To the Editor:
Contrary to what David Singer argues in his review of Beyond Reasonable Doubt [April], Louis Jacobs’s exposition of Jewish theology for our times is unparalleled. That Jacobs had the courage to be instructed by his knowledge of modernity is to his credit and, it seems to me, in the spirit of the classical sage, Maimonides.
Maimonides outlined different levels of tzedaka (righteousness or charity), whereby one could practice a little, much, or a great deal, but all were still considered tzedaka. So too should there be levels of Jewish religious observance.
There have always been many traditions of practice, as any survey of Jewish literature and history can confirm. Fortunately for all Jews, none can declare a herem (excommunication) against others, though some try. It is destructive to deny any Jew the mitzvah of whatever level of personal observance he can achieve.
Howard E. Braun
To the Editor:
I found David Singer’s critique very interesting. Louis Jacobs, who reflects the thinking of what in the United States is Conservative Judaism, theorizes that a Jew is obligated to fulfill certain commandments not because they were given by God at Sinai but because of the historical experience of the Jewish people.
Mr. Singer argues correctly that if the commandments are not regarded as coming directly from God, then they lose their binding force. To put it another way, if human beings brought the commandments into being, the observant Jew of today is free to set them aside.
The current state of Conservative Judaism proves the Tightness of Mr. Singer’s remarks. Recent studies have shown that only about 10 percent of Conservative Jews observe the laws of kashrut and only a few more bother to light candles on Friday nights. At the New York City Board of Education, where I used to work, the only teachers and supervisors who ate at the designated kosher tables were the Orthodox members of the staff. More telling still is the recent study by Richard Horowitz and Antony Gordon (based on a 1991 Jewish population survey), which reveals little difference in the intermarriage rate between Conservative and Reform Jews. Both groups are destined for oblivion in about 40 years. Only Orthodoxy can guarantee Jewish survival.
Brooklyn, New York
David Singer writes:
Howard E. Braun does Louis Jacobs an injustice by suggesting that the latter’s aim is to validate “many traditions of practice.” On the contrary, Jacobs stresses the binding nature of halakhah as defined in the Talmud and codes of Jewish law. The difficulty is that Jacobs wishes to establish halakhic commitment on nonfundamentalist theological foundations—a very tall order indeed. Were Jacobs to succeed in this enterprise, I would be thrilled, but in Beyond Reasonable Doubt he clearly falls short of the mark.
Abraham Frank points to disturbing trends but takes too much pleasure in reporting them. Since the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews have no intention of becoming Orthodox, theological efforts along the lines of Louis Jacobs’s become all the more important.
In the letter by Rabbi Eugene J. Cohen (June, p. 6) regarding the use of lidocaine in circumcision, the phrase “following the procedure” should have read “before the procedure.” We regret the error.—Ed.