Seldom does the appearance of a book become a major public event, and rarer still is the book that can be singled out as marking a turning point of any kind in public experience; but this, within the world of American Jewry, has been the happy fate of a 319-page volume entitled The Jewish Catalog: A Do-It Yourself Kit,1 a book which within a few months of its publication in 1973 was already being referred to as a classic. The instant recognition accorded to The Jewish Catalog by the American Jewish community has been matched by a phenomenal sales record for a work which devotes itself entirely to the question of how to live a Jewish life, and which was published by a house with a well-earned reputation for the seriousness of its titles. As of last July, 95,000 copies of the Catalog were in print and a sixth printing had been ordered. In Jewish publishing, this is best-sellerdom with a vengeance.
In physical appearance The Jewish Catalog bears a close resemblance to two of its models, both of them quintessential products of the counterculture of the late 60's, Living on the Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel and the famous Whole Earth Catalog2: it is a large-format paperbound work featuring a carefully contrived design and typography, with diagrams, line drawings, and photographs freely interspersed in the text. And like its models, too, The Jewish Catalog aims to provide practical information of a self-help nature: in this case, on how to live as a Jew. As the two original conceivers of the Catalog have put it:
Like the Whole Earth Catalog we wish to be a clearing house for ideas, materials, and personal resources, if not as an actual catalogue store, then at the very least in a “where-to-get-hold-of-it” way. We also want, in many cases, to be a “how-to” book as well. . . . For certain topics which we deem important or desirable to describe, we will include more than a simple mention of the tool and where to get hold of it, but in addition present a recipe, or a blueprint, or instructions to enable a person to do certain things right from the book. . . .3
In line with these principles, the Catalog is organized into four sections: “Space,” “Time,” “Word,” and “Man/Woman.” The first section opens with “Symbols of the Home,” a chapter largely concerned with the history, significance, and laws relating to mezuza, the small reticule containing parchment inscribed with verses from Deuteronomy that observant Jews affix to doorposts of the home. The chapter includes detailed instructions on how one can make these objects for oneself rather than purchasing them. This is followed by a chapter on “Kashrut: Food, Eating, and Wine-Making,” which has material on setting up a kosher home and an extensive recipe section with directions for preparing cholent, tzimmes, felafel, houmos, gefilte fish, matzah balls, kreplach, cabbage rolls, and chicken soup. Next comes an entire chapter on “Hallah,” followed by “Candles and Candle-Making,” “Kippah” (largely devoted to the art of crocheting skullcaps), “Tallit” (with particular attention to the tying of ritual fringes and with instructions for making your own tallit, or prayershawl), “Tefillin,” “Shofar” (here too the emphasis is on how to make your own), “Lulav and Esrog,” and, finally, “Jewish Travel.”
The second section of the Catalog, “Time,” begins with a chapter on the Jewish calendar and includes detailed instructions on the blessing of the new moon. This is followed by a chapter on the Sabbath, with directions for the proper observance of the day. Then comes “The Festivals: Some Home Customs and Rituals,” featuring material on the building of a sukkah, the construction of a dreidel, a menorah, and a grager, and the baking of matzah. “Berakhot” tells you what blessings to pronounce upon eating, or upon performing given precepts, or when petitioning or expressing gratitude to God. In “Weddings,” a description of marriage laws and customs takes the reader from the highly traditional to the highly innovative, and in “Tumah and Taharah—Mikveh,” a detailed analysis of traditional laws relating to ritual pollution and uncleanliness is accompanied by a description of the actual rites of purification. The section on “Time” concludes with “Death and Burial.”
The third section, “Word,” covers “Scribal Arts” (a treatise on the making of Hebrew letters and a guide to Hebrew calligraphy, with the aim of enabling the reader to prepare his own Hebrew documents, especially the marriage certificate, or ketubah); “Gematria”; “Music,” particularly the hasidic variety; “Film”; “The Jewish Press and Periodicals”; and, finally, “Creating a Jewish Library,” a lengthy and sophisticated bibliography of adult books and children's books, a listing of Jewish bookstores, and instructions on collecting a well-rounded personal library of Judaica.
The “Man/Woman” section of the Catalog, something of a hodgepodge, begins with a chapter entitled “How to Bring Mashiah [Messiah],” followed by “A Guide to Jewish Women's Activities,” and “Using the Jewish Establishment—A Reluctant Guide,” the latter being a listing of local and national Jewish organizations and institutions from which various kinds of assistance may be obtained and a subject guide to resources offered by Jewish organizations. Then come chapters on “Hakhnasat Orchim—Hospitality” and on “Communities.” “Where to Learn in Your Ghetto” has a list of American universities offering eight or more courses in Jewish studies, as well as of seminaries, yeshivot, and Hebrew colleges. “Teachers” offers the names of Hillel directors, a number of hasidic rebbaim, some professors of Jewish studies, some Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis who hold pulpits, and individuals who function as unofficial spiritual leaders to the Jewish young. The Catalog ends with a chapter entitled “A First Step: A Devotional Guide,” stressing meditation and prayer and closing with the novel formula: “May His blessed Name be with you until you get to Him.”
Even such a cursory rundown as this of the Catalog's thirty-one chapters will give some idea of the scope of the editors' concerns and of the curious amalgam they have effected between the detailed exposition of Jewish law, on the one hand, and the ethos of the “Whole Earth” movement, on the other, with its stress on the nonconforming and the homemade. So unexpected does this amalgam seem that the Catalog has been taken as representing something new on the American Jewish scene. Yet the fact is that the Catalog did not spring full-blown from the minds of the young people who conceived it. They themselves came out of a particular social-religious milieu within American Jewry and the Catalog is saturated with the attitudes and values of that milieu. It is a milieu whose “feel” is captured perfectly in the photograph which covers the end papers at the front and back of the Catalog, depicting a group doing an Israeli dance. A young man who catches our eye is sporting a skullcap, a girl nearby is wearing a sweatshirt imprinted with a large peace symbol and the word “Peace” underneath. The credits indicate that the “National Ramah Commission, Camp Ramah, Wisconsin” is responsible for the photo. To understand The Jewish Catalog, one has to know something about Ramah.
Ramah came into existence in 1947 at the initiative of Rabbi Ralph Simon of Chicago, who envisioned it as the key to the survival of Conservative Judaism as a movement. The existing leadership of Conservatism had been reared in Orthodoxy, but it was clear that the next generation would have to come from the ranks of Conservatism itself. Ramah would address this situation by developing an indigenous Conservative leadership, and it would do so outside the traditional educational apparatus of the Conservative movement.4 From the beginning Ramah had the backing of the Teachers Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, whose faculty saw the informal setting as a powerful tool for creating emotional commitments, furthering learning, and strengthening personal relationships that could later be transformed into institutional, religious, and ethnic loyalties.5
During its first year the pilot camp in the woods of northern Wisconsin was attended by a total of 89 youngsters, almost all of them from the Midwest (some staff members came from the East and were students at the Seminary). Thereafter the growth of Ramah was spectacular—several times in the succeeding years Ramah was so flooded with applicants that it could not build or purchase needed physical facilities rapidly enough. By 1970 Ramah included a network of seven camps in which 2,833 youngsters were enrolled, plus a program in Israel in which an additional 350 were registered; staff numbered 1,321, with another sizable group attending a training program from which future staff would be recruited.
Several camps stressing Jewish culture or the Hebrew language existed before Ramah, among them the Massad camps and the largest Jewish camp in the nation, Cejwin (located in Port Jervis, New York). But none managed to establish quite the reputation Ramah did for combining intellectual seriousness and Jewish commitment with just the right admixture of flexibility to temper these with the latest fashions in the progressive liberal culture. On the intellectual front, each Ramah had a “professor-in-residence”—generally a member of the faculty of the Seminary—and a large number of instructors in Hebrew, classical texts, and Jewish culture. Every camp also had a library featuring standard Jewish texts and reference materials. Drawing its clientele from the newly affluent, suburban congregations of the Conservative movement, Ramah regarded itself as the Ivy League of summer camps, and in fact developed a kind of elitist view of its role in training a new generation of leaders.
Ramah's sense of self-assurance, bolstered by its success in drawing ever-increasing numbers of campers, was no doubt a factor in the camps' atmosphere of openness toward new trends in middle-class life, from the 50's craze for folk-singing to the 60's craze for blue jeans and beards. Given the proclivity of Conservative Judaism to reject or disregard those aspects of Jewish law or custom it finds unacceptable, there were few developments in the past decades in the realm of personal behavior which Ramah felt it necessary, doctrinally, to dismiss outright. In most cases it was able to turn all such potentially challenging developments to its own purposes, even claiming authentic Jewish precedent for them. And the process worked in the opposite direction as well, as Ramah demonstrated an unerring ability to utilize age-old Jewish symbols and practices in a way that gave them an “anti-establishment” tone.
A seemingly insignificant and perhaps amusing example of this is the use made of the kippah, or skullcap. According to the etiquette of Conservative Judaism, which demands the striking of a compromise between the exigencies of religious custom and the accepted practices of “polite” society, a male should have a kippah in his pocket to be available for prayer, for saying a blessing, or for studying sacred texts. Some Ramah campers, however, began to wear a kippah at all times, causing their parents, and a number of leading Conservative rabbis, definite embarrassment. The wearing of the kippah was a kind of provocation, directed against the “uptight” Jewish establishment with its excessive fear of seeming out of place in American life, or too “different,” and the provocation was compounded by the fact that the Ramah kippah came in a variety of colors and patterns—anything but the standard demure black or navy. Most desirable of all was a hand-crocheted kippah produced at camp itself, preferably by a girl friend who would work the Hebrew name of the intended recipient into the design. Similarly with the Ramah tallit, huge in size compared to the standard Conservative prayershawl, its material a symphony of bold colors and abstract designs.
Perhaps the major thrust of the Ramah “experience,” as its participants liked to call it, was to instill in all concerned—campers, faculty, and staff—a sense of the sufficiency of that experience as a paradigm of Jewish life (and hence indirectly to call into question any other mode). Early in the history of Ramah it was recognized that the camps were performing as important a service for the staff as for the campers. The ideal was to become part of the Ramah family—every camper graduating to a staff position, and thus helping further to complete the closed circle. One reason for the large size of Ramah's staff was this emphasis on being part of a family—a family which had a regular reunion every summer.
Within the Conservative movement a continuing discussion took place over the years as to whether Rabbi Simon's ambitions for Ramah were being realized. Was Ramah providing the synagogues with an indigenous leadership, or was it separating itself from the movement and cultivating a feeling of alienation from, and superiority toward, the local synagogues among its campers and staff? Ramah administrators did not encourage inquiry into this question, pointing rather to the undeniable fact that many of the students at the Jewish Theological Seminary were alumni of Ramah, and that the Jewish literacy of young people who had spent a few summers at Ramah exceeded anything the Conservative movement had been able to produce elsewhere. Still, the question lingered in the air, and then gained added urgency in 1969, when the fragile mixture of elements that was Ramah's way-of-life suddenly became volatile.
The scene of the “explosion” was the Ramah camp in Palmer, Massachusetts, situated within easy driving distance of Harvard Square, the east-coast center of American youth culture. Although to this day there is controversy over what actually occurred at Palmer,6 the presence of marijuana was obviously of central importance. Campers absented themselves from daily services, and the cutting of classes was common; there were charges that the observance of kashrut was lax. A time-honored Ramah tradition—the presentation in Hebrew of a successful Broadway musical—was also observed in peculiar fashion, with older campers selecting Hair and then proceeding to present it in English. Just before the 1971 camp season it was announced that Palmer would be closed for the summer. Some blamed poor registration, but this—the first closing in Ramah's history—was widely interpreted as a sign that eclecticism had its limits.
So powerful was the Ramah experience in the lives of young Jews that many a camper must have wished that a means existed for transferring that experience to, and making it encompass, all of his life—to be in camp all year 'round, as it were. The commune movement of the 60's provided the sought-for means. In the mid-60's groups of young Jews, frequently led by Ramah alumni, and influenced by the communal ideal in the counterculture, came together on college campuses to set up communal housekeeping cum Jewish living and study. The havurot, as they came to be called (from the Hebrew for “fellowship”), were joined by Orthodox and Reform young people—Orthodox students who found themselves out of sympathy with Orthodoxy's political conservatism and hostility to the counterculture, and Reform students who wanted to be more Jewish than the Reform norm and less politically active (the decline of political activism was a potent factor in the growth of the havurot, as of communes in general). And the havurot were also joined by students from non-religious homes whose latent ethnic loyalties had been brought to the surface by the anti-Israel position of the New Left, the rejection by blacks of Jewish participation in the civil-rights movement, the new emphasis on pluralism, and the burgeoning Jewish Studies programs. But the core of the havurot remained young Jews from the Conservative movement, and the core of the core were graduates of Ramah.
The Jewish Catalog is a product of the havurah that is located in the Boston area, named Havurat Shalom. The editors, in fact, dedicate the Catalog to their havurah, which they see as the source of their strength and inspiration. They describe Havurat Shalom as the “‘alter zadeh’ of the Jewish commune movement . . . a community of people who study, pray, retreat, fight, talk, sing, dance, and love each other.” And the Catalog opens with a full-page photo of Havurat Shalom's sanctuary (it is empty). This sanctuary is unlike any standard American synagogue, for while it has an ark and an eternal light, we do not see a reader's desk or a platform and pulpit. Even more startling is the absence of pews or benches—the floor is bare except for a liberal scattering of large pillows. To the typical American Jewish worshipper the scene must look bizarre—he associates sitting on the floor or a low place with mourning and death. But this is not how the members of Havurat Shalom feel. For them sitting on the floor is good because it is the way man sat before civilization imposed its constraints upon him.
Like the photograph of the group doing an Israeli dance at Camp Ramah, the photograph of the sanctuary at Havurat Shalom conveys a particularly good sense not only of the mix of elements that is the Catalog, but of the relative weight the Catalog assigns to the various components in that mix. The biases and emphases of the Catalog, in other words, reflect its lineage with the utmost fidelity.
The attitude of the Catalog's editors to Jewish religious law, or halacha, is the first and most obvious case in point. The regulation of the everyday life of the individual Jew, with a view toward enhancing the spiritual dimension and infusing it with meaning, has been the intent of every code of Jewish law from the Mishnah in the 2nd century, to Maimonides's great 12th-century code, the Mishneh Torah, to the Shulkhan Aruch of the 16th century, to such current handbooks as Hayim H. Donin's To Be a Jew.7 In that respect The Jewish Catalog follows in a long and venerable tradition, and its editors do not hesitate to lay claim to a link of honor in this historical chain.
At the same time, however, the editors exempt themselves from the central feature of Jewish religious law—its normativeness. According to Savran and Siegel, in the Master's Essay cited above, “The halacha is there to inform and set guidelines, to raise questions, to offer solutions, to provide inspiration—but not to dictate behavior.” What they see in the halacha, instead, is the beauty of an ancient and primitive, therefore uniquely valuable, body of thought. “Because of its age, origins, and the traditions and mysteries surrounding it, Torah has assumed forms which are timeless and powerfully evocative—elements which are missing from contemporary life. As Tillich says, we are living in a time of broken myths.”
The value of Jewish religious law, then, aside from its innate “mystery,” lies in the uses to which it can be put in an age beset with rampant “alienation,” a time of “broken myths.” These uses are not limitless, the creators of the Catalog realize; indeed, they are quick to criticize the incompleteness of halacha, its weakness in the area of “political and social involvement,” and the absence in Judaism as traditionally practiced of “. . . song, dance, crafts, drama, poetry, folktale, legend. . . . It has taken the ‘discovery’ of these values by the contemporary culture to raise the full conscious awareness of their existence within Judaism.” One such new awareness, the Catalog says, attaches to the shofar:
Certainly one of the strangest pieces of ritual paraphernalia is the shofar. Even though there are several other religious objects that never seem to lose their potential for surprising and amazing people, in some ways the shofar still stands alone. The smoothly curved ram's horn has an aura of the primitive about it; for people saturated with sophisticated technology, the shofar appears to be a throwback to hoary antiquity. And perhaps this is precisely why the shofar is so exciting and stirring—it brings us back to places inside ourselves that are very basic and primitive, very near the root of our being. Since the shofar is used mainly around the time of the year when it is most important to be in touch with ourselves, finding those places is crucial.
Here, and in many similar passages, the editors reveal the indebtedness of the Catalog—an indebtedness they are the last to deny, although they do not appear to recognize just how pervasive, and ultimately compromising, it is—to the regnant pieties of American youth culture. This indebtedness extends from the kinds of language they use to the principles of selection they have followed, the emphasis they consistently place on the primitive and ritualistic as opposed to the abstract and intellectual, their stress on folk religion and on the mystical and the occult, and their preoccupation with handicrafts and cookery, which they justify with appeals to “art,” on the one hand, and criticisms of the “impersonal, sterile, and alienating aspects of modern urban life” on the other. According to Savran and Siegel:
The Catalog addresses itself toward a rounding-out of Jewish experience, bringing back the physically oriented side of Tradition and life that has been relegated to a few specialists. Basic areas of Jewish life like Bar Mitzvah, Weddings, and Burials have become so “prefabricated” as to alienate those with any real feeling for the event being celebrated. The individual must physically involve himself in the symbols and structures of Traditional Judaism in such a way that he feels a personal meaning. . . .
Thus, in most areas of life discussed within the pages of the Catalog, the relevant Jewish law is scrupulously reported, where applicable. But the dominant stress quickly shifts to the experiential side of the subject in question, the side connected with issues of personal style, of taste, of aesthetic pleasure. Indeed, if there is a single characteristic of Jewish life to which, in the “mind” of the Catalog, all others are subordinated, it is not the broadly metaphysical or philosophical (God does not figure largely in these pages), not the ethical or the social (society can hardly be said to exist for the editors, except as a machine of oppression), not even the devotional, properly speaking (there is a great deal of material on the accoutrements of prayer, significantly less on prayer itself), but the aesthetic. As the editors of the Catalog put it, in explaining this focus:
The tolerance for impersonal, “professional,” alienated services is diminishing. Instead, more and more people are making their own clothes, fixing their own cars, cutting their own hair, creating their own toys, growing their own food, building their own houses, planning their own vacations. The personal response to the environment has been a component of Jewish life for centuries. The craftsman, though generally poor, was accorded considerable respect if not status. . . . Art had no independent realm. It existed in embroidery, illumination, scroll work, construction, filigree. Cooking, of course, was an art of its own contained within the private confines of the home. Similarly for study, music, and dance. It is these aspects which must be re-evaluated in the light of present developments and raised to the level of articulation. . . .
Hence, the Catalog devotes an entire section to wine-making. Hence too it is contemptuous of such innovations as the Meal Mart chain of kosher prepared-food stores which are so heavily patronized in Brooklyn, where many Orthodox housewives find it necessary to work to supplement their husbands' earnings and so cannot spend the time at home necessary for the preparation of Sabbath dishes; for the Catalog the only Sabbath worthy of the name is one which includes homemade hallah and cake, as well as homemade wine, homemade chicken soup, homemade gefilte fish, homemade cholent, homemade kugel, homemade tzimmes, and homemade kreplach. And it goes without saying that if the Catalog recommends a strict regimen of home-cooked dishes it is even more insistent on the lighting of homemade candles. The Catalog is in fact infatuated with candle-making, devoting an entire chapter to the subject and expressing its regret that Judaism has no daily ritual requiring the lighting of tapers and so few occasions that call for really substantial amounts of wax.
There are moments, however, when the Catalog seems not merely indebted to the youth culture in its interpretations of Judaism, but subordinate to it. A small but revealing example is the Catalog's treatment of one of Judaism's sacred symbols, the eternal light that is placed in the synagogue above the Holy Ark, in commemoration of a Scriptural directive to the children of Israel to cause a lamp to burn continuously in the tabernacle. After duly discussing its function in the synagogue, the Catalog comes up with something entirely new, a use for the eternal light in the home. According to the Catalog, “It is not inappropriate to set up a ner tamid [eternal light] in your house—to be used for times of prayer and meditation, for Shabbat and yom tov or for all times as a continual reminder of God's presence.” One is touched by this pietistic gesture, but it soon becomes clear that what is wanted here is simply a light show, after all: “[attach] to each section one of a string of variously colored lights on a random-flashing sequence chain. Make sure to insulate against electrical fires.”
Another example of the sacrifice of the normative to the aesthetic is the Catalog's meticulously detailed instructions for the baking of Passover matzah at home. An oven used for this purpose must be able to reach a temperature of 2000-2500 degrees Fahrenheit—unheard of in a home oven. The editors are aware that unleavened bread prepared in the home according to the Catalog's instructions would in fact be leavened bread in the eyes of Jewish law. However, from the Catalog's standpoint the important thing is that those participating in the preparation would presumably have had the experience of reliving a primal event in the history of their people.
Subordination to the youth culture can take more serious forms in the Catalog as well. Here, for example, is what the Catalog says about the mikveh or ritual bath:
[The mikveh] simulates the original living water, the primal sea from which all life comes, the womb of the world, the amniotic tide on which the unborn child is rocked. To be reborn, one must re-enter this womb and “drown” in living water. . . . We emerge from the mikveh tahor [pure], having confronted our own death and resurrection.
Actually, however, the purpose of the mikveh in Jewish life is not to force a confrontation with death and resurrection. The concept of mikveh has evolved over the ages; in contemporary life mikveh is centered on the question of the promotion of family purity. Yet about this the Catalog has relatively little to say.
Its downplaying of the family points to the most telling distortion of all—the fact that the Catalog has almost nothing to say about the entire social and ethical dimension of Judaism in general, what is referred to traditionally as the “commandments between man and his fellow man.” In To Be a Jew, which represents the traditional conception of Judaism, Rabbi Donin makes this subject a cornerstone of his discussion of the Jewish way of life, in a chapter entitled “Kindness: A Means and an End,” which he subdivides into “Acts of Kindness”; “Laws of Charity”; “Laws Relating to Slander, Revenge, and Deceit”; “Laws Pertaining to Work and Wages”; “Kindness to Animals”; and “Acts of Justice.”
For Rabbi Donin, Jewish life without this dimension is totally unimaginable, and he gives it the kind of attention that The Jewish Catalog devotes only to such matters as the manufacture of wine, candles, and skullcaps. And not only is the Catalog weak in the area of human relations, when it does treat of this topic the emphasis throughout is on what the individual can get rather than give. Thus, the Catalog offers advice on how to live cheaply in Israel by deceiving and otherwise “ripping off” naive Israeli residents. In “Using the Jewish Establishment—A Reluctant Guide,” it lists the available resources of the organized American Jewish community and gives suggestions for obtaining scholarships, fellowships, free medical and psychiatric care, interest-free loans, and the like, without a word on a reciprocal obligation to contribute to the life of one's fellow Jews.8
In sum, the Catalog is rich in ironies, a work in which a genuine familiarity with Jewish sources and Jewish practice has been put at the service of the latest cultural and aesthetic predilections, with results that are funny, vulgar, charming, and meretricious all at once. And by no means the smallest irony is the wholehearted approval the Catalog has won from the very Jewish “establishment” it affects to reject.
Throughout the 50's and 60's Jewish leaders, lay and rabbinic, had agonized over the “alienation” of the young, their seemingly inevitable assimilation to secular American society, and their ready acceptance of intermarriage. The New Left, the counterculture, drugs, Eastern mysticism—all seemed to combine among the college-age generation of Jews and to promise further erosion in their loyalty to the Jewish community. In the words of Rabbi Irving Greenberg, an Orthodox leader who made something of a specialty of the issue, writing in 1968: “All of the studies point to one fact. By and large college is a disaster area for Judaism, Jewish loyalty, and Jewish identity.”9 Fear of what was happening on the campus prompted the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds to establish a “Committee on College Students and Faculty,” which sought to increase the availability of money for work on the campus. But there was little optimism about the results of such investment: alienation was seen as running rampant, and political and cultural radicalism was believed to have made particularly serious inroads in the ranks of Jewish students.
Given this situation, it is not so surprising that the publication of a document like The Jewish Catalog should have met with overwhelming delight among the leaders of the American Jewish community. The appearance of the Catalog—it was felt—showed that everyone's worst fears had not been realized: Jewish youth had not turned its back on its heritage after all. Jewish youth was not assimilating; on the contrary, Jewish youth was becoming fervently observant, albeit in a new style, congruent with the age. Indeed, the countercultural style of the Catalog only seemed to endear it further to the heart of the “establishment.” For here, it was said, were young people who were as “with it” as anyone could wish, and who yet were consumed with a love for things Jewish. (Some even intimated that it was all too good to be true; the Jewish community really did not deserve such wonderful young people—a judgment in which the creators of the Catalog heartily concur.)
Rabbi Greenberg's reaction was typical. In a review written jointly with his wife Blu, he noted a few errors in the interpretation of Jewish law and listed several suggestions for a revised edition, but went on to say that “everything [in the Catalog] is presented with great charm, saving humor, and a very human dimension.” According to the Greenbergs, “One of the most heartening phenomena on the North American scene during the past few years has been the resurgence of interest by Jews in living Jewishly,” a resurgence exemplified by the Catalog. Their return to Judaism has come none too soon, “. . . for Jewish life is being swiftly flattened between the hammer of the open society and the anvil of vacuity in much of organized Jewish life.”10
As we have seen, the reality is rather more interesting than what the Greenbergs construe it to be. There has been no “resurgence of interest” in the sense they suggest simply because, in the segment of American Jewry for which the Catalog speaks, interest never waned; one need only examine the application figures for Camp Ramah to confirm this observation. Nor is it correct to regard the young people associated with the Catalog as existing somehow outside of, or apart from, “organized Jewish life.” For it was organized Jewish life—specifically, one highly organized part of it within the Conservative movement—that was responsible for their education and that, on the evidence of The Jewish Catalog, clearly succeeded in instilling in them its salient values, including its sense of the elasticity of Jewish tradition in adapting to contemporary styles of experience and its attitude of superiority toward the conventional institutional forms of American Jewish life; as is always the case with the young, the Catalog merely takes these attitudes to their logical extreme. And finally, if there is “vacuity” in American Jewry, it too is reflected, in appropriately up-to-date form, in the very pages of The Jewish Catalog itself.
1 Compiled and edited by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld, Jewish Publication Society of America, 319 pp., $5.50.
2 See Sonya Rudikoff, “The Whole Earth People,” COMMENTARY, July 1972, for a description of these books and an analysis of the culture they represent.
3 “The Jewish Whole Earth Catalog: Theory and Development,” by George Savran and Richard Siegel, Unpublished Master's Essay, Graduate Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies, Brandeis University, 1972.
4 See Marshall Sklare, Conservative Judaism: An American Religious Movement (Schocken, 1972), p. 259.
5 On Ramah, see Stephen C. Lerner, “Ramah and Its Critics,” Conservative Judaism, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Spring 1971), pp. 1-28.
6 See Sklare, op. cit., pp. 279-81.
7 Basic Books, 336 pp., $10.00.
8 An apparent exception to the rule is the chapter entitled “Hospitality,” but this, it turns out, was written not by a student but by the oldest contributor to the Catalog, Rabbi Richard J. Israel, director of the Hillel Foundations of Greater Boston.
9 “Jewish Survival and the College Campus,” Judaism, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Fall 1968), pp. 259-81.
10 “Do-It-Yourself Judaism: The Jewish Catalog,” Hadassah Magazine, May 1974, pp. 14-15, 37.