Commentary Magazine


The “Essential” Jew

To the editor:

Herbert Weiner, in his very graceful article “The Bible of the Israelis” (June), says that “Ahad Ha-am’s thesis was that the Jewish people possessed a national ego, a ‘will to live’ capable of creating not only prophets like Moses, but an image of the Creator of the World. In this sense even a non-religious Zionist might call the God of Israel his God, since it is an expression of his people’s national ego.” Rabbi Weiner then comments: “It was of course a semantic blur, but of pragmatic value in the early Zionist days, when it enabled all shades of religious opinion to join in the common goal of establishing a Jewish homeland.”

Why is it a semantic blur? Because it posits a genius, a spiritual essence, of the Jewish people which has expressed itself historically, apart from any observation of Ahad Ha-am’s? . . . In every real sense the God of the Jews is the collective ego of the Jews. The two are interchangeable. Take away the Jews, and the God of the Jews—which is the God of the Bible and the Talmud—dies. . . .

What divides the Jewish people today is indeed a semantic blur. The extremely religious would pay court to a God who exists as the father of all nations with the Jews his special favorite. . . . On the other hand, the secular nationalists . . . espouse the spirit of the Jewish nation. The fact is, both factions espouse the same thing, which is the intangible spiritual essence of the Jewish people. . . . If once fully understood [this] could open to Jewry resources of unified energy now wasted in bickerings. . . .

The Bible, the Talmud, Zionism, these are specifically Jewish dreams, Jewish truths. . . . Like the cambium layer girdling a growing tree, there are those intelligences who find themselves outside these dreams, uncontained by these truths, but in the light of history bound to comprehend them as aspects of a single growth, a single unity. . . . It is in the nature of a religious Orthodoxy that it be unable to perceive its equivalent or mirror-image in the sophisticated Western nationalism of the modern secularist. Moreover, for some generations now, that Orthodoxy has seen itself rifled by Western secularism. If what we stem from is to be preserved for the future, there must be a bridging over. This must now come from the secularist himself. . . . The son must give shelter to the venerable father.

This will take patience and self-mastery, which can derive from the recognition by the son that he is one aspect, a special perception, of an innate essence. There is a crucial difference between the recognition that here are two approaches to but a single truth . . . and the destructive assumption that [on the one side] is truth and [on the other] falsehood. . . .

Whatever Jews come to believe, is Jewish. For Jews it is the indefinable but cohesive Jewishness that is truth—the unique spirit, or character, expressing itself in the various beliefs. . . .

Hyman Gaibel
Chicago, Illinois

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