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The Spiritual Reconstruction of European Jewry

- Abstract

Although the blackout is slowly lifting from the areas where once flourished the largest centers of Jewish life in Europe, only fragmentary reports concerning the survivors have filtered through to the outside world. The simplest information, such as how many Jews remain alive—and where—is sparse and often contradictory; and we know practically nothing about the forms of their community life, their religious observances, or the character of their hopes for survival as Jews. Under these circumstances, any discussion of the spiritual reconstruction of the Jewries of Europe must inevitably be little more than one man’s personal estimate of long-term trends.

The very phrase “spiritual reconstruction” can be subtly misleading, in that it evokes a picture of rebuilding in terms of bricks and mortar. The life of the spirit is by its very nature immaterial, intangible. To a greater degree than for many centuries past the spiritual life of European Jewry will be determined by the evolution of factors affecting what the Protestants like to call the “invisible church.” The heshbon ha-nefesh, the searching of the souls of countless individuals who daily faced death and mutilation under the Nazi terror, who as a group suffered physical and spiritual agonies unrivaled in history, may well prove of more enduring value in the reconstruction of the Jewish spirit than the outward communal or ritualistic forms of their religious life. Unfortunately the forms which this searching of soul may have assumed or the probable circles of its influence must remain for the present within the realm of speculation.

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