The Jewish Community Pattern
To the Editor:
Milton Himmelfarb’s article “Our Jewish Community Pattern and Its Critics” (August 1953) presents a clear and sober description of the evolution of the contemporary Jewish community pattern in various countries. It would appear, however, that his effort is quite irrelevant to the question of the future of American Jewry. Here the basic question must be: what are the essentials for creative and meaningful Jewish survival in the United States? Mr. Hinmelfarb hardly touches at all on this subject. He seems to imply that the pattern which has emerged is adequate, in any case the only one possible. Furthermore, Mr. Hinmelfarb’s description . . . presents Jewry and its life as inanimate putty in the hands of the environment. Does he think that Jewish imitation of Gentiles (his so-called “Heine’s Law”) is an adequate description of the evolution of Jewish life and thought in the past and present?
There is no question that the environment has always served as the matrix for Jewry, but the environment has been transcended at least as often as it has been permitted to shape Jewish life. At all times, Jewish leaders determined to force the environment to yield the maximum for creative Jewish survival. . . . Only in this way can we explain the fact that while Jewish autonomy reflected the corporative organization of medieval life, the royal and imperial charters for Jews contained segments of Talmudic law; and Jewish courts insisted that “the law of the State is law” provided that it measured up to Jewish conceptions of justice. . . .
The framework within which we have to build our community structure in the United States is, of course, voluntarism and democracy. The present chaotic community “pattern,” largely the consequence of undirected drifting, is not the only one possible. Within the framework of voluntarism and democracy several Jewish community patterns ought to be admissible. . . . The Catholics have centralization and authority here, and the Protestants are moving rapidly toward integration. But we ought to accept no mechanistic outlook that what has emerged is ipso facto the best possible. Rather, in defining our objectives, we ought to strive to realize the utmost possible within the limits of the American environment. This makes planning inevitable, and with increasing self-consciousness American Jewry is likely to call a halt to the drifting of the past. . . .
Arthur J. Zuckerman
The City College
New York City