The Limits of “People-Centered” Judaism:
The Course of the American Synagogue
MODERN writers on Judaism are fond of quoting the saying, “God, the Torah, and Israel are one”- apparently in the conviction that it is an ancient Jewish teaching. The fact that the saying goes back to nothing more ancient than Israel Ba’al Shem Tov’s paraphrase of a passage in the Zohar, and that in its context it means no more than that the individual Jew, by studying the Torah, can achieve communion with God (see “God, the Torah, and Israel,” Cedars of Lebanon, COMMENTARY, January 1958), has not deterred people from using it as a slogan in modern programmatic statements on Judaism and Jewish life. Thus it has been argued that the three constituent elements-God, the Torah, and Israel-are of equal value. If, moreover, “Torah” is understood as Jewish culture and “Israel” as modern Jewish nationalism, then it would follow that the non-religious Zionist Jew still upholds two- thirds of the totality of Judaism, the “Torah” and “Israel”-while the anti-Zionist Jew, who claims that Judaism is a matter of religion and nothing but religion, remains less of a Jew by one-third. Clearly, the formula serves the modern secularist as a psychological bridge to help him overcome the gulf separating him from the God- and Torah-centered heritage of his ancestors. It is therefore not surprising that the saying is invoked more often by those who have departed from the traditional belief in God, and who understand Torah in terms of culture and folkways, than by those who take their “Jewishness” for granted just because of their theological commitments and their pietistic observances.
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