Commentary Magazine


Judaism for the Doubters

To the Editor:

I was disappointed in the appraisal Stanley Edgar Hyman gave of David Daiches’s views (“The ‘Two Worlds’ of David Daiches,” November). Mr. Daiches may well be the most articulate of the many thoughtful, questioning Jews who reject Orthodoxy and can find no replacement for it within Judaism. As one who has tussled with his conscience and love for his parents as against the needs of his clear mind and honest feelings, he has, in his writings on the subject, performed a valuable service for the rest of us doubters. He has thrown wide open the question: can Judaism be remodeled to fill the needs of the present?

It is indeed unfortunate that Jewish critics often regard him and others who stir up iconoclastic debate about Wilderness and Ghetto Judaism as traitors, cowards, even brutes. Quite the contrary! Out of such groping may well come the solid Judaism of the future, attracting the agnostics of today, and carrying the core of our tradition into centuries which find the Orthodox remnant merely an item, along with the Amish, on tourists’ lists.

I have ceased to be surprised at the comments about Judaism one hears even from so-called Orthodox, shul-going Jews. One of these said, in topping my plea for a more functional Judaism, “What we really need today is No religion . . . just some common sense!” Why then does he observe every jot and tittle of ritual? Stanley Edgar Hyman is probably right in calling him merely an ancestor-worshipper.

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Isn’t it about time that those who really have the future of Judaism at heart—not just their own future, their jobs, their habits, their fears, their laziness—sit down, as though this were the beginning of time, and chart a religion, simple and strong as Judaism, with real meaning for today? I was shocked to realize that I’m waiting for Colin Wilson’s next book because he has promised to propose a new faith for those who agree that no current religion is adequate to the present! My shock subsided a bit, however, when I tried to imagine what he’d come up with and found it running very much along the lines of my sort of Judaism!

May I, merely in the hope of getting others to think the matter through, share the feeling I have about our religion and the attitudes about it I have imparted to my children? For rapport with you who may read this may I add that I believe I’m very much like you: a person of good education, good character, good deeds, I read a lot, think a lot, talk a lot, laugh a lot, feel a lot, and yes—cry, too. Like you.

Starting from scratch then, here’s my position on religion, as I might outline it to my children:

1. Everyone needs a Philosophy, a Way of Life, a Code to Live By. This serves you throughout life both as a Guide and a source of Comfort.

2. Religion offers such a Way of Life.

3. You were born into the Jewish Religion.

4. The Jewish Religion offers such a Way of Life and, in addition, welcomes you into the fold of an old and glorious tradition.

5. There are other religions which, because of their numbers and power, may be more convenient to follow. However, there are two important reasons for clinging to your own: pride of birth and ancestry, and the fact that Judaism has everything any other religion can offer, and more!

6. Within the fold of Judaism you can pick and choose among the prayers and rituals until you evolve (with the help of a progressive rabbi and other questing young people like yourselves) a form of our faith which has meaning for you, sustains you, answers your doubts. Judaism is a simple, uncluttered faith. To implement it, a few basic rituals may well suffice . . . lighting of candles, observance of holidays, etc. . . . to give us a feeling of closeness and oneness and distinctiveness.

I might add here, this “manifesto” may be bearing fruit. One daughter, married and living in a small community, is part of a group of young-marrieds who are sharing in the building of a new Reform congregation . . . almost tailor-made to their needs: family nights, nice nostalgic singing, sermons on current topics, interfaith camaraderie. Reform or not, they cling to the warm and meaningful core of Jewish life. They believe firmly, for example, in Bar Mitzvah!

Alma D. Kaplan
New York City

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