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The Dilemma of Liberal Judaism

- Abstract

THE liberal Jew of today is in a dilemma. His Jewish conscience urges him to look for an authority which might guide and direct his Jewish life. But his liberal conscience frowns on that desire, as a temptation to be resisted. As a Jew he fears that, unless individuals such as himself accept an authority, there will soon be an end to Judaism. But as a liberal he fears that, should they in fact accept it, there will soon be an end to liberalism. These fears and doubts confront him with the possibility that he might in the end have to choose between his Judaism and his liberalism; that, as critics on both right and left have charged all along, liberal Judaism is a contradiction in terms.

If this dilemma, latently present ever since the rise of liberal Judaism, is becoming open and manifest in our time, it is because of three main conclusions toward which the conscientious liberal Jew is more and more ineluctably driven. Gone are the days when one could arbitrarily pick and choose from the Jewish past and persuade oneself that one’s selection was Judaism. The selections have been too many and too varied, and too apt to reflect less the spirit of Judaism than that of those who selected from it, or that of their age or their class. If the liberal’s Jewish life is to have a claim to authenticity, then, there must be a sense in which the Jewish past has authority. This is the first conclusion.

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