The argument between Judaism and Christianity, Jacob Taubes here points out, is generally distorted by the historical success of Christianity. But success and truth belong to quite different realms; here, at a time when there are attempts on both sides to obscure the fundamental theological difference between the two faiths, the ancient disputation is once again canvassed, without regard for the fact that Christianity spread throughout the world while Judaism remained the religion of a small people; and from this discussion some clarifying —though old—facts emerge.
For all the current popularity of the term “Judeo-Christian” tradition, the differences between the Jewish and Christian religions are not at all resolved. They are basic, and their consequences still influence every moment of our lives. True, the immediate and more pressing issues in Jewish-Christian relations are social and political, but this does not justify postponing an examination of the fundamental issue, which is theological-and from which all the social and political questions spring originally.
As long as a clear awareness existed of the basic theological differences between Judaism and Christianity there was no great need to argue the matter explicitly. But in the last twenty years it has become fashionable to gloss over and distort these differences. Now we need to restate them. Nor need we be afraid to. There is warrant for believing that, even in the sphere of the “practical,” we have more to gain by defining and understanding the issues involved than by obscuring them and pretending they do not exist.
For centuries the controversy between Jewish religion and Christian dogma had for its frame the historical victory of the Christian church. All that the church required of the synagogue was that she admit her defeat. If necessary, the church could always appeal to the secular arm of the state to end the argument.
The magic spell of Christianity’s historical success remains, though the church no longer uses the sword to decide her dispute with the synagogue, and this spell still constrains the Jewish-Christian dialogues of our time. Its influence can be seen in the exchange of letters between Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock, in the dialogue between the Protestant theologian Karl Ludwig Schmidt and Martin Buber, and in the dispute between the Christian ideologue of anti-Semitism, Hans Blüher, and the Prussian Jew Hans Joachim Schoeps. The fact that the history of the nations unfolded under the triumph of the cross (though only in the West) has for Franz Rosenzweig and Hans Joachim Schoeps, as to lesser degree for Martin Buber, a weight and relevance that seem to me to be fatal to any claim that might be made for their thought as Jewish theology.
A sober analysis of the Jewish-Christian controversy must set aside the argument from history, which embodies a dangerous temptation to take what is for what ought to be. After all, how can history “decide” in matters of theology? And, especially, what can historical success prove for a religion like Christianity that claims to be not of this world and heralds the end of history?
Nor is this a time for the Christian church to use the argument from history. From the viewpoint of worldly success, do we not stand on the threshold of a post-Christian era, when Christian symbols and dogmas have begun to look as antiquated as the Old Testament seemed in the Christian era? And indeed, looking at the present spiritual situation, it is most probable that the age to come will shape its religious forms in a way equally remote from both Jewish and Christian patterns. Be that as it may, the historical argument is certainly two-edged. There is a good deal of irony in the fact that, whereas Christian theologians today steer clear of the “proof” from history (warned off by such a critic as Nietzsche’s friend, Franz Overbeck), Jewish thinkers like Hans Joachim Schoeps and Will Herberg have become so spellbound by Christianity’s historical success that they try to give it a “theological” justification.
The issue between the Christian and Jewish religions starts from the Christian side. According to Christian doctrine, the Jewish people are an integral part of the Christian history of salvation. The synagogue is, in the eyes of the early church fathers, the shadow of the body of the church. Christian theology views the history of mankind as a progressive covenant between God and man. The covenant begins with Adam and manifests itself in different stages: from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to David, from David to the son of David “who is the Christ.” In the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the covenant is made final. The last step in the covenant between God and man, according to Christian theology, is the incarnation of God in the Son of Man. The history of Israel prefigures the story of redemption; the events recorded in the Old Testament do not contain their ultimate meaning in themselves, but point beyond themselves: the death of Abel, the sacrifice of Isaac, the kingdom of David, the Temple in Jerusalem prefigure the life and death of Jesus the Christ, as well as the history of the church.
The Jewish people, however, not only “prefigure” the story of redemption, but are an active “figure” in the drama of salvation. The fundamental statement in the Gospel according to St. John-“for salvation is of the Jews”-does not, according to Christian theology, refer to past history or to the mere “racial” fact that Jesus the Christ and his first disciples were of Jewish origin; it points rather to the essential role of Israel in that drama of salvation which the first theologian of the Christian community described in his Epistle to the Romans: Has Israel stumbled that it should fall? Paul denies this, interpreting the refusal of the Jewish community to accept Jesus as the Christ as part of the universal drama of redemption: Israel’s rejection of Jesus made it possible for salvation to come to the Gentile nations. Israel became an enemy of Jesus Christ, writes Paul to the Christian community in Rome, “for your sakes-.”
In other words, Paul can call the Jewish destiny a mystery because the role of the Jewish people is mysteriously interwoven with the role of the redeemer in the Christian drama of redemption. The Jewish synagogue refuses Jesus as the Christ, but this refusal is essential to universal redemption. The dark and mysterious “necessity,” according to Paul, of the Jewish people in the drama of redemption affords no reason for Gentile self-gratulation or for condemnation of Israel. The Gentile nations should remember that the Jewish people are the natural branches of the tree of redemption, whose “root” is Israel’s history. The Gentile nations were grafted onto the tree of redemption “contrary to nature,” and shall be cut off if they fail in their faith in Christ. Let the Jews only not persist in their refusal of Jesus as the Christ, and how much more shall they, who are the natural branches of the tree of redemption, adorn and make part of it.
However, the key sentence, “for salvation is of the Jews,” must be read in the context of the Johannine Gospel’s violent attack on the synagogue. (Some serious writers on the Johannine Gospel, such as Rudolf Bultmann, the German theologian, think the clause is a gloss, since it does not accord with that dominant tendency of the Gospel which has led some Protestant commentators to call it the most anti-Jewish pamphlet ever to have appeared.) The Johannine Christ denies that Jews and Christians have one Father in God; the Jews, in refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, serve the “Devil.” They do not know God the Father since they do not acknowledge the divine Son in Jesus.
But from the Jewish point of view, the division of the divinity into “Father” and “Son” splits the divine essence; it was, and is, regarded by the synagogue quite simply as blasphemy. The doctrine of the synagogue and the Gospel according to St. John both “agree” as to what they regard as the basic point at issue, the heart of the argument, even if they arrive at opposite conclusions.
To sum up the Christian argument then: the Jewish people have a definite role in the Christian drama of salvation. Israel’s history is the “root” of the tree of redemption, Israel serving in its denial of Jesus as the Christ as a negative but necessary element in the process of salvation.
If one accepts my description of the Christian “economy of salvation,” I think that my statement of the basic Jewish premise can be readily understood: the Christian religion in general, and the body of the Christian church in particular, is of no religious relevance to the Jewish faith. There is a Jewish “mystery” for the church, but there is no Christian “mystery” for the synagogue. Christian history can have no religious significance of any kind for the Jewish creed; nor can the division of historical time into “B.C.” and “A.D.” be recognized by the synagogue. More than that, it cannot even be recognized as something which, though meaningless for the Jewish people, represents truth for the rest of the world.
This basic Jewish premise was obscured when Franz Rosenzweig, introducing a new “theological” notion into Jewish thought, interpreted the coming of Jesus as having a Messianic significance for the Gentile nations, but not for the Jewish people. Rosenzweig based his theological tour de force on a bold reading of a fundamental logion of the Johannine Christ: “I am the way . . . no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (14:6). The history of the nations is, according to Rosenzweig, the “way” to the divine fulfillment, and this “way” to the Father leads for the Gentiles through Jesus the Christ. No man “cometh,” as Rosenzweig emphasized, into the divine covenant but through the Son of God-except the Jewish nation whom God “elected” from its very beginning to make a covenant with.
The election of Israel-which is a Christian article of faith, too-implies that Israel does not march along the eternal way of history, but stands in the eternal presence of the covenant with God. The life of Israel in the divine covenant is the eternal life. Till the end of history, so argues Rosenzweig, the “eternal life” (the transhistorical destiny of Israel) and the “eternal way” (the historical destiny of the Gentile nations in Jesus Christ) are divided. Only at the end of days, when the Son of God shall deliver up the “Kingdom” to God and lay aside all his power and authority, shall the eternal life and the eternal way come together; Israel shall cease to be the holy nation living in the eternal divine presence only when Christ shall cease to rule over the eternal way of the nations.
The Christian church, says Rosenzweig, must understand that it is the essence of the mystery of salvation that the Jews shall remain separate so long as Christ does not deliver up his authority to God the Father. Through Paul, the church became the church of the nations. According to Rosenzweig, it is both anachronistic and contradictory for the church to wish to see the Jews converted: anachronistic, because it implies a return to the pre-Pauline situation; contradictory, because Christian eschatology places the conversion of the Jews at the end of time, beyond history.
I do not deny the grandeur of Rosenzweig’s interpretation. Yet it seems to me a dubious thing to make Rosenzweig’s highly doubtful reading of a Christian text the basis for the doctrine of the synagogue. What Rosenzweig is expressing here is his own spiritual biography: his return to Judaism started from a point on the borderline between the two faiths, when he was just about to cross over to the church. However much personal validity Rosenzweig’s interpretation may have, it is theologically irrelevant. It is only too obvious that his “theological” arguments do violence to the spirit of the Gospel according to St. John, and that Jesus of the Fourth Gospel offers the weakest possible basis for the view he advances.
Rosenzweig’s dichotomy between nations that are on the “way” through Jesus the Christ and “come” into the divine covenant, and a Jewish people that “are” already in the divine covenant, contradicts the whole Johannine scheme of salvation. John denies the Jewish people any knowledge of God, insisting that only through the Son could the Jews have known the Father (8:19). Moreover, the same sentence that calls Jesus Christ the “way” (which is the basis of Rosenzweig’s speculation about the division between the “eternal way” and the “eternal life”) also calls Christ the life: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. . . .” I do not understand how Jesus can be conceded to be the Christ in Rosenzweig’s halfway fashion: how can Jesus be the Messiah come to redeem the nations, but not the Jewish people? Rosenzweig categorically denies that Jesus has any Messianic significance for the Jewish people, and denies even the significance for the Jewish people of Messianic redemption in general (since Israel exists outside the Messianic dialectic of history); but under the spell of the success of the church in the Western world, he raises Christianity’s mundane history, in the fashion of his master Hegel, to the level of the divine.
Even as speculation, Rosenzweig’s argument has a glaring weakness: Islam. He treats Islam, which made its appearance centuries after the advent of Christianity, in exactly the same way as such Protestant scholars of the New Testament era as Schuerer and Weber treated the period of “late Judaism” in the time of Jesus-that is, as an irritating supererogation. A thorough analysis would show that Rosenzweig was a captive of the Protestant vocabulary, the only difference being that where the Protestant scholars say “rabbinic theology,” he says the Islamic religion. Since Islam hardly counts as a social factor in the West, and there was no group to take up the cudgels on its behalf, Rosenzweig’s caricature of Islam could pass. Will Herberg, accepting Rosenzweig’s view of Islam, calls it a “kind of Jewish-Christian heresy.” This summary disposal of a world religion follows readily enough from Mr. Herberg’s (highly private) conception of a Jewish-Christian “orthodoxy.” Yet Islam, because it claims only the title of prophet for Mohammed, is much more the complement (less heretical!) of Judaism than is Christianity.
I shouldn’t have criticized Rosenzweig on this point if his example had not given the lead to other Jewish writers. Hans Joachim Schoeps states that, from a Jewish point of view, “perhaps [?] no Gentile can come to God the Father otherwise than through Jesus Christ.” Will Herberg is convinced that it is sound Jewish doctrine to assert that Israel can bring the world to God only (!) through Christianity. I cannot help asking: who informed Mr. Schoeps and Mr. Herberg that the Gentile nations have no way but the Christian one to salvation? Israel can acknowledge prophets to the nations and of the nations. But to posit an event that has Messianic significance for the Gentiles yet does not touch Israel is absurd, and “arranges” a rapprochement between Christians and Jews somewhat too neatly.
On the Christian side again, I cannot see what justifies Rosenzweig’s and Schoeps’s assumption that Paul’s Epistle to the Romans-especially chapters 9 to 11, which are the basis for my description of the Christian attitude to the Jews-constitutes no Christian dogma, but is rather Paul’s subjective opinion. Karl Barth bases his remarkable description of the Jews in the light of Christian dogma entirely on these chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, and the Catholic church declared as early as 1236 that even though she held her arms affectionately out to every convert, yet she embraced Jewish converts “with even greater affection”-basing this attitude on Paul’s likening of the Jews to the natural branches of the tree of redemption.
It remains a puzzle that Franz Rosenzweig, who more than anyone before him appreciated the theological relevance of the realm of liturgy, should have overlooked the special place assigned in it to Israel. On Good Friday the Catholic church prays that all mankind may receive the fruit of redemption. The church prays for the church, the Pope, the bishops, and the holy nation of the church; she prays for the government (of the medieval empire), for the pagans, and for all heretics and schismatics. The church also prays for the Jews-but how? “We pray also for the perfidious1 Jews [pro perfidis Judaeis] , that the Lord our God may lift the veil from their heart so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.” More significant than the prayer itself (which already applies the ominous theological adjective, “perfidious,” to the Jews) is the ritual accompanying-or rather not accompanying-it. In all other prayers the deacon exhorts the community: Oremus. Flectamus genua (let us kneel and pray). But when the prayer for the Jews is reached, a gloss remarks: “No Amen. At this point the deacon omits calling the community to their knees lest the memory of the shameful genuflections with which the Jews mocked the Savior at this hour be renewed.”
Eugen Rosenstock, in his discussion with Franz Rosenzweig, declared that it was no longer a Christian dogma that the Jewish people were “obdurate.” But this must be regarded as a personal opinion, since the church continues to pray for an end to Jewish obduracy and for the redemption of the Jews from their darkness (a suis tenebris).
In their exchange of letters both Rosenzweig and Rosenstock presented marginal attitudes rather than the classic positions of church and synagogue; nor did they express theological doctrine. Both were preparing the way to a post-Christian existence for themselves, since the era of the Christian church, Catholic and Protestant, had come to an end for them in Hegel’s philosophy and Nietzsche’s prophecy.
The dispute between Karl Ludwig Schmidt and Martin Buber is more central. The Protestant theologian insists that the “only relevant question” is Israel’s obdurate rejection of Jesus as the Christ, and he asks whether the destruction of the Temple was not its consequence-a consequence that deprived the Jewish people of a spiritual center. Schmidt, in accordance with the whole Christian tradition, establishes a “theological” relation of crime and punishment between the Crucifixion and the destruction of the Temple. The nearly forty years that elapsed between the Crucifixion (33 C.E.) and the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) are “symbolically” seen as years of trial, similar to the forty years’ wanderings in the wilderness.
Martin Buber, answering from “inside” the Jewish consciousness, states that the Jewish people do not feel themselves to be “rejected” by God. In an enigmatic phrase he admits that for Israel the Christology of Christianity is “surely a relevant event between above and below,” but insists that Israel experiences the earthly reality as unredeemed by a Messiah, and cannot admit such a cesura in history as Jesus, as the Christ, represents. Moreover, since no divine revelation can exhaust the divine essence, Israel cannot allow that there should ever have been an ultimate incarnation of the divine in human flesh.
Buber’s description of Jewish experience and doctrine is excellent; but it seems to me that he is vague when it comes to dealing with the concrete question asked by the Protestant theologian: did the Jewry of the Diaspora lose its spiritual center after the destruction of the Temple? The answer to this question is simple but fundamental: not the Temple but the Torah was, and is, the spiritual center of Jewry. The Jewish people did not come to life with the laying of the first stone of the Temple, but with the giving of the Law to Israel in the Covenant of Sinai. It is clear, however, that Martin Buber was not at all prepared to give this answer, since he has always emphasized the Agadic or mythical element of the Jewish tradition, as against the tradition of the Law.
It is perhaps no paradox that Paul, a Pharisee and son of a Pharisee, who claimed to have studied under Gamaliel and to have excelled in his zeal for the Law and tradition-that this same Paul was better prepared than modern Jewish apologists to define the basic issue dividing Judaism and Christianity. That issue is the Law. All the premises of Paul’s theology were “Jewish” and even “Pharisaic,” but from these he drew heretical conclusions: thus from the possibly legitimate Jewish premise that the Messiah would usher in the end of the Law, he drew the heretical conclusions of Christianity, holding that the Messiah had already come and that the Law was superseded: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). But the basis of the Jewish religion since Ezra has been the Torah, the Law, or better still-Halachah, the “way” of the Law in a man’s life. All theological speculations are secondary to this.
The recent insistence on a rigid monotheism as the defining characteristic of Jewish religious life is contradicted by a fact that contemporary Jewish thinkers tend to overlook: the centuries-long predominance of the Lurianic Cabala in Judaism. The Cabala developed theogonic speculations that can only be compared to the Gnostic (and pagan) mythologies. The mythical union of the divine King and Queen, the Adam-Kadmon speculation, the mythology of the Ten Sefirot, which are not attributes but essentially different manifestations of the divine, challenge every historian of religion who presumes to judge what is Jewish and not Jewish by the criterion of a “rigid monotheism.” The Jewish religion could not have withstood the outburst of Cabalistic mythologizing if its fundamental and defining characteristic were a rigid monotheism. As it was, it was able to absorb the Cabala’s insights, and draw added power from them.
The Cabalistic mythologies did not shatter the structure of Jewish life; on the contrary, they strengthened it in time of crisis by their enhancing of the prestige of Halachah. Halachah, which is the conduct of life according to the mitzvot, they did not understand as a pedagogical system (as in the period of medieval enlightenment), but as a way to achieve sacramental union with the divine. The bulk of the mitzvot became a corpus mysticum reflecting the divine and cosmic order in the human realm; in this way they attained an importance they had never had before in Jewish history-and in any case, the Jewish vision of God is far too rich and various to be reduced to an abstract monotheism. Challenges not to Judaism’s monotheism, but to the validity and interpretation of the Law, shake the Jewish religion and community to their foundations. Any Messianic claim represents such a challenge because it claims to have ushered in an age in which the Law is superseded.
It is hasty to conclude, as so many do, that because Halachah shapes the classical pattern of Jewish life, Judaism is purely “legalistic.” Halachah is a structure in which a considerable variety of religious experience is integrated. The language of Halachah is capable of expressing such contraries as rationalist philosophy (Saadia and Maimonides) and mystical mythology (Moses de Leon and Isaac Luria), ecstatic prophetism (Abulafia) and magical ritualism (Jacob Halevi of Marvege). Yet Halachah is not an empty vessel into which any sort of contents can be poured. It has its limit in the divine law, and Messianism in any form must necessarily transgress that limit. It is true that Christian orthodoxy in interpreting itself tries to set up limits against heresies that would discard the Decalogue. But Judaism is bound to insist that Paulinian doctrine still remains destructive of the Law, and therefore at this point, too, Judaism must reject Christianity’s interpretation of itself. Paul, when he was Saul, would have been the first to admit this, and indeed he persecuted the early Christian community on the very ground that it was setting aside the Law. Judaism never traveled the road to Damascus; and it cannot, without committing suicide, change Saul’s judgment.
Christian history, Jesus’ claim to the title of Messiah, and Paul’s theology of Christ as the end of the Law, are not at all “unique events” for Judaism, but things that have recurred in the Jewish pattern of religious existence. Christian history, as I have said, constitutes no “mystery” for the Jewish religion. Christianity represents a crisis that is “typical” in Jewish history and expresses a typical Jewish “heresy”: antinomian Messianism-the belief that with the coming of the Messiah, not observance of the Law, but faith in him is required for salvation.
So far as we can judge, rabbinic tradition has always regarded Jesus’ Messianic claim and Paul’s theology as heretical antinomianism. Maimonides, in his Code, specifically lists Jesus with other heretics who sought to persuade Israel to abandon the Law. No statement as to the Messianic significance of Jesus for the Gentile nations can be got from any Jewish Halachah.
Gershom Scholem, in his study of Sabbatian Messianism, makes an arresting comparison that enables us to see the beginnings of Christianity in a new light. Sabbatai Zevi’s appearance, quickening all the latent hopes of the 17th-century Jewish ghetto, precipitated the most tragic Messianic episode in modern Jewish history. The fact is that the new Messianic community of the Sabbatians, like that of the early Christians, centered around a catastrophic event which, like the death of Jesus, could only be overcome and transcended by the “paradox of faith.” For the Sabbatians, this paradox was Sabbatai Zevi’s conversion to Islam. His apostasy shook the community of his followers to its foundations, yet became the motor of the Sabbatian “paradox of faith.”
The tragic paradox of a dying Messiah in the one case, and of an apostate savior in the other, was interpreted in the light of the prophetic vision of the “suffering servant.” “In both cases,” writes Scholem, “a certain mystical attitude of belief crystallized round an historical event that drew its strength, in turn, from the very fact of its paradoxicality. Both movements began by adopting an attitude of intense expectation towards the Parousia, the advent or return of the savior, be it from Heaven or from the realm of impurity. In both cases the destruction of the old values in the cataclysm of redemption led to an outburst of antinomian tendencies, partly moderate and veiled, partly radical and violent; in both cases you get a new conception of belief as the realization of the new message of salvation. . . in both cases, finally, you get in the end a theology with some kind of Trinity and with God incarnated in the person of the savior.” These striking parallels between Sabbatianism and early Christianity cannot be attributed to the influence or imitation of Christian prototypes, since the Sabbatian heresy arose in the Islamic ghetto. Both Sabbatianism and early Christianity were independent expressions of crises into which the Jewish community was plunged when believers in an arrived Messiah were summoned by their theologians to strike off the shackles of the Law, that harsh schoolmaster whom the redemption was to render obsolete.
If, then, the issue between the Christian religion and the Jewish community revolves around the Law, I would hold that the Jewish argument cannot ultimately be given in Midrashic-or rather pseudo-Midrashic-terms. The counterpart to Christian dogma is not a Jewish dogma affirming certain articles of faith concerning the nature of the Divinity and its manifestations. Christian theology is based on Christology, which means that all things, human and divine, achieve relevance only as they relate to Jesus the Christ. Judaism, based on the Law, grants relevance to all things, human and divine, only as they relate to Halachah. It is the weakness of all modern-and not only modern-Jewish theology that it fails to name Halachah, the Law, as its alpha and omega. The Jewish religion has been in a crisis since the time of the Emancipation because it lost its center when Halachah lost its central place and cogency for Jewish thought and conduct.
The moment Halachah ceases to be the determining force in Jewish life, the door is opened to all the disguised anti-Halachic (antinomian) and Christian assumptions current in modern secularized Christian society. Judaism ceases to be a matter of principle and remains only one of tradition. Religious revivals that do not reckon with Halachah as the vital essence of Judaism degenerate into so much romantic nostalgia and only hasten the end of Judaism. A few months ago I attended services at an Orthodox shul. The rabbi, product of a modern yeshiva, gave me a cordial greeting and “explained” (during the reading of the Torah!) that “ceremonies” and “rituals” are only “external” and not “so important” as would seem at first sight. He surely did not realize that by translating mitzvot by “ceremonies” and “ritual” he had surrendered to the Paulinian criticism of the Law.
Halachah is inevitably eclipsed in an age that can envisage religion only in terms of man’s “private” experience, as a (poetic) dialogue between man’s lonely soul and the lone God. But such a religion of the heart, even of the “pure” heart, remains disembodied-and who but the elect can lay claim to purity of heart? Halachah is based essentially on the principle of representation: the intention of man’s heart and soul has to be presented and represented in his daily life. Consequently, Halachah must become “external” and “juridical,” it must deal with the minutiae of life, for only in the detail of life is a presentation of the covenant between God and man possible. Halachah is the “path” of man’s life on which he can “walk” before God. Against the ecstasy and delirium of man’s soul, Halachah emphasizes the rational and everyday sobriety of justice. Halachah is the law because justice is the ultimate principle. Ecstatic or pseudo-ecstatic religiosity, however, sees only dead legalism and external ceremonialism in the sobriety of justice, just as anarchy can conceive of law and order only as tyranny and oppression.
Emancipation opened the doors of Western civilization to the Jewish community. But that civilization rests on Christian presuppositions and is shaped by Christian symbols. The civil calendar is the same as the Christian calendar; the initials “B.C.” and “A.D.” express a fundamental Christian article of faith. I am aware that the civil calendar is losing its Christian character, that its Christian initials are being transformed into mere technical signs. But though the Christian meaning of the calendar may be suppressed, it can never become obsolete. The Christian calendar has withstood a number of attempts to replace it with a secular calendar, the French Revolution in the 18th century and the Italian Fascists and the Russian Communists in our own century tried to do so, and failed. We therefore do right to keep in mind the Christian foundation upon which our civil society rests.
This is not all. By the very language we use decisions are made that limit and define our spiritual horizons. The Jewish Holy Scriptures are called the “Old Testament” in English. The term “Old Testament,” however, implies the basic Christian claim that the “old” covenant has been superseded by the “new.” But it is a Jewish article of faith that the Law never becomes antiquated, that the Covenant of Sinai is as valid today as it has always been. Even to call the Torah “law” already implies that pejorative meaning which Paul ascribed to the Mosaic law in his violent critique of it.
The antinomian critique made by a secular society that is nevertheless Christian in its presuppositions is reinforced by the critique of the Law that was made within the Jewish community; the modern Jewish stress on redemption through belief, rather than through a way of life conforming to divinely ordained law, reached its peak in Abraham Geiger’s criticism of rabbinic Law. It is an established fact that the last stage of the Sabbatian heresy ushered in the first stage of Jewish Reform. Is it at all surprising that, in these circumstances, the Jewish side in the Jewish-Christian controversy cannot argue today from the center of Jewish faith and experience? The inner crisis of the Jewish religion determines the character of its controversy with the Christian one. If Halachah is no longer valid as the divine and human way of life, if Halachah, in a caricature of “reconstruction,” is reduced to a mere bundle of customs and folkways, where shall the Jewish argument get the strength to stand up against the Pauline rejection of the Law?
Modern Jewish thinking is in large part a prisoner of this antinomianism, which pervades modern thought in general; in the world today the principle of law is reduced to a juridical device and the “pathological inclination of love” (Kant) is exalted over against the “blind principle” of justice. The pseudo-Agadic stress in modern Jewish religious thinking on the “romance” of Hasidism, or the romance of a mythologized East European Jewry in general, is in the end no obstacle to the Christianizing of the Jewish people. For what greater “romance” can there be than the incarnation of God in flesh? Only the principle of Halachah offers a check to “romance” between God and man by making the sobriety of justice the foundation of man’s life. The controversy between the Jewish and Christian religions points to the perennial conflict between the principle of law and the principle of love. The “yoke of the Law” is challenged by the enthusiasm of love. But the “justice of the Law” may, in the end, be the only challenge to the arbitrariness of love.
1 The meaning of the Latin perfidus– “faithless” or “infidel”-is not quite the same as the English “perfidious,” which necessarily includes the meaning “treacherous.”