The Beliefs of American Jews
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY deserves high praise for the symposium, “What Do American Jews Believe?” [August] It is both an anthology of stimulating, sometimes stirring statements of personal religious credos and an exposition, in lucid terms, of the most critical points in the debate over whether American Jews constitute one people, or two, or more, and whether unity is something they can, or should, seek. The nonpartisan format demands close attention and encourages reasoned evaluation rather than emotional reaction. For this alone, I am grateful. . . .
When I completed my reading, I was struck by an alarming contradiction I sensed in the body of responses. . . . On the one hand, many contributors evinced humble appreciation of the limitations of human reason in confronting the divine; on the other hand, some alluded—with less subtlety and more unbecoming assurance than they may possess—to errors and evil intentions they recognized or expected in the beliefs of equally sincere adversaries. Perhaps the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein was correct in his crack that “One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.” Indeed, an injection of a bit more humor into the exercise, particularly of the self-deprecating kind, might have a salutary effect on our tumultuous religious climate. When so few Jewish leaders, those with ambitions to guide the thinking of others (sometimes with binding authority), can summon up even minimal respect for the conscience-searching of others, is it any wonder that so few ordinary Jews choose to listen to their message?
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