sure, some varieties of mysticism in which all interpretation is rejected. The Nameless, and the nameless experience, both remain nameless. They remain, consequently, utterly divorced from all that is familiar and named. And all existence becomes a striving for an end which, if achieved, transcends all understanding and all utterance.

This, however, is the exception rather than the rule in the religious life of man. The rule is that the Nameless, and the nameless experience, at once relate themselves to something familiar and nameable. In virtue of this relation, they are themselves given names. Thus a religion comes into being.

In the primeval Hebrew experience, there was such an immediate relating of the Nameless to something familiar. But the familiar in this case was not, as it was so often, a part of nature or nature as a whole; nor did the nameless experience utter itself, in this case, in nature-symbols and thus give rise to a form of life which consists in ritualistic imitation of the rhythms of nature. In the primeval Hebrew experience, any attempt at a direct relating of the Nameless to nature was explicitly repudiated. The familiar and nameable which here received religious significance was not nature but human action.

But the nameless experience was not action. It had to interpret itself as a call to action. And this call could not be a call unless it was “heard.” Nor could there be a “hearing” unless there was a “speaking.” The Nameless interpreted itself as a “speaking,” and the nameless experience as “hearing.” What was heard was a commandment and a promise: the call to action, and the consequences which followed if the call was heeded. Thus in the primeval Hebrew experience, the presence of the Nameless manifested itself in the form of a divine-human covenant.

It must be noted, however, that this experience was not, or at least not primarily, an individual experience. It was a collective experience. It therefore manifested itself, not in a covenant between the Nameless and individuals, but between the Nameless and a people. Indeed, only in this experience did this people become a people. This is the secret of the birth of Israel.

It is sometimes said that the Jewish faith has been, since its inception, one of “ethical monotheism.” This assertion is true in one sense, but not in another. If by “monotheism” is meant the belief in one universal God, the One God of the universe and mankind, it is more than doubtful that the early Hebrews were monotheists. And if “ethical” refers to codes of conduct universally human in application, it is more than doubtful that their beliefs were ethical. Its God was One, not in being the only God there was, but in demanding a commitment so total as to dwarf all else. And He was ethical in that He challenged to action, and in that this challenge was absolute. Compared to the absoluteness of this challenge its content was, for the time being, secondary in importance; and distinctions such as that between “ethical” and “ritualistic” were not made until a later age.

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These facts ought to occasion no surprise. Religions begin with committing experiences, not with universal ideas; and where there is no commitment, religions do not begin at all. But if the commitment is radical, it is only a question of time before it becomes universalized. In the Hebrew experience, the only important God became, in due course, the only existing God; and His all-important commandments, commandments addressed and applicable to all men. This development completed itself in the Hebrew prophets.

The prophets universalized the primeval Hebrew experience, but they did not dissipate it into un-committing generalities. The primeval experience persisted. The Nameless had become the God of all men: but He was still immediately challenging, here and now. His commandments had become, at least in part, universally valid, but they had not become abstract “principles.” They were addressed by the Nameless, not to “mankind,” but to each man. This is why the prophetic God, while universal, could remain in covenant with the people of Israel. He was the God, not of the abstraction “mankind,” but of every nation.

There are those in the modern world to whom a religion is the “higher” and “more enlightened” the more it expresses itself in abstractions. The prophets would have been in vigorous disagreement. To them, the use of such terms as “mankind” and “deity” would have indicated, not enlightenment, but a flight from commitment and the divine challenge. The prophetic God, in becoming universal, had not ceased to challenge; nor did He challenge abstractions such as “mankind” which not even a God can challenge. Rather, He now challenged Ethiopians and Philistines as well as Israelites. But the business of a prophet in Israel could hardly be to fathom the challenge addressed to Ethiopians and Philistines.

It was in the experience of the Nameless, then, that the people of Israel was born. This was possible because of three factors: first, this experience interpreted itself as challenge to action; secondly, being a collective experience, it challenged the group; thirdly, it was an experience so profound as to persist even after its universal implications had become manifest.

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III

But primeval experiences do not last forever. Presumably they take place, even in primeval times, only intermittently, although this fact is easily concealed from later observers by the clouds of myth. In Jewish history, as in the history of most religions, “revelation” came to be a term referring mainly to events lying in the past. The question therefore arises as to why the Jewish people was preserved, when the collective experience of the Nameless had become what, at first sight, was a dead past recorded in dead documents.

The answer is that neither the past nor the documents were dead. The past lived on, legislating to present and future; and the document which recorded it became the Bible, that is, the Book par excellence. Jewish thinking centered on its exegesis; Jewish living geared itself to its commandments and promises; Jewish experience interpreted itself as derived from the primeval experiences recorded in the Book. From the Biblical to the modern era, the Jews remained a people by virtue of the Book.

But is such a survival of the past, and of its record, proof that both are alive? It may well seem that, if the Book ruled the Jewish spirit for almost two thousand years, it was not because the former was alive, but because the latter was dead; and that Jewish life, during these long centuries, was composed of the monotonous practice of sterile commandments, and of a forlorn hope in a long-lost promise. How can a religious life be anything but barren which springs, not from the immediate experience of the Nameless, but from slavish submission to the authority of a codified book? But except for rare periods of religious decline, the Jew’s loyalty to the Book was not one of slavish obedience. Rather, the Book without kindled the soul within. In rethinking its thoughts, the Jew thought his own. In imagining its experiences, he relived them. In obeying its commandments, he made them into a way of life. The past did not kill the present; instead, reviving itself in the present, it gave life to the present.

The question arises how such an extraordinary relation to the past was possible. Why was the present, during these long centuries, so rarely at odds with the past? Why did it not claim its own autonomous rights against the past? How could religious experience forever regard itself as subordinate to the great religious experiences of the past? There are many partial answers to these crucial questions, but the decisive answer lies in one element of the Jewish faith—the Messianic element.

The messianic faith is, of course, Biblical in origin. It was the prophets who first spoke of an End of Days in which God alone would rule and all would be fulfilled. Moreover, this faith was implicit in the primeval experience itself. For once the experience of the Nameless had interpreted itself as challenge and promise, it was only a question of time, and religious profundity, until a new religious dimension had to come into view: that of a future in which all that was to be done by either God or man would be fulfilled.

But so long as the primeval experience persisted in Jewish life, an explicit Messianic faith was, so to speak, not needed. Religious immediacy could have lived without it. It was when the past, and its record, took the place of the primeval experience that the Messianic faith moved into the very center of Jewish religious life. Had it not done so, no mere hankering after the past could have saved Jewish life from spiritual—and physical—extinction. The past could live on in the present only because both present and past were for the sake of the future. And the Jewish people could live on, when He who is nameless was not present, only because the memory of His presence transfigured itself into the hope of His ultimate and all-consummating return.

Our account of Jewish life during these centuries is thus subject to emendation. Jewish thinking was a re-thinking of past thought, but it was thinking only because it was directed toward a future consummation. Jewish imagination was a re-living, but it was living only because it anticipated the End. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Jewish obedience to past commandments constituted a way of life, which was possible only because it regarded itself as preparing, and waiting, for Messianic fulfillment. In short, Jewish existence experienced itself as being between Revelation and Redemption. Revelation had been the call for human, and the promise of divine, action: Redemption would be the consummation of all action.

Still, it may seem that the Messianic hope leaves the fact of Jewish survival unexplained. Did this hope not concern the future of a united mankind? Should it not have led those who held it, instead of to group survival, to voluntary self-dissolution—thus anticipating the End? The mystery deepens if one considers that the Jews were, at that time, dispersed among other nations—nations which, for the most part, shared their monotheistic beliefs. Could it be that the hope of the post-Biblical Jew was, after all, not the universal prophetic hope; could it be that, having lost all universalistic fervor, it had become nothing more than a national hope? This, however, is to confuse empty abstractions with religious realities. The truth is the reverse. Had their hope been nothing more than a national hope, the Jews of the Diaspora would have been forced many times to abandon it. It was precisely because it was more than national that they could retain it. Hence, although it may seem paradoxical, it is nevertheless true that it was precisely because of their Messianic sense of kinship with all the nations that the Jews did not lose their identity among the nations; whereas, had they lost that sense of kinship, they would have disappeared among the nations.

Not much reflection is needed to remove the paradox from these assertions. How could a small people live, for any length of time, amid mighty nations and rich cultures without abandoning a merely national hope as both immoral and absurd? Immoral because a moral God could hardly confine His attention to one small and insignificant people; absurd because all the evidence seemed to point, instead, to the fact that this people had been overlooked by history. Clearly, in the centuries of the dispersion, only the most narrow and unthinking could have insisted on Jewish survival on the basis of a solely national hope. But it was the most thoughtful and broadminded who did, in fact, insist on Jewish survival. And this was possible only because their insistence sprang from a hope for something more than national survival. Their hope concerned the relation between the Nameless and all men.

Why, then, did this hope on behalf of mankind not lead to voluntary self-dissolution in mankind? Simply because “mankind” did not exist. There were only actual nations, and some of these did not regard the world as in need of redemption, whereas others believed that it had already arrived. For the Jew to dissolve into either would have meant to him, not to hasten the End, but to betray his post.

We conclude that the Jew of the Diaspora survived because he was able to rise to prayers such as this, uttered by a Hasidic rabbi in an age of fear and hate: “O Lord, send speedily the Messiah, to redeem Thy people Israel! Or, if this be against Thy will, send him to redeem the nations!”

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IV

The question now arises as to whether the Jew of today can share the faith of his ancestors, or whether he must consider himself merely as its unwilling product. Can being a Jew today mean an acceptance of a religious commitment similar to, if not identical with, the commitment of his ancestors? Or is being a Jew, today, a mere accident of birth?

No doubt, individual Jews have asked this question throughout the ages. It became universal, however, only when the Jew entered into the modern world. Then it became inescapable. This was because the modern world cast increasing doubt on the central part both of the Biblical and the post-Biblical Jewish faith—that is, on the living God. The Biblical Jew had experienced His presence, and the post-Biblical Jew had hoped for it; but man in the modern world had come to suspect that all supposed experiences of divine presence were just so many illusions.

This attitude sprang from the modern ideal of scientific and moral enlightenment. Did not a rational universe preclude the possibility of irrational divine incursions into it? And did not a rational way of life consist in reliance, not on revelations and promises of divine aid, but on the unaided power of human reason? Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, it has seemed to the modern-minded—and who is not modern-minded, at least to a degree?—that the denial of the living God was an essential aspect of man’s scientific and moral self-emancipation. If man was to be fully free in his world, God had to be expelled from it.

We use the word “expelled” advisedly. The ideal of enlightenment did not compel one to deny that a God existed, but it did seem to compel one to deny that He could be present here and now. The living God had to become a mere “Deity,” a “Cosmic Principle”—remote, indifferent, and mute. Time was when the prophet Elijah contrasted the idols which could not speak with the living God who could. Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, it has seemed to the modern-minded that God could speak as little as the idols.

The religion of the modern-minded came to reflect this conviction. Far from centering on the experience or expectation of a present God, it on the contrary presupposed His necessary absence. It became the mere subscription to “ideals,” “principles,” “tenets,” and, in North America, “platforms.” Would anyone think of God as a mere ideal who was prepared, so to speak, to meet Him in person?

On entering the modern world, the Jew had no reason to be suspicious of the ideal of enlightenment which ruled it. On the contrary, he had every reason to embrace it with enthusiasm. Who was to be enthusiastic about it if not the Jew, who had just emerged from the confines of the medieval ghetto? Who was to approve of the ideal of universal emancipation if not the Jew, who stood in special need of emancipation? But despite this wholehearted approval which the Jew very naturally manifested, he soon discovered something of which he was not sure he could approve. The modern expulsion of God from the human world made Jewish existence problematic. The “Jewish problem” appeared on the scene. And it was a problem without solution.

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For the pre-modern Jew this problem did not exist. He was faced with no serious difficulties of self-interpretation. He believed himself to have once met the living God, and to be committed to this meeting until the Messianic hope would be fulfilled. But what if God did not live, that is, relate Himself to persons and peoples? What if He was a mere cosmic entity dwelling in infinite and impartial remoteness? Or perhaps did not exist at all? What if all the supposed experiences of divine presence had been so many illusions? The moment the living God became questionable Jewish existence became questionable. The Jew had to embark on the weary business of self-definition. This business was weary because no definition would fit.

Was Jewishness a matter of “religion”? Was one a Jew because one subscribed to the “tenets” of ethical monotheism? But while Judaism consisted of ethical monotheism, it could not with impunity be regarded as consisting of mere tenets; and Jewishness could not consist of subscription to them. For there were those who subscribed to ethical monotheism without being Jews, and those who were Jews without subscribing to ethical monotheism. The inescapable fact was that one was born a Jew, and that one was not born subscribing to tenets and principles. The definition omitted the fact that the Jews were a people.

This omission was by no means an accident. A living God could address Himself to a people, but an abstract and lifeless “Deity” could not, for it could not address itself at all. In the case of such a Deity, the best one could do was somehow affirm it. But such affirmations could have no connection with the origin of those who made them. In short, if the living God had to give way to an abstract Deity, the “tenets” of Judaism and the Jewish people fell apart.

But perhaps an alternative definition could heal this defect. Was Judaism not the “culture” of the Jewish people, the product of its “religious genius”? Could Jewishness not be defined in terms of the people which had produced the culture?

But this definition too had a fatal flaw. Perhaps this flaw was not apparent, or did not even exist, for the detached observer. But the Jew was not a detached observer; he was a participant. As such, he had to ask himself a crucial question which the definition could not answer. The question was: why ought he to remain a Jew?

So long as the Jew believed in a living God the question answered itself. To remain a Jew was his duty under the divine-Jewish covenant. But what if God did not live? What if He could not enter into covenants? What if Judaism was not a divine-human encounter, but merely the product of “Jewish genius”? Jewish survival had then to be either an end in itself, or else a means to presumed future “contributions” of “Jewish genius” to the “world.” But either view smacked of a chauvinism which no morally sensitive Jew was ever able to swallow. Hence the less forthright accepted the duty to Jewish survival as a mere pious fiction, while the more forthright frankly abandoned it. Jewish survival was merely a right, not a duty; whether or not one chose to remain a Jew was a matter of taste. But if this latter view found general acceptance, how long would the Jews of the Diaspora continue to exist? And how long would the Jews of the State of Israel continue to be Jews? On the other hand, how many Jews are really prepared to advocate, and work toward, Jewish self-dissolution, and to dismiss three thousand years of Jewish existence as a tragi-comic mistake? If a single generalization may safely be made about the contemporary Jew, it is that he still regards Jewish survival as a duty, to be performed whether he likes it or not. He may not have the slightest idea why it should be a duty; he may even consciously reject this duty. Still, he feels it in his bones.

After two hundred years of fruitless probing, the conclusion ought to be obvious. The “Jewish problem,” as a problem of self-definition, is insoluble. Jewish existence cannot be understood without reference to a living God. And the Jew of today who persists in regarding Jewish survival as a duty, either persists in something unintelligible, or else he postulates, however unconsciously, the possibility of a return to faith in a living God.

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V

But the possibility of such a return must surely be dismissed by the modern-minded without a moment’s thought! Can one believe, in this day and age, in a God who reveals Himself? Has this belief not been refuted, once and for all? And must not those who persist in it be dismissed as mere victims of wishful, or fearful, thinking? In the 20th century, faith in a living God may well appear to be a mere relic of bygone ages, and Jewish self-dedication to Jewish survival, a mere part of it.

But the modern world never did refute the belief in a living God. It merely rejected it. One cannot refute the irrefutable; although—if the irrefutable is also unprovable—one is always free to decide that it does not exist.

To be sure, modern thought refuted many traditional beliefs; and some of these were once associated with the belief in a living God. In an age of natural science and critical history, it is hardly possible to believe in miraculously split seas or documents dictated by God. But to reject revealed documents is not necessarily to reject revelation. And to be suspicious of miracles is not necessarily to reduce all religious experience to projections of the unconscious mind. One does well indeed to suspect that much that passes for religious experience is inauthentic, and that it is, not a meeting with the Nameless, but the mere solitary disport of the mind with its own conceits. But to regard all religious experience as such—and hence to dismiss it as merely pseudo-religious—is a procedure dictated, not by scientific evidence, but by intellectual prejudice. Or rather, it is to make, under the guise of a scientific judgment, a religious choice. And the choice is against the living God.

Time was when those who made this choice were imbued with the spirit of Prometheus. Like that figure of ancient myth, they wanted total control of their world for the sake of spreading liberty and light. In the world of today, there are still some left who are imbued with the Promethean spirit, but their number is no longer large. Some of those who have decided against the living God are engaged in spreading, not liberty and light, but terror and utter darkness. Others have made that choice only to shiver in loneliness and despair. And others again—and these are the vast majority, at least in the Western world—have lost the assurance of their choice. They are no longer sure whether they have really made the Promethean choice; they are unsure even of what it is. Religiously, they are in a state of turmoil.

But perhaps this turmoil is contemporary man’s most authentic religious expression. It would appear to be, at any rate, something unique in the entire religious history of man. The contemporary kind of religious turmoil may have existed, in previous ages, among individuals. But never before did it shake a whole age.

All ages prior to the modern were religious ages. They may have disagreed as to the interpretation to be given to the presence of the Nameless, but they agreed that the Nameless could be present. In sharp contrast, the modern age—at least in its most typically modern expressions—has been anti-religious in spirit. Either by denying its existence or by expelling it into the distance of irrelevance, it denies that the Nameless can be present. What both the pre-modern and the modern ages have in common is that they make their respective religious choices without giving serious attention to the alternative; that is, they choose dogmatically. They make their choice without full awareness that it is a choice. Man today is bereft of such dogmatic certainties. Possibly for the first time in human history, he is brought face to face with the most radical of all religious questions. Like man at all times, he must face up to this question. But unlike men at other times, he is compelled to recognize that it is a question. Unlike the former, he cannot fail to recognize that the question can be answered only by a decision, and that the decision is a decision. And he suffers the turmoil of this recognition. The question is: is human existence closed or open to the Divine? Can the Nameless be present, or are all supposed experiences of such a presence mere illusions? Does God live, or is man inexorably alone?

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It is all too human to shrink from great choices. One is tempted to pretend that there is no choice to be made, and to drift in indecision. Or perhaps one will escape from the choice by making it glibly, only to discover later that one has not made it at all. Such flights from choice are readily understandable, because to face up to the choice is to endure turmoil—the turmoil of the conflicting possibilities. One cannot make a genuine choice without first enduring this turmoil, and one must endure it until the time is ripe—for choice, and for action.

If this is true of all great decisions, it is true, above all, of the great religious decision placed before contemporary man. Is choosing for or against the living God a mere matter of scientific hypotheses? Or is it a matter of choosing the path of least resistance? Or of discovering, with the help of reputable psychologists, the most comfortable road to peace of mind? Is it not a choice in which one either commits his whole being or else does not commit himself at all? If this is the case, it is no wonder, then, that man in the present age seems bent on shrinking from this choice. Instead he pretends that there is no decision to be made; and he reinforces this pretense by all kinds of activity, inside and outside church and synagogue, which distract his attention from it. Or, assuming an air of glib resolution, he issues manifestoes which announce that the decision is made, and he reinforces these by repeating them at regular intervals. But the great religious choice placed before contemporary man cannot be evaded indefinitely; nor can its turmoil be circumvented by the proclamation of manifestoes, no matter how often this ritual takes place. The restless flight from the decision must yield to the quiet endurance of its turmoil. Only he who endures the tension of the conflicting possibilities can really know what the decision is about; only he can know when the time is ripe for it to be made. But what will the decision be? And when will the time be ripe for it to be made? This cannot be known in advance.

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VI

The Jew of today is a man of today; he is confronted with the religious question of today; the question is whether or not the Nameless can be present to us. But he is also confronted with the Jewish question of today: whether—and if so why—Jewish survival is a duty. The remarkable thing is that he cannot authentically face up to the religious question without at the same time facing up to the Jewish question.

The Jew of today cannot authentically face up to the religious choice simply as an individual. To do so is, in effect, to evade, if not his Jewishness, then at least the question posed by his Jewishness. And the question demands a religious answer. Hence to evade it is, for the Jew, to evade part of the religious question itself, and thus to fall into inauthenticity. The Jew cannot face up to the religious question “simply as an individual.” Whether he likes it or not, he must face up to it as a Jew. To do so is to recognize that the duty to Jewish survival is, for the Jew, part of what is at stake in the religious choice. Man of today must endure the ancient question of whether or not the Nameless can be present. As part and parcel of that question for him, the Jew of today must endure the hardly less ancient question of whether or not Jewish survival is a duty. The religious turmoil is, for him, at the same time a Jewish turmoil. And Jewish religious life today consists in the endurance of this double turmoil.

When the time is ripe for decision, the Jew may well decide that the ancient duty to Jewish survival must be abandoned. Should this be the eventual choice, then the Jewish people, as it has existed for three thousand years, will cease to be. Jewishness will become a mere right, to be made use of only by those with a taste for it. Jews of the State of Israel will become Israelis, and Jews elsewhere will either become members of a denomination like other denominations, or else a minority doomed to eventual extinction.

But the Jew may also, in the end, decide to reaffirm the ancient duty of Jewish survival. This will be possible only if the Jew has remembered, and accepted as authentic, the ancient encounter of his people with the living God. He will then accept himself as part of a people constituted by an encounter with the Nameless, and still extant as a people only because it continues to be committed to that encounter. He will have accepted himself as a Jew because he will have accepted the time-honored Jewish obligation: to prepare and wait for the End in which all that is to be done by either man or God will be fulfilled.

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