Apologia for a Confirmation Text
It is unusual nowadays for serious thinkers of any kind to address themselves directly to an audience of children, but it is perhaps even more surprising to find a Sunday school text being written by a leading Jewish religious thinker. Consequently, when Paths to Jewish Belief (Behrman House, 157 pp., $2.75) was published, we asked its author, EMIL L. FACKENHEIM, if he would discuss in an article for us why he undertook to write such a book and what kinds of problems he encountered in trying to explain difficult religious concepts to children.
Another new work by Dr. Fackenheim, of an altogether different order, Metaphysics and Historicity, has just been issued by Marquette University Press; the substance of the book was originally given as the 1961 Aquinas Lecture at Marquette. Dr. Fackenheim—who was ordained a rabbi in Berlin in 1939—has taught for many years in the philosophy department at the University of Toronto; he is now an associate professor. Over the years he has been a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, his last previous article (October 1960) having dealt with “The Dilemma of Liberal Judaism.”
In the not so distant past, after lecturing at the university all week, I used to spend Sunday mornings teaching a confirmation class in a Liberal synagogue. My practice invariably was to open the first session of these confirmation courses by asking whether anyone present was prepared to state a Jewish belief to which he subscribed. A lengthy silence was apt to follow, until finally one student might volunteer some such answer as “one God,” or “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” or simply “the brotherhood of man.” Upon being asked why he believed as he did, the volunteer would reply, “That’s the way I was taught.”
“Then how about people who believe differently?” was my next question, and again came the unhesitating reply: “Why, they believe as they were taught!” At this point I would raise my voice, in what I hoped was a dramatic manner: “Then who is right?” And the response to that was usually a dead silence.
I confess that I have for many years been deeply disturbed by this disposition of our present-day synagogue-trained adolescents to assume that all religious and moral beliefs are wholly relative to upbringing and environment. What is wrong with a synagogue school if it can impart no substantial conviction to these young people? Nothing is wrong, I may be told; their attitude merely reflects an admirable broad-mindedness—a wholesome self-criticism. Yet it is hard to find anything wholesome in the rest of the standard opening discussion that used to take place in these former confirmation courses of mine.
In trying to challenge the relativism of my students, I would cite extreme and repellent examples of conflicting belief. “What about cannibalism? What about Nazism? Wouldn’t you say that at least these are absolutely wrong and false beliefs?” On this, some of the students would surrender. But others were prepared to regard even Nazism with relativistic “impartiality.” “We may think we are right and they are wrong. But they think the exact opposite. So who is to make an impartial decision?”
It has frequently been said that relativism springs from an acquaintance with the sciences. If it is true that people in different societies (or with different psychological make-up) believe different things, is it not also “scientific” to conclude that religious belief is entirely a matter of upbringing and environment? But relativism does not logically follow from psychological or anthropological premises. If all members of a given tribe were brought up to believe that two and two make five, we on our part should still regard this belief as simply mistaken. Why should it be denied that in morality and religion, too, one can find grounds for choosing between conflicting beliefs—to be sure, very different grounds from the mathematical kind, but grounds all the same? However, the relativism of our adolescents (or, for that matter, of their parents and teachers) is scarcely ever the result of thought—knowledge of the facts and persistent reflection on them. It is, almost invariably, a convenient substitute for thought. For once one has embraced a wholesale relativism on questions of moral or religious truth, one is freed of the necessity to give them any further thought. My impression is, indeed, that it is precisely because relativism provides so easy a solution to difficult problems that the social sciences are seized upon to lend their support to it—the social sciences are not themselves the original source. Nor can the source be regarded as a desire on the part of our adolescents to be broadminded, pluralistic, and tolerant. For tolerance not only does not imply relativism, but is actually incompatible with it.
It is entirely possible to defend everyone’s right to his individual beliefs, and even to strain every nerve to understand the beliefs of another, and yet to be passionately convinced of the truth of one’s own beliefs. Indeed, to believe in tolerance is to regard at least one thing—tolerance itself—as absolutely right, and to condemn, as absolutely wrong, at least all beliefs which conflict with it. Had they, for example, merely believed in tolerance, my students should not have hesitated for a moment to condemn Nazism as the worst form of intolerance imaginable. Why, then, should the absurd presupposition that in order to be tolerant one must embrace relativism be so popular in our liberal middle-class society?
The true cause, I am convinced, of the popularity of moral and religious relativism in the “enlightened” sector of our contemporary society lies neither in genuine skepticism born of a hard search for truth, nor in the desire—although doubtless this is genuine—to be broadminded, pluralistic, and tolerant. At the base of such relativism lies a desire to avoid facing up to ultimates, or—as a young student of mine, teaching confirmation class this year, puts it—the desire to shrink from a sense of urgency in moral and religious matters.
Facing up to ultimates is a business from which, with at least part of his being, nearly everyone wishes to shrink. For it means facing up to one’s ultimate responsibilities, and to ultimate limitations like death. It means being driven toward the making of a commitment, and toward suffering all the doubts and crises which go with such a commitment. Moreover, it is to be compelled to disagree with others, even to have to seem “tactless” enough to voice this disagreement.
Serious and often terrifying as all this always is, in present-day middle-class society it is an awkward business as well. Taking ultimates seriously means “being different”—something to be avoided today at all costs. Being a genuine believer is being odd. (So is being an honest agnostic or atheist.) And who nowadays wants to be odd?
A social science-style relativism is the perfect ideology for avoiding every kind of religious oddness. For this ideology enables one to agree that all religious beliefs are fine as far as they go, while denying that any one of them goes very far. This attitude is bound to be especially attractive to the modern middle-class Jew. The committed Jew, among religious men, always bears a special burden: he must stand up for a minority faith. This burden, easier in America today than it ever was in all other respects, is harder in at least one respect. It means having to be different, in a very special way, at a time when no one wants to be different in any way at all. Considering loyalty to Judaism as a duty, the modern Jew nevertheless shrinks from a genuine commitment to Judaism, which would mark him out as doubly different: religiously committed—and to a minority faith.
Here once again social science-style relativism comes to the rescue. If every faith has a relative right, this is surely true of the Jewish faith. And if no faith has an absolute right, this is surely true also of the majority faith. In short, being Jewish is not being different at all. Little wonder, then, that relativism should be so popular an ideology among middle-class Jews, synagogue-goers included. And it is even less wonder that those adolescents who are indoctrinated with it should be loath to give it up.
Yet how long can any form of genuine religious life survive when religious beliefs are taken seriously only “as far as they go”? How long can even the secular life of American democracy continue to exist, when the faith on which it rests is treated as just one belief among others? And how long can Judaism remain alive, as a religion in a non-Jewish majority culture, on the basis of a relativistic ideology? For while such an ideology may demonstrate a person’s right to his Jewishness, it must, in due course, destroy every genuine incentive for making use of that right.
Whether Relativism is, perhaps, a true doctrine, whatever its consequences for religion might be, is a question that need not be raised in our present limited inquiry. This being an essay on religious education in the synagogue, we take a commitment to Judaism for granted. We further take for granted that such a commitment obligates the synagogue school to oppose relativism, and to do so openly and explicitly in the confirmation year. The only remaining question here is just how such opposition should express itself.
Confronted with relativistic and skeptical students, a teacher committed to Judaism will often find it hard to resist the temptation to indoctrinate. Yet attempts at indoctrination, at least at confirmation age, are surely self-defeating. They will be tolerated, if at all, only by the conformist type of student. The bright and skeptical student will regard all such attempts as reflecting the narrow-mindedness of his teacher; and he will be confirmed in his prejudice that broadmindedness and relativistic skepticism are identical. At the confirmation class level, moreover, the task of the teacher is to stimulate thought, not stifle it; to prepare the adolescent for the intellectual challenges of adult life, not to insulate him from them by indoctrination. What strategy, then, ought to be employed in the assault on relativism?
When I first asked myself this question, I imagined that I would have to cope with it only as a teacher using a suitable confirmation text. I soon found that there seemed to be no suitable texts—all the available ones fell into three categories, and none seemed to me to be adequate.
The old-fashioned liberal text, first, more or less identifies Judaism with liberal humanism, and assumes that all mankind is in progress toward such a humanism. This is the text written before—in spirit if not in time—the revolutionary events of our century: totalitarianism, post-colonial nationalism, social science relativism, and, in the Jewish sphere, Zionism; not to mention the new Jewish and Christian theologies, which endeavor to deal with all these challenges.
It would be overly hasty to assert that liberal humanism is today no longer tenable; elements in it are doubtless still valid. At the same time, in the present age liberal humanism is no longer self-evident; and it is even less, evident that Judaism is reducible to it. Thus the old-fashioned kind of text (I am of course speaking throughout of Reform texts), which was once regarded as enlightened and rationalistic, but which still talks as if nothing had happened, is, in today’s world, a mere indoctrination manual—and ineffectual to boot.
The second kind of text deals with Jewish practice, not in addition to, but in place of Jewish belief, on the grounds that no independent treatment of Jewish belief is in its own right necessary. After all, the author seems to be asking us, has not Judaism always been a “way of life” rather than a “system of beliefs”? And is it not sound progressive practice to induce the pupil to “learn” Judaism by “doing” it?
Much could be said for this approach if it were still true, as it once more or less was, that the study and practice of Jewish rituals and festivals would naturally and inevitably involve the student and practitioner in the beliefs implied by these rituals and festivals. But of course to the modern Jew the beliefs implied by Passover and Yom Kippur are highly problematic, more so than ever before. And the text which refuses to deal with these beliefs in their own right as much as says that new beliefs may at random take the place of the old, so long as the rituals and festivals themselves remain more or less intact; that any kind of new wine may be used, so long as it is poured into the old bottles. This view (curiously antithetical to that of old-style reformers who wanted to preserve the “essence” of the old wine and get rid of the “unessential” old bottles) is nowadays widely popular. Yet if consistently adhered to, its absurdity becomes obvious. Passover would become just another “festival of freedom,” the Sabbath just another “socially progressive institution,” and Yom Kippur—heaven only knows what; and what is specifically Jewish about these festivals would reduce itself to “folklore,” “customs,” “ceremonies.”
The third kind of text was, to me personally, the most promising at first, but finally—and by the same token—the most disappointing. Its paramount objective—to induce the student to think for himself—was admirable, and not only because, if successful in its aim, the text would provide the sole genuine antidote against the easy kind of relativism which I had found so prevalent in my classes. A student who has thought for himself believes whatever he does believe on grounds. For he himself has questioned the beliefs in which he was reared; and even if he has emerged from the questioning process with his former beliefs pretty much intact, he will no longer believe as he was taught merely because he was taught it. Such a student has abandoned the kind of relativism which is a substitute for religious thought, and has begun to think instead.
And yet in the year in which I used this highly promising text, I found it a painful failure. Originally I thought its failure stemmed from its asking too many questions and giving too few answers. But gradually it became clear that the real fault of this text lay in its positivistic and pragmatic bias.
Teachers since Socrates have known that if one wishes a student to think for himself, one must ply him with questions, go easy on answers, and refrain from indoctrination altogether, But teachers also have always known that simply to ask questions may, in certain spheres of thought, defeat the original purpose, Perhaps the riskiest of all spheres in this regard is that of religious thought.
In formal disciplines Such as logic, method alone matters. In religious thought, method and conclusion both matter, indeed are inseparable, and the genuine religious believer stakes his life on both. If a religious text confines itself to asking questions only, it must at least convey the idea that the answers are vitally important. But if answers are important, the adolescent wants to know the author’s own answers. If these are not given—for whatever reason—the student is almost bound to conclude that answers are either unavailable or else unimportant; that religious thought, in other words, is a mere game.
Some young readers of such a text might nevertheless manage to pursue the search for religious answers by themselves. The danger, however, is that they might then fall into the trap—and for this an “all-questions-and-no-answers” text would bear direct responsibility—of assuming that their own immature thinking was on a par with the thinking of anyone else; and in no sphere could a view of this kind be more mistaken. The material of religious thought has an experiential richness never wholly possessed by any one individual; and that the thinking based on that material is by its nature cumulative is demonstrated in Jewish history from Philo down to Hermann Cohen, Buber, and Rosenzweig. Thus, a Jewish religious text which merely asked questions would deliberately cut the groping student off from the wealth of Jewish religious experience and the cumulative thought which has sprung from it. Superficially, such an approach might seem “impartial” and “objective.” In fact, it would only insure that the Jewish faith is judged without having had a proper hearing.
But in fairness to the type of text under discussion, one must acknowledge that it is, on closer inspection, not averse to giving answers. It is averse only to giving “dogmatic” answers. And by these latter it means answers which do not rest on scientific authority.
In this day and age, few will object to scientific answers to religious questions in a Jewish confirmation text. It is always prudent, however, to consider two points more carefully: just how scientific are the answers in the text? And how does the text stand in relation to religious questions admittedly incapable of scientific answers—and to non-scientific answers to them?
The particular text under consideration not only asserts that the theory of evolution and the discoveries of modern Biblical criticism are scientific facts; it also suggests—at least by implication—as facts no less scientific, that (1) revelation is impossible; and that (2) history manifests so thorough an evolutionary trend as to make the best modern thought invariably superior to the best earlier thought, solely and simply because it is modern. But are the latter assertions scientific facts? Are they not, rather, highly Controversial modern religious beliefs?
Now in presenting these modern beliefs as having the authority of science, the text does much damage—both to the student’s intellect and to his Judaism. Whether the modern Jew can believe in revelation is something the student ought to think about, following the example of the best modern Jewish thinkers. If he listens to the text, however, he will not think; he will accept, on the authority of science, that revelation is impossible. Again, the student ought to consider whether modern is always superior to past Jewish thought; and he ought to examine each individual idea on its own merits. But if he trusts the text we arc discussing, he will no longer independently examine past Jewish thought: he will have been taught that Bible and Talmud can at most only confirm insights which modern man finds elsewhere in a better form. (Even the author dimly recognizes this fault, for he gives appendices containing, in addition to modern texts, quotations from traditional Jewish sources. But these latter cannot undo the damage done by the basic indoctrination. They are but marginal and ineffectual decorations.)
What, next, of the text’s attitude to religious questions which are admittedly incapable of scientific answers? The text answers these either not at all, or else only pragmatically: for instance, whether prayer is valid, each person must decide for himself; and monotheism is preferable to polytheism because it is more useful in uniting mankind. But the first type of response suggests that one answer is just as good as any other. (For why otherwise should the author not give his own answer, just as he has done in the case of “scientific” questions?) And the second response suggests that religious truth is unnecessary; that what matters is not the truth of religious beliefs but their utility.
Now religious pragmatism is both unpragmatic and religiously perverse. It is unpragmatic because a religious belief “works” only if the believer accepts it by reason of its truth—and not just because it works. And it is religiously perverse because no genuine believer has ever accepted a belief merely on the ground of its utility. Israel has lived through the ages, and indeed still lives today, not because it lived by fictions known to be fictions and accepted on grounds of utility, but because it chose to follow Him whom it passionately believed to be the one true God.
There was, then, in the end, only one fundamental reason why I found the text under consideration thoroughly unacceptable: its failure or refusal—whatever the cause—to go beyond the limits of science, and take a firm stand on behalf of basic Jewish belief.
Reflections such as the above led me to the conclusion that an adequate Jewish confirmation text ought to be informed by two principles. It ought whenever possible to make constructive use of rational argument in support of Jewish belief, considering both the nature of Judaism and the age of the readers. And when the limits of such support are reached it ought to take a straightforward stand on behalf of basic Jewish belief.
I have found that application of the first of these principles fills a crucial need in the religious life of the present-day adolescent. He is, as we have seen, disposed to believe that rationality ends where science ends, and that hence (at least to the extent to which they are scientifically undemonstrable) all religious beliefs are rationally on a par. The metaphysical demonstration that all religious beliefs are not equally rational (or irrational) has therefore a revolutionary and extremely wholesome effect. It furnishes the most telling challenge to the adolescent’s easy and thoughtless relativism. Nor should the teacher, frightened off by the term “metaphysical,” imagine that such a demonstration is wholly beyond the grasp of adolescents. It is quite possible to make clear that monotheism is more logical than polytheism, because the belief in many gods conflicts with the notions of both divine goodness and divine omnipotence, without which God would not be God at all. And it is not at all impossible to show that a wholesale moral relativism fails to explain how the Golden Rule could have emerged, independently, in many civilizations. Finally (to give one more example), the traditional arguments for the existence of God do not entirely exceed the grasp of adolescents; arguments which, however inconclusive, at any rate show that belief in God is not rationally altogether groundless.
So much for the first principle. What of the second—the text’s testimony to Jewish belief when the limits of rational argument are reached? This is a more difficult principle because here theological exigencies easily collide with pedagogic exigencies. Theologically, there is need for testimony to Jewish belief, because while in Judaism reason may corroborate, interpret, and even correct belief, it cannot take its place. Yet as we have seen, pedagogically it is necessary that such testimony should not degenerate into indoctrination.
A possible collision is avoided if the text gives its testimony on behalf of Jewish belief at the end of the reasoning process—and only then. The student, having reached the limits of rational argument, will recognize that it can take him no further, and he will, therefore, also recognize what follows as belief, and not mistake it for anything else. If the text does its job well, no doubt its testimony on behalf of Jewish belief will impress its young reader. But it will not have induced him to accept this belief on authority. Having made clear that this is belief, not a demonstrated doctrine, the text will place the responsibility for acceptance or non-acceptance squarely upon the reader.
Is this still indoctrination? To say so would be to imply that in a world in which all kinds of conflicting causes and values vie for the adolescent’s allegiance, the synagogue alone should bow out.
Armed with these two principles, and convinced of the inadequacy of existing confirmation texts, I some years ago decided to write such a text myself. I confess that in the actual process of writing it I often came close to regretting my decision, and indeed to abandoning the whole project. The real difficulties of such a text, it became even clearer, lie not in first principles but rather in execution.
I will refrain from writing about the sort of thing educators usually write about—devices and techniques. These concern all education, not Jewish religious education for adolescents in particular. The specific problems besetting the latter kind of project devolve almost wholly upon issues of philosophical and religious honesty.
What philosophy major does not know that Kant has refuted the traditional arguments for the existence of God? And yet even if the adolescent can understand the arguments themselves, he is certainly as yet unable to understand Kant’s refutation. Did this mean that philosophical honesty required that I should tell my young readers the “truth”—that the existence of God is unprovable? But reflection showed that “telling the truth” in philosophy—and religion—is a far more complex affair than is often imagined. For it is one thing to have contemplated the traditional arguments for the existence of God and then, after much struggle and deep thought, to have concluded that they are inconclusive or even invalid. It is another thing entirely to know nothing of these arguments, and simply to be told that God’s existence is unprovable.
In the process of contemplation, the “anthropological” argument arouses wonder about man, an imperfect being who yet has a concept of perfection and hence of God. The “cosmological” argument arouses wonder about existence, about the world which, though existing, might not have existed. Finally the “teleological” argument (which even Kant regarded with respect) arouses wonder about the existence of order where there might have been total chaos. To have contemplated these arguments is to have experienced rational wonder. And this wonder will remain even if the arguments are finally found wanting. The person who truly knows the arguments may not end up thinking he has proved the existence of God, or even believing in God. But he can never again regard belief in God as just one irrationality among others.
Yet this precisely must be the attitude of the student who is simply told that the existence of God is unprovable, And this is why, though apparently told “the truth,” he is in fact not told it.
How then was I to tell the truth? What I finally did was select the easiest of the arguments to understand (the teleological), state it in a form emphasizing rational wonder rather than rational cogency, and suggest (by emphasizing disorder and evil a3 well as order and good) that the argument is not wholly conclusive. And I tried to cope with every philosophical problem that arose in a similar way.
Having reached the limits of rational argument, and finding it necessary to take a simple stand on behalf of Jewish belief, I came face to face with the problem of religious (as distinct from philosophical) honesty. This is a far more universal problem. It exists, not only for a philosophically- and theologically-minded writer trying to produce a text for adolescents, but for any intellectually sophisticated adult who tries to communicate what he himself believes to anyone younger or less sophisticated. Any parent who has ever tried to speak to his Child about God recognizes the problem of religious honesty—provided the parent is neither a naive fundamentalist, nor a naive modernist, nor someone satisfied to tell his child lies which are “good for him.” And the essence of the problem is that the parent can communicate to his child only what the child can understand, and that he may communicate to him only what he himself believes.
The naive fundamentalist has no problem because his beliefs are equally intelligible (or unintelligible) to adults and children. If the naive modernist has no problem, it is because he imagines that he can communicate his beliefs to the child without their being altered in the process of communication. But that this is naive is illustrated by a story told by C. S. Lewis. A mother once tried to tell her young son “the truth” about God, anxious above all to avoid the myth about the old man with the white beard. She told him that God was the bask Substance of everything. (One may, without altering the moral, substitute “Process” or “the sum total of our ideals.”) In trying to imagine something vague, amorphous, and overwhelming enough to qualify as a “basic Substance,” the child wound up thinking of God as a huge mountain of tapioca. (To top it all, he didn’t even like tapioca!)
How would the more naive kind of “tell-only-the-truth” educator react to Lewis’s story—to the fact that the child is an inveterate myth-maker? I imagine he would advise postponing all talk about God until the child is “old enough to understand” the truth, which presumably is that God is “Substance,” “Process,” the “sum total of our ideals”—if indeed He is anything at all.
But one must be profoundly suspicious of any view of religious truth which implies that children are wholly barred from it. No doubt many states—childhood, insufficient intelligence, or education—bar a human being from scientific truths. But these truths concern the abstract intellect. Religious truth, if it is really religious truth, concerns the whole person and his ultimate quest as a whole person. And are children not whole persons? Do they not have an ultimate quest as whole persons? The poet Rilke was able to detect in children a degree of religious awareness which adults have often lost. In this he showed greater sensitivity to and respect for children than the more naive kind of “tell-only-the-truth” educator. For the latter is driven to the assertion that children in the myth-making stage are wholly barred from religious truth.
This kind of educator, to be sure, means to respect the personality of the child, and this is why he quite rightly refuses to tell him lies. In this he has at least grasped the indispensable starting point of any honest student-teacher relationship. If he nevertheless fails, it is because he blindly assumes that, by adult standards, all myths must simply be lies. And this assumption in turn is due to his naive belief of being in literal possession of religious truth himself. But can God literally be “Substance,” “Process,” or the “sum total of our ideals”? Quite apart from one’s religious position, this must radically be denied. For not one of these—or any other—aspects of the known universe or the known self can literally be the object of religious worship, or literally be part of a religious relationship. They can be either only if the known (“Substance,” “Process,” etc.) is symbolic of the unknown—in short, a myth. To treat these aspects of the known as literally divine is either not to know what one is doing or else to commit idolatry. The mother in Lewis’s story, therefore, only got what she deserved. Committing the idolatry of literally identifying God with an aspect of the known universe (it was only an aspect, for “Substance” excludes “self”), she encouraged her son to commit the idolatry of identifying God with an aspect of the universe which he knew. What she should have done was tell a story which pointed to the truth as she herself accepted it—in her own symbolic terms. And along with the story she should have made clear to the child that this was only a story, albeit one which had some connection with her own symbolic understanding of the truth.
But can such a complicated impression be conveyed to children? I have never been able to believe that children regard all stories as either literally true or else not true at all. And I have always suspected that, whenever the child holds this simple dichotomy, the fault lies with the adult storyteller, who himself subscribes to such a dichotomy. Is it really always true that the child who thinks of God as Father imagines Him as a father exactly like his own, with only the white beard added? I am inclined to think that the communication of symbol and mystery is impossible only to storytellers who are themselves devoid of a sense of both; storytellers, that is, who are either devoid of faith or else reduce God to aspects of nature or self.
But adolescents, after all, are no longer children. How was I to cope with the problem of religious honesty in a book addressed to them? So far as I could see, there was only one way. I had to let them in on the secret. I had to discuss the symbolic status of all images and concepts derived from the known, when applied to God. Is God personal or impersonal? To conceive Him as personal is anthropomorphic. Is God, then, impersonal—a ”Substance”or “Process”? But this is physiomorphic (if I may coin the term). If God cannot be defined in terms derived from the human person, neither can He be defined in terms derived from nature. Physiomorphism is even less adequate than anthropomorphism: for while quantitatively more than any man, a “Process” is qualitatively less even than a man—who can hear, speak, feel, and think. The upshot is that we can think of God only in symbolic terms, and that personal are less inadequate than impersonal terms. Moreover, if one takes one’s stand on the Jewish faith, these personal terms point to a very special truth. For Judaism believes in the co-workership of God and man, in the covenant between God and Israel, and in God’s availability in prayer; and the divine-human relationship implied in these beliefs can be thought of only in quasi-personal terms. But while the Jew must admit that the personal terms are not adequate, he believes that the relationship itself is real.
Have I managed to solve the problems of philosophical and religious honesty? It is impossible to say. I can only wait and see. For the answer, while depending in some degree on what I have put into the book, depends more on what teachers and students will do with it.
This last is both a disturbing and reassuring reflection. It is disturbing because a book like Paths to Jewish Belief is bound to encourage, through misplaced emphases, unfortunate turns of phrase, or even downright slips, interpretations at variance with those intended. And yet the knowledge that both teacher and adolescent reader will do their own interpreting and criticizing is, in the long run, far more reassuring than disturbing. For the ultimate, inescapable dilemma before the writer of such a text is that, on the one hand, he can do no other than present what he himself believes while yet, on the other hand, he trembles at his audacity in doing so. The writer may, for the immediate purpose, de-emphasize his more personal convictions and emphasize “normative” Judaism; but he cannot ever hope wholly to succeed in “purifying” the text of his private beliefs. What entitles him to impose them on helpless teachers and students? The answer is that there is no imposition, for neither teachers nor students are helpless. The writer finds reassurance in the knowledge that the teacher who disagrees with the text in part will voice his disagreement vigorously when teaching it, and that the teacher who disagrees with it in toto will not use the text at all. But the greatest reassurance of all lies in the knowledge that adolescents, at this or any other time, are apt to respond to an intellectual and religious challenge not with meek submission, but with an honest inquiry of their own.