Reader Letters February

From Rabbi Baeck TO THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: . . I feel I must write you, too, some words about…

From Rabbi Baeck
. . I feel I must write you, too, some
words about COMMENTARY. In my opinion
COMMENTARY is already, and I think will re-
main, one of the finest reviews I have ever
come to know; a genuine one. To my mind
it might well become one of the centers and
focuses for a revival of Jewish -learning and a
renaissance of Jewish thought, and it might
act as a creative and attractive center for seek-
ing young minds and among them for those,
too, who so far today do not yet tend to
occupy themselves with the Jewish way of
thought and life. One of the important for-
ward steps would be that it would not consider
its field limited to discussion of specific Jewish
problems but would take as its area of interest
all matters which deeply concern the life of
the individual human being and of mankind
as a whole. The Jewish spirit can well fulfill
itself by a frank interplay between the deter-
mined Jewish thought and mind, and the
thought and mind of other peoples all over
the world. COMMENTARY could become a
forum, a place of discussion, of thesis and
antithesis, taking responsibility and obligation
at this time, when a great part of hegemony
is passing from Europe to America.
My best wishes are with you and your
New York
the other hand, you let people of Jewish back-
ground, or sympathetic with causes of Jewish
concern, discuss general topics which are
being discussed in other magazines too.
I shall take up the subjects of integration
and of the two strands one after the other.
What I mean by integration is best shown
in the brilliant article on Gershwin. Here a Jewish author gives a critical review of an important Jewish contribution to American civilization, with a critical and educational discussion of an urgent problem of that civili- zation. Likewise, the reprint of Hermann Cohen’s paper is as perfect an example of a Jewish contribution to Western civilization as one can’ wish to find. It also shows the inter- penetration or the mutualism of Jewish tradi- tions and Western philosophy. On the other side, an unfortunate sample of unsuccessful attempt at integration, to my mind, is the superficial story on the Nobel prize, winners. Here, a human interest story with a Jewish background has been artificially tagged on to the discussion of a problem which is first in everybody’s mind. I am not here concerned with the flippant treatment of the Nobel prize story, but with the fact that the story of the Jewish refugee scientists is one legitimate subject and the atom bomb problem a different one. The latter subject is so earnest that your magazine might have treated it (not even necessarily from a Jewish standpoint)
without dragging into it an alien element for no other reason but to trim it as “Jewish.” Another aspect of integration is the balance between articles of Jewish and those of general interest. Keeping in mind that I am an out-
sider, I dare say I find too many papers that interest me in your magazine. It is usual for an intellectual of my kind to skip at least half of the pages in any of the current maga- zines-but I read almost all of COMMEN- TARY’S content. With the kind of highbrow stuff you offer, you will have difficulty in reach- ing the general Jewish public…. (This is no criticism of the high quality of some papers of opitlion or of the sketches and short stories.)
As the magazine now is, it will be read with more interest by non-Jewish sympathizers with the Jews than by persons who are active in Jewish politics. Should this be a desired effect,
Integrating Two Strands
… I am not what one would call a Jewish author. My interest in Jewish affairs was forced upon me by Hitler (and I still think that the so-called Jewish problem in reality is a Gentile problem). My interest in Judaism is that of an ardent student of social psychology and anthropology….
From this standpoint, it appears to me that the two strands which make up the weave of the text are not yet quite integrated. On the one hand, you try to give a lively forum to Jews who are not dogmatic Zionists. On
however, you may even go a little farther on
that way. ·. . I greatly appreciate the ambition of your program as outlined in your symposium and series. But again, I feel, this discussion is on too high a level of abstraction. If you wish to make Jewish policy, or policy for the Jewish community, you may find it more beneficial to talk not about human rights in general, but about very specific rights of par- ticular minorities-Irish, even Arabs (why
not?), Negroes, colonial peoples. I think it was your contributor Mordecai Grossman who once told the Jews that they would never get anywhere if they continued thinking of them- selves as fighting for recognition by all others, and thinking of the others as of a surrounding, basically hostile world. Topics of general in- terest should be so conceived that the American Jews appear as supporting just causes every- where. This is the only way of having allies for one’s own cause. I know’ that this may mean trampling on somebody’s feet occasion- ally. But I can enumerate many good reasons not to be afraid of doing so. In most cases, the people whom one fears to hurt will not stand up for him anyhow in the hour of greatest need for help…. Now, I don’t
accuse COMMENTARY of opportunism, but I feel that failure to point more specifically to potential allies is responsible for the discrepancy
between the high level of abstraction in the treatment of general topics and the trans-
parent clarity of the specific Jewish demands. Jewish matters, on the other hand, occasion- ally are on too low a level of abstraction. The statements are complementary, of course. If the Jews are to show interest in causes similar to theirs, they should also conceive of their own problems as part of the general problems. A stand against Zionism should be part of a general view on nationalism; a stand against the White Paper should be part of a general view on the freedom of movement for all indi-
viduals. As it now appears in Jewish papers, the problem of migration is a Jewish problem. It is decidedly a world problem, in which the Jewish case is one of the most important, but not the most important one. The treatment of the Moyne case by Gerold Frank is an almost verbatim replica of accounts which the non-Nazi nationalist press in Germany gave of the Rathenau murder. Such sentimental
apologies will not convince Zionists that you are really interested in Jewish affairs, but they will not elicit sympathy from non-Jewish read- ers who, like me, class the Stemists among the
Nazis. After all, American Jews have no right to sympathize with Palestinian patriots as long
as they are not prepared to press their own administration for the opening of America to Jewish refugees…. HENRY M. PAECHTER New York
DEAR READER: What do you think?-EDITOR
No “Party Line”
… I congratulate you on the high quality of the contents of this first issue. You have taken a heavy responsibility upon yourself, to maintain the standards you have set. But in the magazine world it is far easier to maintain a standard set at the beginning than to raise a standard at the outset gauged too low.
I note that you are hospitable to different shades of Jewish opinion. I hope you will preserve this feature. In letters there is only a political, not an intellectual future for the
“party line.”
ALVIN JOHNSON Director-Emeritus, The New School of Social Research New York
Help Wanted-Now
To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: I would like to express my appreciation to you for the stimulating articles which these first few issues of COMMENTARY have carried. I hope that future issues will b as good. But there are several questions that have been bothering me which I would like to have you answer if it is possible. I must admit that a lot of these problems are not very clear in my mind and hence I may not be able to formulate the questions as clearly as I would like to. Perhaps a description of my background and present life would be helpful. I am at present a poultry farmer, living near Lakewood, New
Jersey. I am thirty-four, married, and have three children. We have a young group of Jewish folks who have all come from the city to see if we can’t find economic security on the farm. In our discussions we have speculated at great length about the Jewish problem. We are almost all “non-Zionist.” In your last issue you had an article by Adolph Oko. In this article he attempted to analyze the views of Waldo Frank. But there
was one sentence in the article whih brought me up sharply. I quote: “Now, to suffer for a cause that our soul loves is bearable, is, in-
deed, ‘man’s most enviable destiny.’ But to88 COMMENTARY
suffer for nothing-to be hated as a Jew, when
one’s life is not Jewish!”
At first glance that seems to be a noteworthy
statement until one starts to analyze it. Sup-
pose you were to change the word Jew to
Negro, we immediately see how false that
statement is. How does a Negro live as a Negro? It seems to me that this constant carp- ing about living as a Jew is meaningless, unless one is religious. I am not a religious person and yet I am fully aware of the fact that I am a Jew. I don’t understand the expression
“to live a Jewish life” unless it is a religious one. That is why many articles that are writ- ten about the essence of Judaism are usually of a highly metaphysical nature. They seem so unreal. They try not to approach the Orthodox
position and in trying to bridge the gap all sorts of tenuous arguments are used.
I have three children who will be brought up to know that they were born of Jewish parents, yet there is nothing about their life that will be of a particular Jewish nature. We are not religious, we do not speak Jewish, we do not keep a kosher home-yet my children will be Jews. They will be Jews for numerous
reasons. The outside world will soon tell them in no uncertain terms. In their school they will be called dirty “chicken farmers” (most of the poultry farmers are Jewish). We will explain to them as best we know how the nature of anti-Semitism. To my mind it is essentially a minority problem, just as the Negro problem is. That is why I asked you to substitute the
word Negro in Mr. Oko’s statement. I don’t see how the Negro lives an essentially Negro life, except as they are forced into segregated areas. But there is nothing else about their lives that couldn’t be changed by a real eco- nomic democratic change.
I’ve rambled on long enough. But I would appreciate an answer either in the magazine or else by a letter from you.
Louis SRADNICK Lakewood, New Jersey.
Disparaging the West
Recently a friend of mine, of European origin, commented that despite America’s big- ness, prosperity and seeming superiority-com-
plex, there yet seems a terrible feeling of lone- liness running through American writings and
many individuals. Professor Salo Baron, too, is of European origin, and so it may be that some other reason prompts this statement in his otherwise val- uable and discerning study “The Spiritual Re- construction of European Jewry” in the No- vember COMMENTARY: “The great religious message for which the prosperous but as yet spiritually uncreative Jewish communities of Western Europe and America have been grop- ing ever since the Emancipation may yet be spoken by these shattered remnants of Eur- opean Jewry.” Why must the disparagement of things American (and here of entire Western Jewry) be accepted as a matter of course? Granting that our achievements have been far from utopian, must we nonetheless consider them
spiritually worthless? This country, England, and Germany and the other countries of Western Europe have given rise to no Hassidic movement, but neither have they produced a Sabbatai Zevi. Theodor Herzl was a “Western Jew,” yet did he not create a movement that partakes of the spiritual as well as the material? And his successors were not all Eastern Jews: Nordau,
Wolfssohn, Brandeis and others. And Moses Hess, whose “Rome and Jerusalem” is usually considered the first modern Zionist publica- tion, surely fits into the “Western” category.
The whole Reform movement from Jacob- son through Geiger, Zunz, I. M. Wise, C. Montefiore, and S. S. Wise, has been a product of Western Jewry, and surely it must be ac- corded at least some spiritual significance. Solomon Schechter may have been originally of the East, but his “Catholic Judaism” is of the West. And M. M. Kaplan and his Re-
constructionists, despite the furore they have created, are unquestionably of serious import on the religious scene.
Whether or not these men and these move- ments are good, bad or indifferent is not of the essence here. But surely, we of the West
should not always feel that we have had nothing to contribute to the spiritual growth of mankind.
(RABBI) MORRISON D. BIAL Lynbrook, New York

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Reader Letters February

Must-Reads from Magazine

But She Fights

A Trump of their own.

There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”

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Politicians Need Free Speech Too

A lesson from Finland.

High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.

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Planet Earth Dodges a Bullet

Banality and evil.

A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.

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When the Establishment Strikes Back

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The Unprincipled Boycott of Israel

The demands of the politicized life.

John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.

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